Attending a Great School in Nashville Shouldn't Require Luck

By Corey Burton, director of enrollment and family engagement, LEAD Public Schools

Corey Burton, director of enrollment and family engagement at LEAD Public Schools.

Corey Burton, director of enrollment and family engagement at LEAD Public Schools.

A born and raised Nashvillian, I grew up in James Cayce Homes, a public housing development in East Nashville, and began my educational journey attending the local public elementary school. The statistics said I was unlikely to attend, much less graduate from, college.

But that’s not my story.

My life trajectory changed significantly in seventh grade. Through a scholarship, I had the opportunity to attend one of the most prestigious private schools in the nation, Montgomery Bell Academy (MBA).

As an inner-city kid at MBA, I did not fit their typical student profile. I had to attend summer school and repeat the seventh grade because I was so far behind my peers. But I caught up and graduated from MBA in 2004. Even though I never gave a thought to college as a kid, I went on to attend and graduate from Xavier University because of my experience at MBA.

I came back to this city because every child deserves the same chance I had to attend an excellent school and receive an education that prepares them for college and life. Nashville may have grown into one of the nation’s “it cities,” but that’s not the reality for everyone. Too many of our students and families are being left behind.

One of the key ways we can begin changing the story for more students is by empowering all families — not just the wealthy, white or lucky ones — with the ability to choose the best school for their kids.

In my role as Director of Enrollment and Family Engagement for LEAD Public Schools, that is my goal every day. We want all — and we mean all — Nashville families to know they have options. So when we canvas a neighborhood to tell families about LEAD, I push our team to knock on every door.

It can be too easy to write off a difficult kid, or avoid them because they might become a problem.  But I was that difficult kid once upon a time. Yet, because of the mentors I had throughout my life and my experience at MBA, I realized that I deserved to go to college even though I grew up thinking it wasn’t for me.

LEAD was founded with the mission to prepare every child in our care with the skills and knowledge they need to be ready for college and life. So we take our message to whoever may need it.

During these home visits, we work to build strong relationships with our communities that are horizontal, not vertical. We listen first, seeking to learn about a family and their hopes for their kids. Our conversations are rooted in the truth that we are inherently equal and we all have the same right to a quality education.

This is also why our network of schools includes both zoned and opt-in enrollment charters. Three of our schools, Brick Church, Neely’s Bend and Cameron, are zoned middle school options for the city. This means we serve the needs of all students and families who live in these neighborhoods.

Schools across Nashville — public charter schools, traditional public schools, magnet schools — are working hard for kids. But we’ve still got a long way to go before every child in this city is guaranteed a high-quality education. Students shouldn’t have to rely on a zip code in a wealthy neighborhood or an unlikely scholarship to a prestigious private school in order to get the education they deserve. My story ends well, and I’m grateful for my education. At LEAD, we work hard everyday to make sure all of our students can say the same.

Corey Burton is LEAD Public Schools’ Director of Enrollment and Family Engagement. A graduate of Xavier University, Corey is an active member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. and currently serves on the Board for local nonprofits “Why We Can’t Wait, Inc.” and “Let’s Play.” He and his wife LaKeshia reside in Nashville, and enjoy attending any and every concert that comes to Music City.

Kelli Gauthier