Written by Patricia Hawke for

Nashville Schools have been around for a long, long time. The first of the public Nashville Schools, the Hume School, was opened on February 26, 1855. A three-story brick building, it housed 12 teachers and served all grades. The building is still in use today, as the Hume-Fogg Magnet High, serving 874 students in grades 9-12. The oldest of the Nashville Schools presently in operation is the Robertson Academy. This school can trace its roots back to an act of the United States Congress approved on April 17, 1806. The act provided for an academy in each of the state’s (then) 27 counties. The Nashville School has operated continuously since that time, and today serves as the center for the Nashville Schools’ gifted and talented program. 
Today, the Nashville Schools comprise the 49th largest urban school district in the United States. The district covers Davidson County, an area of 525 square miles. The system consists of 74 elementary schools, 35 middle schools, 15 high schools, 4 alternative and non-traditional learning centers, 3 special education schools, and 2 charter schools. It serves approximately 74,000 students, and employs around 5,700 teachers and 4,000 support staff. 
Students enrolled in the Nashville Schools come from over 80 different countries, and represent 27% of all English Language Learners (ELL) in the state of Tennessee. Due to the hard work of the teachers, the average time it takes for a student to become proficient in English is less than 3.2 years. 
Nashville Schools District Director, Dr. Pedro E. Garcia, has led an in-depth evaluation of what needs to be done to bring the district to the next level of excellence. “Our mission to educate all children needs to go beyond the school and include parents and the entire community. [Nashville Schools] are a standards-based district. We will continue to expect our teachers to teach the standards.”
Like the rest of the nation the Nashville Schools are looking for ways to meet compliance with the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act. Districts with large groups of foreign speaking students, like the Nashville Schools, are especially challenged because all tests are administered in English. The means that an ELL third grade student who is introduced to English for the first time is expected to take and pass the same test as her native English speaking peers. And despite the claim that the teachers of Nashville Schools are able to bring students to English proficiency in just over 3 years, most language experts claim that true acquisition of a second language takes 5-7 years. This has some of the educators in Nashville Schools scratching their heads and asking if NCLB should be altered to meet the realities of ELL and special needs students. The national debate between setting immovable standards and meeting the realities of student needs is echoed precisely in the halls of the Nashville Schools.