Student SoundOff: Lessons from Lexington

Have you heard of the Rachel Maddow show? What about the Washington Post? We’re sure you have, and those are just two of the places the Prichard Committee’s Student Voice Team has been featured. They found themselves gaining national media attention after introducing a bill to the Kentucky State Legislature that would have given students the opportunity to hold a voting seat on the board that elects school system superintendents. Despite the fact that their bill was struck down, due to the addition of two controversial amendments, the group’s actions are one of the best examples of students advocating for their education in our country.

After speaking with their adult director, Rachel Belin, we were invited to attend the Prichard Committee’s Student Voice Team’s Retreat in Lexington, Kentucky. Around half of the students attending were new members to the group, so the retreat also served as an orientation. We had the opportunity to learn about the group’s mission, history, and future plans. Learning from their experiences, and especially their formative period, gave us so much to take back home to Chattanooga.

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The day started with a slideshow about the Prichard Committee’s work in addition to the Student Voice Team’s efforts to include students in their education. The day consisted of presentations and workshops, primarily led by the high school students. One of the things that really caught our attention, was when a student spoke about their work and said “It was my first time seeing students take a stand.” Despite the fact that students make up 100% of a school system’s constituents, we so rarely have the opportunity to work alongside adults as partners in our education, rather than mere recipients.

While the issues students face in Kentucky are different from the issues here in Hamilton County, we all share a passion for student voice. The Student Voice Team pushed for legislation that would allow a student to be a voting member on the panels that select the superintendents for school districts. Here, we hope to create avenues for students to be directly involved in the decisions that affect us. That could like having a strong group, such as a Student Government Association, in every school. It could also mean publicizing that there is a student on the school board, and that the superintendent has a student advisory committee, and allowing students to apply to participate, in place of being selected by a principal.

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The second major lesson we learned from attending the retreat, is one related to accessibility: how do we make our group accessible to all students? While the Student Voice Team has a harder job when it comes to this, considering they are a statewide organization, the answer is a bit more simple for our group. In addition to providing transportation to and from events, it means plugging into local communities and engaging with students where they are. Much like the school board, as student organizers, we should work for and with students, not the other way around.

We are currently working to form a Student Voice Team, and we want you to get involved! If you want to help change public education for the better, you can start by filling out our short survey, which will also give you a chance to win one of two $25 Visa gift cards. At the end, you can choose to learn more, and we’ll reach out to you about getting involved in student roundtables, our group, and more. We hope to hear from you soon!

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Unanimous Vote Promotes Public Participation

UnifiEd is breaking new ground in community driven efforts to transform public participation in the Hamilton County school board meetings! For the last 8 months, we have worked to build a strong community coalition for increased transparency and accountability in Hamilton County public schools.  Last night the school board heard our call and voted unanimously to change the public comment policy in favor of greater public participation in school board meetings. 

The new policy allows the public to address the board by signing up to speak at least 30 minutes prior to the start of the meeting. Community members will still be allowed to sign up 3 days prior, but it will no longer be a requirement. This is a huge success towards greater transparency and accountability within the Department of Education giving parents, students, and teachers easier access to elected officials and increased participation in the decision making process concerning public education.

In response to the passing of the new policy, UnifiEd hosted a rally in support of a revised public comment policy. The rally was a way for the community to actively participate in making Hamilton County the best school system it can be and to thank the HCDE members for making public participation a priority. Thank you to everyone who came out in support of making Hamilton County public schools a top priority in the community!

We are excited about the progress towards a more transparent and accountable school board and would love for you to join us for the next school board meeting on September 24 at 5:30 PM.  Sign up HERE for more information about upcoming events to address the need and opportunity for change in Hamilton County public schools.

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School Board Watch Blog: August 2015

In this edition of UnifiEd’s School Board Watch, we’ll take a look at the agenda for the August 20th regular session of the Hamilton County School Board Meeting. The meeting will be held in the Hamilton County School Board Meeting Room at 3074 Hickory Valley Road. The Board Meeting is set to begin at 5:30 PM. We will be there live tweeting, follow along on Twitter: @UnifiEdHC, #HCSchools.

Items of Interest:

  • Second and Final Reading of Board Policy 1.404: Appearances Before the Board: In December, UnifiEd launched a campaign for greater public participation and transparency in Hamilton County public schools. After campaigning for 6 months and building a strong community coalition, Hamilton County School Board voted to revise their Public Comment Policy. The revised policy will allow the public to address the Board by signing up to speak at least 30 minutes prior to the start of the meeting.

To see the entire agenda with supporting documents click HERE.

On the consent agenda* for Thursday’s Meeting the board is scheduled to approve:

Eduction and Leadership Support

  • Field Trips are scheduled for the following schools: Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences students are taking college tour trips; a Hamilton County Collegiate High School student is doing a leadership training; Signal Mountain Middle/High School, Ooltewah High School, and Red Bank High School are doing sports related trips.

Business and Finance

1. Bids

  • Contract between HCDE and STARS (Students Taking A Right Stand) – This contract totals $31,500 and will provide training and support in the following initiatives: bullying prevention support, peer mediation training, leadership training, alternative to full suspension, and kindness matters campaign.  This contract is contingent upon approval of the Safe Schools and Safe and Supportive Schools Grants as submitted to the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) for SY 2015-16.
  • Contract/Proposal with Agile Mind Educational Holding, Inc. – This contract will provide an Intensified Algebra program for Howard High School and East Ridge High School ESOL students. The $21,3000 of funding will be provided by the federally funded grant for immigrant students awarded to HCDE for the 2015-16 school year.
  • Contract with Reading Plus/Taylor Associates Communications – This contract will provide Bess T. Shepherd, East Side Elementary, and Sequoyah High School with Reading Plus technology totaling $15,375. This program creates personalized learning experiences by combining advances in reading research with a user-centered design to inspire and empower today’s learner (Funding Source: Federal Title I budget).
  • Purchase of Title I Compacts from Channing Bete Company – This contract will provide the following Title I compacts for a total of $23,332.85: Parents Rights in Education – A Guide to the No Child Left Behind Act, School Wide Title I Programs – How and Why They Work, and School Wide Parent Compacts.
  • Renewal of Support and Maintenance with Book Systems – This contract renewal will provide students and faculty with easy access to their school’s online library catalog and educationally appropriate websites totaling $35, 936 (Funding Source: Self-Funded Program).
  • Early Approval to expand the playground design at the East Brainerd Elementary School – The principal and PTA are requesting the early approval to expedite the material fabrication and expansion of the playground at East Brainerd Elementary School totaling $50,000 (Funding Source: County Commission & school donations).
  • Early Approval of the Tyson and Jennie-O/Food Sales East Commodity Processing Revisions – Due to issues with handling the dark meat of the Tyson commodity and Avian flue with the Jennie-O turkey product, the School Nutrition Program is requesting replacement food items for school lunches.
  • Contract Extension for Fencing – This contract will furnish and install fencing for the schools system through A-Affordable Fencing Co. for SY 2015-16 (Funding Source: Operating/Maintenance and Capital Projects Budgets).
  • Purchase of Steam Boiler for CSAS – HCDE will purchase a steam boiler from Hajoca Corporation for a total of $42,523.47 (Funding Source: Capital Projects Fund).

2. Conferences and Consultants

  • A Plus Educator’s, LLC – This will provide teachers from Notre Dame High School, St. Jude Catholic School, and Our Lady Perpetual Help with manageable guidance on aligning and selecting instructional resources based on Current TN State standards totaling $25,910 (Funding Source: Schoo; Based Federal Title II).
  • Mary Jenkins, Consultant – This contract will provide East Ridge Middle School teachers and administrators with a consultant to empower them to incorporate research-based instructional methods and best teaching practices totaling $14,000 (Funding Source: School Based Federal Title I).
  • Dr. Terry Stevenson – This consultant will identify Bible teachers, maintain and enhance the quality and effectiveness of Bible history educators, and improve the overall learning experience of students in these classes (Funding Source: Self-Funding Bible in the Schools Program).
  • Teachers Development Group – This program will empower Soddy Daisy Middle School teachers to incorporate research-based instructional methods and best teaching practices in Mathematics totaling $13,350 (Funding Source: School Based Federal Title I).

3. Financial Reports

  • Monthly financial report comparing proposed budget to actual expenditure through June 30, 2015

4. Budget Amendments

  • Federal and Self-funded: Line item transfers for School Improvement Grant iZone Schools, line item transfers and a net increase of $138,880 for Safe School Climate, ConnnectTN Internet totaling $200,000, IDEA Discretionary Supplemental Grant totaling $20,070, Safety Security Systems Self-Funded Program totaling $85,789, Community Donations-Schools Self- Funded Program totaling $23,565, CLASS (Coalition of Large School Systems) Self-Funded Program totaling $130,245, Benwood Foundation Self-Funded Program with an increase of $900.

Board Matters

  • Naming of a Portion of a School Facility: The school committee at East Hamilton School has voted to recommend the football stadium be named to honor former Hamilton County Commissioner Larry Henry.

Administrative/Business Matters 

1. Change to Classified TCRS Plan: The Hamilton County Commission adopted resolutions changing the retirement plan for County employees from the existing TCRS defined benefit plan to an alternate hybrid retirement plan for classified employees hired October 1, 2015 or later.

2. First Reading of the Following Board Policies:

  • Board Policy 6.600 Student Records –  Due to the new requirements for student records policies under the 2014 Data Accessibility, Transparent and Accountability Act, it is necessary to revise the current policy for student records to comply with the new requirements which limits access to student records for confidentiality reasons unless needed for ‘legitimate educational interest’.
  • Board Policy 6.601 Student Records Annual Notification of Rights – Due to the new requirements for student records policies under the 2014 Data Accessibility, Transparent and accountability Act, it is necessary to adopt a new board policy regarding student records annual notification of rights. This information will notify parents(s) of students and eligible students of each student’s privacy rights and will be given to the student’s parent(s) or the eligible student at the time of enrollment.
  • Board Policy 6.602 Student Records Inspection & Correction Procedure – Due to the new requirements for student records policies under the 2014 Data Accessibility, Transparent and Accountability Act, it is necessary to adopt a new board policy regarding student records inspection and correction procedures that will allow parent(s) of students to inspect, review and request corrections to the student’s education records upon written request.
  • Board Policy 6.604 Student Surveys, Analyses, and Evaluation – Due to the new requirements for student records policies under the 2014 Data Accessibility, Transparent and Accountability Act, it is necessary to adopt a new board policy regarding student surveys strictly prohibiting the collection of data regarding student political affiliation or voting history, religious practices, and firearm ownership.

**(Consent Agenda) These items are considered to be routine and non-controversial by the Board and will be approved by one motion. If any Board member objects to including an item on the consent agenda then that item shall become a separate action item for discussion.

UnifiEd’s InformEd Review: August 2015

 

Policy Update : TCAP Scores : Community Events

UnifiEd is breaking new ground in our community driven efforts to transform public participation in the Hamilton County school board meetings! For the last 7 months, we have campaigned for increased transparency and accountability in Hamilton County public schools through 4 simple reforms, and the school board has heard our call. UnifiEd will host a rally at the August 20th meeting in support of a revised public comment policy.  In May, the school board voted to revise the public comment policy, allowing the public to address the board by signing up to speak at least 30 minutes prior to the start of the meeting. Community members will still be allowed to sign up 3 days prior, but it will no longer be a requirement. The final vote to pass the public comment policy change will occur at the August 20th meeting.The rally is a way for the community to actively participate in making Hamilton County the best school system it can be and thank the HCDE members for making public participation a priority. The meeting will be held at the Department of Education (3074 Hickory Valley Road) at 5:00 PM; the rally will begin prior to the meeting at 4:30 PM. We’ll provide the signs, you provide the support!

We are excited about the progress towards a more transparent and accountable school board and would love for you to join us for the August 20th school board meeting. Please contact your local school board member in support of UnifiEd’s #4simplereforms!

District and school wide TCAP scores were released for the state of Tennessee on Wednesday, July 29.  After analyzing the data, we have compiled the most revealing statistics about Hamilton County performance.

  • Hamilton County trails TN state averages in all areas except in Math for grades 3-8; however, in that category we were 1.1% above the state average.
  • Scores went up the most in grades 3-8 Math and in grades 9-12 Chemistry and Algebra II.
  • Reading scores for elementary and middle schools continue to drop throughout the county with the percent of students scoring proficient and advanced declining from 46.9% to 44.8%.
  • Biology I and Algebra I scores showed the biggest decline for high school students.
  • The gap in reading achievement between students who are economically disadvantaged and their more affluent peers is getting larger each year, with the achievement gap growing from 30.3 to 35.9 in the last three years.
  • 20% of elementary and middle schools improved in all subject areas while another 20% showed a decrease in all subject areas.
  • When looking at counties of similar size, we performed better as a whole compared to Davidson and Shelby County, but worse than Knox County.
  • Rivermont Elementary had the highest growth in all three subject areas in the county and the third highest growth rate in Science in the state of TN.
  • Overall, Hamilton County high school students performed better on TCAP assessments this year compared to last year.

With two years remaining on the Superintendent’s contract, the school board voted 8-0, with Greg Martin absent, on a 2-year extension of Smith’s contract running through July 31, 2019. Smith’s original contract was signed in 2011 with a starting salary of $163,500. In 2013, the school board voted to extend his contract by two years and included a $25,000 raise, putting his annual salary around $190,000. The current contract extension will be raising the Superintendent’s salary by nearly $9,000 with his total annual earnings coming to $198,966.47. Superintendent’s salary has increased by $35,466.47 since the signing of his original contract in 2011.The other major agenda item up for vote at the July 8th school board meeting was the Addendum to Independent Bus Driver’s Contract. This addition proposed to pay fuel reimbursement and operating costs equivalent to one day’s pay for every fourth day of school missed due to inclement weather. After debate and discussion, the added addendum failed in a 3-5 vote, the opponents claiming its passage would be unfair to other hourly school system employees who did not get that same pay benefit.

Community Events 
Pact for Public Education Press Event
10:30 AM, August 11th

This month we will be releasing our Pact for Public Education which is a community call to action that ensures every child in Hamilton County has access to great public schools. Come show your support by joining us for our Press Conference in front of the Hamilton County Courthouse (625 Georgia Avenue).  
School Board Meeting + Rally
Rally at 4:30 PM, Meeting at 5:00 PM, August 20th

Join us at this month’s school board meeting to support the final reading of the revised public comment policy. Before the meeting we will be hosting a rally thanking the school board for supporting increased transparency and accountability. The meeting and rally will be held at the Department of Education (3074 Hickory Valley Road).
Hardy Elem. Back to School Bash 
6:00 PM, August 27th

Join us in celebrating the beginning of the school year at Hardy Elementary’s Back to School Bash sponsored by Glass House Collective, Empower, and UnifiEd. You don’t want to miss the puppet show by Kids on the Block and violin performance from youth enrolled in Love Fellowship’s new music lessons.
The Howard School Reunion 
10 AM – 2 PM, Saturday August 29th

Calling all Howard Alumni! Celebrating 150 years of academics and progress, the Howard School All Classes’ Cookout will be held at Howard’s Gaston Stadium. This event is open to all alumni of Howard School and is free of charge. If you would like to attend the full weekend reunion click HERE to purchase tickets. 
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