School Board Watch Blog: November 17, 2016

In this edition of UnifiEd’s School Board Watch Blog, we will take a look at the agenda for the November 17th regularly scheduled 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 and is set to begin at 5:30 PM. We will live tweet @UnifiEdHC, follow along at #HCSchools.

To see the entire agenda with supporting documents click here.

Hot Topics:

  • First Reading of Board Policy 5.305 – Family and Medical Leave: Provisions are being added to the Family and Medical Leave policy that states an employee may submit any form of medical documentation to Human Resources to have leave authorized under FMLA. In addition, the School District is able to designate leave as FMLA under their discretion if they feel adequate medical documentation or information was provided to the District. This policy change provides an important area of clarification for the system regarding medical documentation.

Field Trips

  • CSAS Upper and Hixson High School will participate in band and orchestra related field trips.
  • Brainerd High School, Hixson High School, Signal Mountain Middle High School, Central High School, East Hamilton School, Red Bank High School, and Sale Creek Middle High  will participate in sports related field trips.
  • CSLA will participate in a travel related field trip.
  • Hixson High will participate in a college and leadership related field trip.
  • Signal Mountain Middle High School, Lookout Valley Middle High School, and Sale Creek High will participate in Model UN or Youth in Government related field trips.
  • East Ridge High School, Ooltewah High School, and Sequoyah High School will participate in competitive Hot Rodding and JROTC related field trips.
  • Brown Middle School will participate in an American government related field trip.


  • Approval sought to purchase restroom panels for Washington Alternative School in the amount of $15,665 from Service Systems.
  • Approval sought for Brainerd High School to contract with Reading Plus for a total of $2,166 from their Title I budget.
  • Approval sought for Sequoyah High School to contract with Reading Plus for a total of $5,500 from their Title I budget.
  • Approval sought to amend contract with Stellar Therapy Services, LLC for nursing services reimbursement for HCDE. The reimbursement is for Medicaid eligible students through Stellar Therapy.

Conferences and Consultants:

  • Approval sought from the Principal at Orchard Knob Elementary for the consultant agreement with Jessica Kaminski for a total of $9,600.00 from the iZone Federal budget. The consultancy will work on professional development for teachers aimed at increasing student achievement in literacy.

Financial Report

  • Presentation of the monthly financial report comparing actual year-to-date expenditures to the original adopted budget and the year-to-date amended budget from up to September 2016.

Budget Amendments

The following budget amendments for Self-Funded Programs for FY2017 are recommended for School Board approval:

  • Therapy Services Self-Funded Program, with a net increase of $300,000
  • Character Education Self-Funded Program, with a net increase of $26,482
  • Photography Self-Funded Program, totaling $400,000
  • Ochs-Oakes Self-Funded Program, totaling $2,250

First Reading of Board Policy

  • Board Policy 5.305 – Family and Medical Leave: Provisions are being added to the Family and Medical Leave policy that states an employee may submit any form of medical documentation to Human Resources to have leave authorized under FMLA. In addition, the School District is able to designate leave as FMLA under their discretion if they feel adequate medical documentation or information was provided to the District. This policy change provides an important area of clarification for the system regarding medical documentation.

Administrative and Business Matters

  • Dr. Lee McDade will recommend the approval of the 2016-2017 Local Education Agency (LEA) Compliance Report. The TN Department of Education requires that local school boards certify that they are in compliance with TN and State Board of Education rules and regulations. The compliance report was reviewed by HCDE staff.
  • Justin Witt will address the school board to recommend approval of a request by Crown Castle to extend our current lease agreements for cell towers at Orchard Knob Middle School, CCA, and Central High School. The current agreement regarding cell towers will expire in 2023 and the base rental fee is $1,064.00. After discussing different options HCDE mutually agreed to extend the lease to 2043 with a new base rental fee of $1,500.00. The new rate will increase by 2% annually.

Important Dates and Events

  • December 8th, 2016: Board Agenda Work Session at 5:00pm in the Board Room
  • December 15th, 2016: Quarterly Session Board Meeting at 5:00pm in the Board Room
  • December 16th, 2016: Last day of Classes
  • December 19th-30th 2016: Winter Break

HCDE Budget for 2017

In April, the School Board approved the 2017 Hamilton County Department of Education (HCDE) Budget. The new budget proposes an increase in school spending by $33,793,866 requesting a total of $385,051,862 for Hamilton County public schools. This year, our school system budget is linked to student outcomes focused on system wide priorities including: workforce readiness, improved literacy, and a renewed focus on priority schools. We applaud the school system for dedicating time, resources, and money towards ensuring there are highly effective teachers in the classrooms of our most vulnerable students.


FY 2017 Budget Overview

Base Budget Starting Point:                       $351,257,996

Budget for Strategic Focus Areas:             $  33,793,866

Total Requested Budget for FY 2017:       $385,051,862




Workforce Readiness Priorities: In Hamilton County, 94% of students with Career/Technical Education (CTE) concentrations matriculate to postsecondary placements related to their concentration. Currently, 1 in 30 (3%) students complete a certificate. In 3 years, Hamilton County would like to see 1 in 7 (14%) students complete a certificate.

Budget Allocation: $19,166,917

Literacy Across the Curriculum Priorities: In 2015, 45% of our students were reading on grade level. In 3 years, HCDE would like to see 60% of students reading on grade level. In 2015, the average ACT Composite Score was 19. In three years, HCDE hopes the average ACT score moves up to 21 enabling students to qualify for the HOPE Scholarship.


         Budget Allocation: $7,205,059

Priority School Focus: HCDE wants to put more focus on priority schools in our county by: extending support beyond iZone schools to all schools near priority status, increase instructional supports tailored to specific priority schools and student populations, strategically recruit and retain highly effective teachers and leaders in priority schools, increase support for the growing English Language Learners (ELL) population, and build connections for students and families to basic medical care through telemedicine and clinic-in-schools program.  

Budget Allocation: $5,713,080

System Wide Priorities: HCDE is requesting an increase in the Capital Maintenance Budget for building repairs and maintenance, contractual increases for transportation plus 2 additional buses and the remaining cost of 4 buses bought last year, and the increase in utilities to pay for increased electricity and water/sewer rates.

Budget Allocations: $1,708,810


Hamilton County is at a crossroads for change and the Hamilton County Department of Education is taking a step in the right direction with this year’s school budget by aligning dollars spent with student outcome goals. The Department of Education will present the budget to County Commission for final approval in May. Stay tuned for more information.   



Now is the Time for New Leadership

The time to act is now.

On March 7th, the School Board voted against buying out Superintendent Rick Smith’s contract; the next day, Smith announced his plan to remain in his current role until the end of his contract in 2019. It is time for new leadership. The School Board needs to remove him or he needs to resign. 

We cannot afford to have a school system that fails students, their parents, and this community. Any promise of progress will be an empty one under current leadership. The decline in student performance, the failure to comply with state law in policies to protect students from hazing and bullying, and the silence in response to the tragic assault of an Ooltewah High School student makes the case for new leadership very clear. Now is the time to act and demand a change in leadership.

What can you do?

1. Contact your School Board member and let them know you want them to revisit their decision concerning Superintendent Smith, and advocate for the termination of his contract. Click here to send an email to your School Board members; you can use our form or craft your own message. If you prefer to call, dial 423-217-4400 and select the number that corresponds to your district’s representative.

2. Attend the next School Board Meeting scheduled for March 17th at 5:30pm at the Department of Education (3074 Hickory Valley Road).

3. Join us for a community conversation to talk about the current leadership of Hamilton County schools. Check our schedule for upcoming conversations and let us know what you want to see in new leadership.


UnifiEd Calls for Change in Bullying & Harassment Policy

UnifiEd and our Student Voice Team is calling for the Hamilton County Department of Education (HCDE) to immediately comply with state law mandating an adequate bullying and harassment policy and to launch an independent investigation of all policies and procedures related to bullying. We need you to contact your local School Board members in support of policy changes that will ensure the safety of all students in Hamilton County.

Show your support in these three ways: 

1. Contact your local School Board member to let them know you want HCDE’s bullying and harassment policy to comply with state law and for the School Board to launch an independent investigation of all policies and procedures related to bullying. Write a letter, send an email, or make a phone call and let them know this issue is important to you. Find out who your local school board member is HERE. Find contact information for your local School Board member HERE.

2. Attend the School Board Work Session this Thursday, January 14 at 5pm at the Hamilton County Department of Education (3074 Hickory Valley Rd). The meeting will include an agenda session, a policy committee meeting to look at policies and procedures concerning bullying/harassment/field trips/athletics, and a public forum allowing community members to address the board with questions and concerns about the Ooltewah incident.

3. Attend the regularly scheduled School Board Meeting next Thursday, January 21 at 5pm at the Hamilton County Department of Education (3074 Hickory Valley Rd). Join us in supporting our Student Voice Team as they present their findings concerning bullying and harassment in our public schools.

UnifiEd’s Student Voice Team has worked with over 100 students from 16 different schools in Hamilton County to advocate for policy change within public schools. We all agree bullying and harassment is one of the most pressing issues facing students today. Our team has been working since last year to bring attention to bullying and discrimination in schools. We learned that the current HCDE Policy 6.304 regarding Student Discrimination/Harassment/Hazing and Bullying/Intimidation does not comply with state law (Tenn. Code Ann. 49-6-4503). The Student Voice Team’s review of HCDE’s policy suggests that 5 of the 13 required provisions are missing or inadequate:

  • A procedure for anonymous reporting
  • A statement of the consequences and appropriate remedial action for a person who engages in reprisal or retaliation against a person who reports an act of harassment, intimidation, bullying, or cyber bullying
  • A description of the type of behavior expected from each student
  • A procedure for discouraging and reporting conduct aimed at defining a student in a sexual manner or conduct impugning the character of a student based on allegations of sexual promiscuity
  • A statement of the manner in which a school district shall respond after an act of harassment, intimidation, bullying, or cyber-bullying is reported, investigated, and confirmed

Having procedures in place that support anonymous reporting is essential to ensuring the safety of all students. The School Board needs to work with students to create a centralized method of reporting that empowers students to be honest about what’s going on in our schools and provide support for victims. While school administrators cannot base disciplinary action on anonymous reports, they are useful in tracking and responding to problems associated with harassment, intimidation, and bullying.

UnifiEd’s Student Voice Team is currently working with students across the county to create a policy draft they believe will best serve students and address the issue of increased bullying and harassment in public schools. We know this is not just about one incident or one school and we are dedicated to making policy changes that will benefit all students in Hamilton County. Now is the time to do your part!

If you have any questions regarding our Bullying and Harassment Campaign, please contact one of our student organizers via email:

Check out these news stories highlighting the importance of bullying/harassment policy reform:

News Channel 9: Making Hamilton County’s Anti-Bullying/Hazing Policies Conform with State Underway

News Channel 3: New Anonymous Reporting System For Bullying in Hamilton County Schools 

News Channel 12: Group Says Hamilton County Schools Are Not In Compliance With Bullying Laws

#GivingTuesday with UnifiEd

Get into the spirit of generosity this holiday season and join us for #CHAgives on December 1st, our city’s first year participating in the global giving event, #GivingTuesday! UnifiEd is excited to be apart of this philanthropic global movement celebrating generosity and community service. Since its founding in 2012, #GivingTuesday has partnered with 68 countries to raised over 87.2 million dollars for nonprofits, community initiatives, organizations, and more.

On the Tuesday following Black Friday and Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday is a day for charities, families, businesses, community centers, and students around the world to come together to give through social media and collaboration. It is a day that connects communities and encourages individuals to take action, empower those around them, and create lasting, positive change.

Causeway and United Way of Greater Chattanooga have partnered to promote #GivingTuesday in Chattanooga for the first time through their #Chagives campaign. Everyone in our city is encouraged to donate to local charities, nonprofits, organizations, and other social causes to make our city the best it can be. Chattanooga has set a goal of reaching 30,000 volunteers and donors to give to local efforts.

UnifiEd is asking for your help on December 1st! By donating to our cause, you are supporting our work in making education the best it can be in Hamilton County. Every great city needs citizens who are knowledgeable, innovative, and engaged, and an education system that supports the success of its people.

UnifiEd is a community led movement of parents, students, teachers, and citizens who want every child to have the chance to attend great public schools. Over the past year we have launched a student voice team, a teacher fellowship program, and our Pact for Public Education which has engaged thousands of Hamilton County residents to form a strong coalition dedicated to public education advocacy work. Please donate here to help ensure every child in Hamilton County has a brilliant future.

Welcoming New Fall Interns

This fall, UnifiEd hired 4 new fall interns who are helping with research, community outreach, graphic design, and web development. With the new release of the Pact for Public Education they will be able to help us to spread the word about the Pact and to build a stronger community coalition. We are excited to get more students involved in our work. Here’s more about our new interns!

juliaMy name is Julia Jedamski and I am one of the two Southern Promise Interns working at UnifiEd this fall. This program pairs freshman and sophomores from Southern Adventist University with local non-profits to gain skills in their area of interest. I’m from New Market, Virginia. I am currently a freshman majoring in Clinical Psychology. I hope to work in occupational therapy for special needs children. In my spare time I like to draw and swim. Fun facts about me: I have been swimming competitively since I was 8, I have played 25 seasons of soccer, and I love Thai food.


jacksonHi, my name is Jackson Mowrer, and I’m the second Southern Promise Intern from Southern Adventist University. I am currently a freshman majoring in History with a Pre-Law track. In the future I hope to work with the Department of Justice. I am very excited to be here through the Promise scholarship program, and I am really enjoying working at UnifiEd with all the fellow interns. In my spare time, I like to play softball and football. Fun facts about me: I have a dog named Harley, I am originally from Pennsylvania, and I recently suffered from a softball injury and got to ride in an ambulance for the first time.

selmaHi, my name is Selma Dedovic, and I’m the new Research and Policy Intern this fall at UnifiEd! I’m from Bosnia i Herzegovina but have been living in Memphis, TN most of my life. I am currently a senior at UTC and majoring in Political Science and minoring in International Studies.  I hope to be a lawyer and give back to my community. UnifiEd is giving me the opportunity to learn how to give back and how little actions can have a big impact! In my spare time I like to paint and do photography. Some fun facts about me: I love to surf, I have no middle name, and I got to crawl in one of the pyramids in Cairo, Egypt.

mitchHi! My name is Mitch Millsaps and I am the new Communications Intern here at UnifiEd. I’m from Knoxville, TN and am currently a freshman at UTC majoring in Graphic Design. I am glad to be working at UnifiEd so I can produce graphics that can benefit the community while learning new skills through advocacy work. In my spare time, I like to bake and design mobile apps. Some fun facts about me: I learned Photoshop when I was 13, I am great at writing formal emails, and I once managed to burn mac & cheese.

School Board Meeting Recap: September 2015

Last night, the School Board voted to elect a new Chairman, Vice Chairman, and Tennessee Legislative Network (TNL) Representative. Donna Horn and Jonathan Welch were nominated for Chairman. Jonathan Welch was elected to replace George Ricks as the new Chairman with a 6-3 vote. Donna Horn and David Testerman were nominated for Vice Chairman. Donna Horn was re-elected as the Vice Chairman with a 5-4 vote and David Testerman was re-elected as the TNL Representative with a 9-0 vote.

School Board Members discussed the the appropriation of funds for new computers which will fill requirements for students taking the new TNReady standardized tests at the end of the school year. They also discussed the need for additional teaching and assistant principal positions after collecting the 10 day and 20 day enrollment numbers from public schools.

The last topic discussed was the decision to go forward with hiring a structural engineer to inspect school stadiums at six area high schools. The vote was a result of continued discussion surrounding the recent condemnation of East Ridge High School’s Stadium. This vote will allocate $10,000 for inspections and allow the district to prepare a timeline for repair.  The School Board Members did not disclose the other six schools included in the inspection, but Lookout Valley High, Hixson High, The Howard School, Ooltewah High, and Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences were on previous lists.  Superintendent Rick Smith suggested the demolition of East Ridge’s stadium happen in December after football season is over. The School Board has scheduled a Facilities Meeting for October 15 at 5pm at the Department of Education to discuss next steps for stadium improvements.

The School Board voted unanimously to approve everything in the consent agenda. For more information, read the latest edition of our School Board Watch Blog.