2016 was an exciting year for UnifiEd! With increased community involvement, positive changes in our school system, and some of our greatest successes to date, 2016 was truly a breakout year. Our team and the Hamilton County community worked very hard this past year to come together and demand change in our school system for the betterment of students, teachers, families, and all stakeholders. It is now clear how much impact can be made by raising the voice of our community. UnifiEd looks forward to seeing what incredible new things we can accomplish this coming year. But first, let’s take a look at the amazing accomplishments of UnifiEd in 2016:

Student Voice Team:

After finding discrepancies between the state and local bullying and harassment policies, our student-led team successfully campaigned for a better policy for HCDE. They led meetings with students across the county and presented their findings to the school board, who implemented the new bullying and harassment policy change. Our Student Voice Team went on to lead roundtable discussion in each Hamilton County high school and worked on equity driven student-led campaigns throughout these schools.

Superintendent Search Process:

This year, we saw a lot of changes in our local school government. UnifiEd led a campaign for accountability with the Superintendent by enabling hundreds of community members to reach out to their representatives after there were concerns about transparency and communication. We hosted 10 community conversations in each of the nine districts to ensure community voice was incorporated into the superintendent selection process. These discussions produced four community-led recommendations for public involvement in the superintendent search process, leading over 200 community members to contact their representatives in support of a comprehensive community engagement plan. Over 50 community members attended our rally at the school board meeting pressuring board members to adopt the four recommendations. School board members are now in communication with the search firm about including a robust community input plan throughout the candidate search process.

School Board Elections:

Since 4 districts were up for reelection this year, we created an online tool, designed a brochure, and hosted meetings in all districts to help Hamilton County residents become more informed on how to run for school board. As a result, all districts open for election were contested. We hosted School Board Debates with 100% candidate participation. 377 community members attended these debates and had the opportunity to ask candidates questions.

Community Schools

UnifiEd teamed up with Great Schools Partnership of Knox County to host a Community Schools Workshop providing residents with information on how to establish a community school model in their district. We then sent over 30 parents, teachers, and organizational leaders to Knox County community schools to collect best practice research to better understand how to implement this model here at home. After extensive research, we helped establish a community school council for Red Bank High School and sent a community leader to Arizona for the Community Schools Conference. Through our campaigning on this initiative, HCDE has now agreed to adopt and implement the community school model throughout Hamilton County schools.

Hamilton County Public School Guide:

After over a year of extensive research and data collection, UnifiEd released the Hamilton County Public School Guide, the first education data dashboard created in Hamilton County. This tool provides the community with information concerning all 79 of our public schools such as demographic data, test scores, college and career readiness, and how to contact local representatives. Efforts are currently underway to illustrate school climate across the county because we know test scores and data don’t always give us the full picture.

UnifiEducators Committee:

This year, UnifiEd hosted monthly meetings with local educators to identify key issues affecting teachers. This lead to an ESOL campaign to improve communication between HCDE and Spanish speaking parents and students. The UnifiEducators Committee continues to grow and we look forward to seeing their progress next year.

PACT Implementation:

Recently, HCDE has drafted a strategic plan. This plan calls for HCDE to adopt much of our PACT for Public Education! Their plan calls for the following Pact Points to be adopted:

1a- Implement a plan to recruit the best possible teachers for all schools in HCDE.

1b- Retain our teachers by having a robust county-wide mentorship plan, individualized professional development.

1d- Offer incentives to keep the best teachers in the highest need schools.

3b- Implement short and long-term goals for the school board using metrics based on student outcomes.

We want to thank everyone who has been engaged in our work this year – change is impossible without you. We made some incredible progress towards making our schools the best they can be. Students, teachers, and the community are at the heart of our work. We look forward to building on this momentum in 2017!