Inside a packed library on the second-floor of the historic Cameron building on First Avenue South, the Cameron chorus walked slowly to the front of the room. Just a few feet away, Mayor Megan Barry and Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen looked on.
There, the group of about a dozen students sang the Cameron Alma Mater, a song that revisits the rich history of the school when it served as the home for African-American senior high school students in South Nashville from 1955-1971 – and a song representative of the school and its students to this day.
As the students sang, members of the Cameron Alumni Association rose and joined them.
This was but one example of a common theme at this morning’s celebration of Cameron, the first-ever partnership between a charter school and school district in the state of Tennessee.
More than 100 people attended the celebration, including families, student leaders and a host of Nashville dignataries, including: Chris Henson, the interim superintendent of MNPS; Alan Coverstone, the MNPS executive director of charter schools; MNPS board member Mary Pierce; Councilman Freddie O’Connell, Councilwoman Burkley Allen; Councilman Colby Sledge; and founder and former LEAD CEO, Jeremy Kane.
School Director Tait Danhausen opened the program and welcomed Mayor Barry and Commissioner McQueen to Cameron. Both gave remarks that highlighted how public education partnerships can directly benefit children in Nashville.
“I think this is a good example of what happens when you work together,” the Mayor said.
Commissioner McQueen said she remembers vividly how LEAD began its partnership with Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) back in 2011 and has enjoyed watching the school grow with sustained success over the last four years.
“It’s collaboration,” the Commissioner said. “It’s work that we have to do together. We know what’s possible.”
There was a heavy community presence inside the school Tuesday morning. Cameron Alumni President Ronnie Johnson led the Pledge of Allegiance. Parent Lupita Chavez spoke, and was followed by the youngest, and ever-courageous speaker, 8th-grader Mena Gamil.
“When my daughters are happy,” Lupita said, “I am happy. This school gives me the opportunity to get involved. Our voice makes a difference.”
Gamil calmly talked about what it means to be a Cameron student.
“I know my hard work will pay off,” he said.
Cameron has a rich history serving the South Nashville neighborhood in which it sits. From 1955 to 1971, it served as a senior high school for African-Americans before being desegregated. It was then a ninth-grade school in the fall of 1971 and in 1978, it became a pilot middle school serving grades 5-8. To this day, it has a strong alumni presence, as evidenced by their participation this morning.
Just last month, LEAD announced that Cameron would be the new home of LEAD Academy High School beginning with the 2016-2017 school year, enabling our network to provide a clear pathway to high school for middle school students in this neighborhood for many years to come.
LEAD Public Schools began operating Cameron as a turnaround school in August 2011 in partnership with MNPS, beginning with the fifth-grade. With each subsequent school year, LEAD phased in an additional grade.
The school, which was in the bottom 5 percent of schools statewide when the partnership began, was awarded Reward School status for the 2013-2014 school year, meaning it scored in the top 5 percent of schools statewide, a testament to tremendous work by students and staff at both LEAD and MNPS alike.
LEAD CEO Chris Reynolds spoke to that.
“Partnership is powerful,” Mr. Reynolds said. “It works. And students win when we commit to working together as we have with MNPS here at Cameron. Today Cameron is nowhere near the bottom 5 percent. In fact, in 2014 it was recognized as a Reward school for being in the top 5 percent statewide for growth.
“With the same students, riding the same buses, going to school in the same building,” he said. “That is transformation. Our success at Cameron is what we expect from all our schools.”
After phasing in grades, LEAD began operating Cameron as a 5-8 middle school in 2014 – the first fully-converted public school in the state of Tennessee. Students have consistenly demonstrated some of the highest sustained growth in the state of Tennessee over the last three years – including three consecutive years of Level 5 TVAAS scores, data that measures the highest amount of growth among students.
The hard work is essential, said School Director Tait Danhausen.
“We have worked tirelessly to create a school where all students, parents and teachers can and will be successful,” he said in his opening remarks. “Cameron seeks to offer a safe space for our young adolescents to develop and learn who they are, what they want to be and what they have to do to get there.
"I have a favorite quote of Thomas Edison who once said, 'Opportunity is often times missed because it walks around dressed in overalls and looking like hard work,' " Danhausen said. "I think of this quote when I imagine the amazing families and staff that make up the LEAD network. We are all wearing overalls and taking advantage of this opportunity to work with the people of Nashville and especially the amazing students that make up this city."