As Murfreesboro City Schools prepares to celebrate its 120th anniversary, Director of Schools Linda Gilbert has celebrated a milestone of her own, her first anniversary.
Murfreesboro City Schools Director Dr. Linda Gilbert (far right) with Jeanne and Tommy Bragg and Joyce Taylor at the 2010 MCS Excellence in Education reception. TMP/T. Swann
“The anniversary also reminds us that we hold the future in our hands,” Gilbert said. “And to shape the future, we have to appreciate the past.”
Gilbert has done her best to help shape the future since she was named director in December 2009 as the replacement for Marilyn Mathis and took her seat at the head of the city schools system in January 2010.
In the past year, Gilbert has implemented a number of initiatives but one stands out in her mind.
“The most important one – the one that drives everything we do – is that we have turned the organizational triangle upside down with priority given to children,” she said.
Gilbert said the priority shifted most with the formation of Professional Learning Communities, where teachers get together and plot the best courses for student learning.
“That collaborative process has unified the district,” Gilbert said.
And the teachers have taken notice.
“She adheres consistently to her motto, to ‘put children first.’ She also encourages open and honest communication, which ultimately benefits the children,” Murfreesboro Education Association President Natalie Hopkins said.
Hopkins said the single biggest change Gilbert has made was changes to the reading initiative.
Gilbert explained the reading program is now “peer-assisted” and the system is using a research-based program to intervene with students who need help understanding the subject matter.
She said this is just one program the system has initiated to improve the test scores of children.
MCS was hit a little hard by the toughened guidelines of the Tennessee Diploma Project, which brought state testing in line with the rest of the nation with higher standards for achievement.
As far as achievement goes, MCS did well, posting all B’s on the Tennessee Report Card on Schools, which is above the state average. But those are the same scores the system has received for the past few years.
“With the change in the educational landscape in Tennessee and nationwide, a ‘status quo’ approach to student learning will not suffice,” Gilbert said about the scores.
Where the system slipped was in the value-added category, or improvement from the previous year, receiving a D in math, C’s in social studies and science, and a B in social studies.
Gilbert said the system is focused on improving the scores, not for the sake of doing better, but for the sake of helping the students.
“We are focused on improving test scores because they represent children – and what we are doing with the potential that is inherent in children,” Gilbert said.
To tap into each student’s hidden potential, Gilbert has focused the district on making the teachers better.
“If we are going to increase student learning, we must increase adult learning,” she said.
Along with the Professional Learning Communities, MCS has developed development plans for teachers to give them the “foundational knowledge” they need to successfully teach core subjects like math and reading, she explained.
Also, veteran teachers are mentoring new teachers, which increases the chances for success and the time they will stay in the classroom.
Foremost, standards have been brought into line between classrooms and across the district.
Gilbert has also placed an emphasis on helping troubled students with extra instruction time built into each day for tutoring either by teachers or peers.
“We have developed formative assessments at each grade level to be sure that students are learning,” Glibert said.
Gilbert’s student-centered approach is not lost in the classroom with teachers getting on board with the changes.
“Teachers feel their input was considered in the change for the success of their students,” Hopkins said.
The success of students is directly related to the quality of their teachers and the quality of the district as a whole.
“Murfreesboro City Schools has a great legacy and a great future,” Gilbert said. “The 120th anniversary is a time of reflection. It gives us an opportunity to celebrate all ‘those who came before’ and establish the foundation on which education in this community rests.”