What We've Accomplished

We’ve been hard at work in the community since we started in 2014. Here’s some of the things we’ve done!

Educational Equity

The Issue

Decades of separate and unequal schooling have maintained a cycle of poverty in our community as the school system failed to acknowledge the systemic inequities that prevent many children, families, and neighborhoods from thriving.

Progress & Accomplishments

• UnifiEd has helped lead the effort to acknowledge the lack of equitable education across our schools. Guaranteeing equal opportunity for all students is one of UnifiEd’s core goals and has been our primary focus in 2017 and 2018.

• Designed and executed the community-driven listening and action planning initiative known as the APEX Project to highlight inequities and drive long-term solutions.

• Organized diverse steering committee of 27 representatives from across Hamilton County to act as organizers, neighborhood leaders, and the voice of the community throughout the community input and action plan development process.

• Collected 2,600 surveys regarding inequities across the school system from community members during EdTalks and through canvassing and event tabling.

• Engaged more than 1,300 community members through the APEX Bus Tour to crowdsource equity solution priorities.

• Matched best practice research with community priorities to tackle inequities and published the APEX Project Report.

• Currently facilitating first cohort of APEX Action Teams (with more than 100 community members participating) to build timelined plans for equity initiatives focused on:

Supporting the whole child

Racial and socioeconomic desegregation

Community engagement and empowerment

Supporting the people in our schools

Funding our future

• APEX Action Teams are developing plans focused on restorative justice in disciplinary practices, building empathy and cultural competency through trainings on race justice and responsible integration practices in the community while including a storytelling element focused on desegregation, building community awareness around inequities in school funding through a video project documenting a student exchange experience , elevating student voice within schools, and delivering training and knowledge- or skill-building workshops for families. Action plans will be presented in early 2019.

• Hosted three community events with nationally renowned educational equity experts:

Richard Kahlenberg, Senior Fellow at the Century Foundation (November 2015)

Dr. John Marshall, Chief Equity Officer of Jefferson County Public Schools (August 2017)

Nikole Hannah-Jones, Investigative Reporter for The New York Times Magazine (March 2018)

• HCDE created Chief Equity Officer position and Equity Task Force, and school board voted to bring in consultants to facilitate the task force.

• Thinktank Metro Ideas Project published a platform of policy solutions for candidates for local office in 2018 that called for equitable school funding, redrawing of school zones to increase socioeconomic diversity, and adoption of restorative justice practices (all previously recommended by UnifiEd).

Community Schools

The Issue

Schools have become walled off – figuratively and often literally – to the communities and neighborhoods they serve. There are few opportunities for community members to engage with schools and students.

Progress & Accomplishments

• UnifiEd successfully advocated for the adoption of a community schools model by HCDE.

• UnifiEd facilitated Red Bank High becoming first community school in Hamilton County.

• UnifiEd sent community leaders to Knox County community schools to collect best practice research.

• UnifiEd helped establish a community schools coalition of local and state-level organizations and individuals advocating for the model in Hamilton County

• HCDE hired two community school coordinators for Opportunity Zone schools for the 2017-18 school year and has developed a plan to expand into more schools with up to four additional coordinators

Transparency & Accountability

The Issue

There has historically been little transparency from the school system and school board on how decisions are made, budgets are determined, policy changes, etc. There have also been few methods by which the community could remain informed on the performance of the school system and board, including opportunities to interact with either. Without transparency, there has also been no means for holding decision makers accountable.

Progress & Accomplishments

• UnifiEd has successfully advocated for many changes in policy and practice that increase transparency and accountability by HCDE and the school board.

• HCDE now has a multi-year strategic plan with specific, measurable goals.

• Board meeting agendas and documents are now available online in advance of meetings.

• Board meetings are now livestreamed, recorded, and available on YouTube.

• Community members may now sign up immediately before board meetings to speak during a public comment period.

• Board now undertakes self-assessment of its performance.

• HCDE budget is now available online, an easy-to-read guide to the budget has been published, and budget working sessions are open to the public.

• UnifiEd created and annually updates the Public School Guide, which compiles data like demographic information and test scores on every public school in the county.

Prioritized Funding & Long-Term Budgeting

The Issue

HCDE has been woefully underfunded for decades with insufficient operating and capital budgets. Schools and classrooms do not consistently get the resources they need to deliver a great education, and hundreds of millions of dollars in deferred maintenance have accumulated. There has also not been a multi-year budget that ties spending to student outcomes.

Progress & Accomplishments

• UnifiEd has advocated for increased funds from the county and for a multi-year budget.

• During UnifiEd’s 2017 “Fund Hamilton County’s Future” campaign, we held approximately 50 EdTalks across the county to educate the community on the school budget and unmet needs.

• More than 2,500 community members contacted their elected representatives urging them to prioritize education in the county budget.

• Approximately 150 community members attended the June 2017 budget vote in support of increased funding for schools.

• A property tax increase was passed in August 2017 to provide $110 million in new money for school capital projects.

• For the first time, the school system aligned their request for increased operating funds to its strategic plan in 2017.

Student Voice

The Issue

Students have historically had few opportunities or avenues to advocate for changes they wish to see and had little voice in the decisions that impact their daily lives.

Progress & Accomplishments

• UnifiEd’s Student Voice Team has helped elevate students’ perspectives and join the conversations that impact their education experience.

• Approximately 30 high school students from across HCDE have been trained as organizers within their schools by UnifiEd staff.

• The student members of the school board for the 2016-17 and 2017-18 school years were UnifiEd-trained student organizers.

• Student Voice Team worked with school board attorney to update the system-wide bullying and harassment policy, which they identified as the top issue affecting students during peer listening sessions and which was previously not compliant with state standards.

• Students were a significant portion of respondents to the APEX equity survey, which identified the most urgent inequities in our schools and informed the work being undertaken by APEX Action Teams.

• An Action Team is currently working with Lookout Valley Middle/High School to develop a student voice program to pilot during the 2018-19 school year.

• Student Voice Team member at STEM School successfully advocated for the adoption of bylaws for its Student Support Senate to clarify the group’s role and bring awareness of its purpose to more students.

Community Engagement

The Issue

Community members, businesses, nonprofits, and religious institutions have historically had few clear paths to engagement with schools.

Progress & Accomplishments

• HCDE has become more receptive to two-way communication with the community by hosting listening sessions with the administration countywide and creating a communications team. UnifiEd has also successfully supported community members to advocate for what they want in their schools by developing organizing leaders and supplying knowledge-building and engagement opportunities and campaigns.

• UnifiEd fostered community involvement in the school board’s selection process of the current superintendent through ten community listening sessions held in all nine county districts. The process produced four community-led recommendations for public involvement in the search process, and resulted in more than 200 residents contacting their representatives in support of a comprehensive community input plan.

• UnifiEd hosts monthly half-day Building Power for Change workshops in 2017-18 to help form diverse relationships across the county, build critical empathy for neighbors, learn about the history of school segregation in our county, create a shared vocabulary around equity issues, and inspire advocates.

• UnifiEd created a Public School Guide Video for every school to highlight their unique climate and character and to spotlight the great things happening in our schools despite lack of resources and systemic issues.

• Mobilized opposition to TN Senate Bill 1755 in spring 2017. Responsible for branding it the “Schoolhouse Heist Bill” and got community members to send postcards to their state representatives opposing the bill.

• Published a “how to run for school board” guide in 2016.

• Hosted school board candidate debates in 2014, 2016, and 2018 with 100% candidate participation and nearly 1,000 attendees overall.

• Published a school board race voter guide in 2018 to help residents assess where candidates stand on issues.

• Created a “find your elected officials” tool to help residents identify their school board representative and county commissioner, with contact information to engage with their elected officials.