School Board Watch Blog: December 15, 2016

In this edition of UnifiEd’s School Board Watch Blog, we will take a look at the agenda for the December 15th 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:

  • Second 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

  • East Hamilton High School will participate in the competitive Honors Virtual Enterprise field trip.
  • East Hamilton School, East Ridge High School, Lookout Valley Middle High School, Signal Mountain Middle High School, Red Bank High School, and Sale Creek Middle High School will participate in sports related field trips.
  • East Hamilton School and Ooltewah High School will participate in music related field trips.
  • Signal Mountain Middle High School will participate in a competitive science related field trip.
  • Soddy Daisy High School will participate in a Forensics related field trip.
  • Big Ridge Elementary and Spring Creek Elementary will participate in Math, Reading, and Science related field trips at Rock Eagle Environmental Center.   

Bids:

  • Approval sought to extend the contract by 2 years with Praters, Inc. to repair, sand, and refinish gym floors.
  • Approval sought for the purchase of 9 CPO lab kits to be given to the start up courses and 25 digital licenses to be used by Physical World Concepts Curriculum teachers. This will be for a total of $29,313.13 from the Consumables Budget.
  • The Office of Accountability and Testing is seeking approval for the renewal of the Software Maintenance Subscription & Support contract with PowerSchool for a total of $121,429.47 from the General Purpose fund.
  • Approval sought from The Howard School Principal and the Orchard Knob Middle School Principal for a contract agreement with Mastery Connect from their Federal Title I School based budget totalling $7,513.80 for Howard and $2,448.60 for Orchard Knob. Mastery Connect allows teachers to track TN ready standards, access and utilize teacher-created common formative assessments and participate in on-site/online professional development.
  • Approval sought from the Director of Exceptional Education for a contract with Momentum Behavior Analysis to provide Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) services to students with disabilities. These services will be paid with Exceptional Education General Purpose funds totalling a maximum of $ 35,000.
  • Recommended bid approval for JAT Oil Company for the purchase of motor fuel totalling $26,144.00.

Conferences and Consultants:

  • Approval sought from the Principal at Notre Dame High School for a contract with A+ Education and Propel for $11,625.00 consultation for training in Coach evaluation and walkthrough process, $12,425.00 consultation for technology integration professional development, and $16,625.00 for instructional software modules, and parent support packets, from school based Federal Title I and Title II private school budget allocations.
  • Approval sought for implementing Paths to College and Career curriculum (Paths) at Brainerd High School and all materials, understandings, and strategies needed for implementation totalling $48,000 funded through the Federal Programs School Improvement Grant pending State approval.
  • Approval sought from the Principal at East Side Elementary to contract with Dr. Beverly Tyner to aid in literacy and professional development efforts for teachers totaling $1,800.00 from their school based Federal Title I budget.

Financial Report

  • Presentation of the monthly financial report comparing budget to actual through October, 2016. The presentation of the monthly financial statement compares actual year-to-date expenditures to the original adopted budget and the year-to-date amended budget.

Budget Amendments

The following FY2017 budget amendments for the Pre-K State Grant Award and matching budget 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.
  • Committed for Education Fund Balance, with $411,733 for Regular Instructional Equipment and $82,372 for Hardware/Software, totalling $494,105.              

Second 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

  • A summary of legal fees for services in October are $13,732.00 for Leitner, Williams, Dooley & Napolitan PLLC and $1,465.50 for Spears, Moore, Rebman & Williams, totalling $15,197.50.
  • All certified and full-time classified employees were given an opportunity to vote on one of four calendar options for the 2017-818 school year. Draft 1 of the calendar received 54% of the vote, so Human Resources is encouraging the approval of the Board for this Draft.
  • Dr. Lee McDade will recommend the approval of a name change for the district’s Preschool Assessment and Learning Services Center, located at West 40th Street, with support from The PALS Team and the Exceptional Education Department.The proposed new name would be the Amy Piazza Preschool Assessment and Learning Services Center in remembrance of Amy Piazza.
  • The board will review a student’s zero tolerance suspension appeal decision per question of the student’s mother.

Important Dates and Events

  • December 16th, 2016: Last day of Classes
  • December 19th-30th, 2016: Winter Break
  • January 2md-3rd, 2017: Teacher Professional Development
  • January 4th, 2017: School Reopens
  • January 6th, 2017: Report Cards
  • January 12th, 2017: Board Agenda Work Session, Board Room 5:00 pm
  • January 16th, 2017: Martin Luther King Day
  • January 19th, 2017: Regular Session Board Meeting, Board Room 5:00 pm (5:30 pm if no Ex. Session)
  • January 20th, 2017: Strategic Planning Session, Central High School 5:00 pm to 9:00 pm
  • January 21st, 2017: Strategic Planning Session, Central High School 8:00 am to 12:00 pm

School Board Recap: Sept. 15, 2016

This week’s meeting began with an incredible pledge and meditation from CSAS students Salsabila Nurhidajet, a spoken word poet, Alaysha Harden, a visual artist, and Parth Doshi, a violinist. We congratulate those students and CSAS for a spectacular start to the school board meeting!

Jonas Barriere, UnifiEd’s Executive Director, then approached the board to introduce himself and discuss some of our recent initiatives. He began with a description of the newly released Public School Guide, that provides a one-stop-shop for information about all of Hamilton County’s public schools for parents, teachers, students, and community members.

He then addressed the board about the importance of community voice in the superintendent selection process. He presented our 4 recommendations for community involvement, crafted through input from our superintendent discussions in each district. The community said they expected:  1) public, livestreamed interviews, 2) resumes online on HCDE’s website, 3) an open forum for finalists and, 4) the creation of a community advisory council.

Three community members spoke on behalf of our recommendations and in support of increasing community input in the superintendent selection. Kirsten Johnson, a teacher at Ooltewah Middle School, spoke in support of making all interviews for superintendent candidates public and livestreamed, in addition to making candidate resumes available online. Tyner High School parent, Vanessa Jones, spoke about how she wanted to see an open forum for the community. One of UnifiEd’s Student Organizers, Kalena Rodriguez, discussed the importance of creating a community advisory council. D’Andre Anderson, the student representative on the school board, spoke in agreement with these recommendations and voiced his support of the creation of a community advisory council.

After this presentation, the board voted unanimously to approve the consent agenda. They unanimously approved the Retirement/Sick Leave, Compulsory Attendance Ages, Zero Tolerance Offences, and Wellness policies. Finally, they unanimously approved the North Hamilton County-Bakewell Utility Easement allowing test drills to find a permanent water source for the community.

The meeting ended with a long discussion on the superintendent search process. Initially, the board was going to deliberate on the search firms they interviewed Tuesday and vote on their top choice. However,  Kathy Lennon, Karitsa Mosley Jones, Tiffanie Robinson, and Joe Wingate were all in agreement about waiting to choose a firm until they had a school board retreat that included a strategic planning session. Rhonda Thurman, Dr. Greg Martin, Joe Galloway, David Testerman, and Dr. Steve Highlander felt this was unnecessary and wanted to vote for a firm that evening.

After much discussion, there was a 5-4 split vote that ended in favor of waiting to vote on a search firm until a school board retreat and strategic planning session is held. Jones, Lennon, Wingate, Robinson, and Highlander all voted in favor of this, while Thurman, Martin, Galloway, and Testerman were opposed. Highlander agreed to meet with Scott Bennett, the District Attorney, to schedule a retreat for the school board members. Bennett agreed and the meeting ended with him saying he would make suggestions for an outside facilitator for the retreat.

 

School Board Watch Blog: Sept. 15, 2016

In this edition of UnifiEd’s School Board Watch Blog, we will take a look at the agenda for the September 15th 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:

  • UnifiEd Executive Director, Jonas Barriere, to address the School Board: The school board will be updated on UnifiEd’s new campaign to create policy to include community members in the Superintendent selection process. Community members will also speak in support of this new campaign.
  • Vote and Selection of Superintendent Search Firm: The School Board Interviewed all 3 Superintendent search firm candidates, Coleman Lew and Associates, McPherson Jacobson LLC, and the Tennessee School Boards Association. A discussion of the interviews and a vote will take place during this meeting to select the search firm.
  • Second and Final Reading of Board Policy 5.205 – Retirement: The Board will pay a bonus of $20 per unused sick leave accrued by a teacher at the time of his or her retirement. If the teacher submits their notice on or before February 1 and completes the remainder of their contract, the bonus will be $40 (the bonus was only $30 in the previous policy).
  • First Reading of Board Policy 6.309 – Zero Tolerance Offenses: The zero tolerance policy now includes a provision that if a student is under the influence of any drug including any controlled substance or legend drug, he or she shall be expelled for a period of not less than one (1) calendar year. The director of schools shall have the authority to modify this expulsion requirement on a case-by-case basis.
  • Updated Wellness Policy: In order to ensure that all schools offer a healthy, safe, and a supportive environment for students, Hamilton County Schools shall implement the CDC’s Coordinated School Health (CSH) approach to managing new and existing wellness‐related programs and services in schools based on State law. This includes the creation of a School Health Advisory Council, a commitment to nutrition, nutrition education, commitment to physical activities, and assessments of wellness policy. 

Field Trips

  • Ooltewah Middle School will participate in a band related field trip.
  • Ooltewah High School, Signal Mountain Middle/High School, East Hamilton School, and Soddy Daisy High School will participate in sports related field trips.
  • Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts, Chattanooga High, Center for Creative Arts, East Lake Academy, Hixson High School, East Hamilton High School, Soddy Daisy High School, Hixson Middle School, Normal Park Museum Magnet School, Soddy Daisy Middle School, and Calvin Donaldson Academy will participate in academic related field trips.
  • Ooltewah High School, Sale Creek Middle/High School, Sequoyah High School, and Soddy Daisy High School will participate in JROTC related field trips.

Bids:

  • Approval sought to furnish and install a serving line for Brown Middle School and East Ridge Middle School totaling $59,407.10 and $53,672.94 respectively.
  • Approval sought to approve the sale of a surplus vehicle 2008 Chevy Impala for $507.
  • Approval sought to approve a contract to furnish Freon for the maintenance department.
  • Approval sought to renew the contracts for DecisionEd Software Maintenance Subscription & Support and IBM Cognos Enhanced Consumer Support to the Multiyear Renewal for a period of October 2016 – September 2018. This totals $161,860.00.
  • Approval sought to order TruScore Testing & Analysis-Test for 3,000 students in the amount of $29,800.00 from Ring Publications, LLC dba MasteryPrep.
  • Approval sought for a contract with Orange Grove Center, Inc. for the 2016-2017 school year for Work Training Placement services. Funds will be disbursed in 10 equal installments and will not exceed $30,000.00 for up to 10 students.
  • Approval sought from Principal at East Ridge High School for a contract with Agile Mind Educational Holdings Inc. – Intensified Algebra for a total of $20,720.00 from the Title I School Support budget.
  • Approval sought approval from Principal at East Lake Academy for a contract with IXL Learning for a total of $10,530.00 from their school based Federal Title I budget, and from Principal at Tyner Middle Academy for a contract with IXL Learning for a total of $5,023.00 from their school based Title I budget.
  • Approval sought from the Principal at Hixson Middle School for the contract agreement with Mastery Connect for a total of $7,900.00 from their Federal Focus school’s grant budget.
  • Approval sought from the Principal at Bess T. Shepherd, for the contract with Reading Plus for a total of $5,666.64 from their school based Federal Title I budget.
  • Approval is sought for the contract and scope of work with the Friday Institute at North Carolina State University for year 4 of the 1:1 Technology Pilot. The NCSU contract and scope of work are in fulfillment of a requirement.  No HCDE funds are required.
  • Approval of STARS contract for $13,000.
  • Emergency approval sought to subcontract foundation repairs at Westview Elementary to address safety concerns and expedite the project. The schools recommends the Dwyer Companies in the amount of $135,700.00.
  • Early approval sought for the purchase of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s EasyCBM for this school year out of the general purpose budget for $127,750.00 per year.

Legal Fees

  • Legal fees were paid in the month of August to Leitner, Williams, Dooley & Napolitan
    PLLC and Spears, Moore, Rebman & Williams totalling $21,332.30.

Conferences and Consultants:

  • Approval sought from the Principal at East Ridge Elementary for the contract with Franklin Covey Client Service, INC: Leader in Me Symposium, for a total of $6,599.00 from their school based Federal Title I budget.
  • Approval sought from the Principal at Red Bank Elementary for the consultant agreement with Jessica Kaminski for a total of $21,000.00 from their school based Federal Title I budget.

Donations

  • The Administration accepted the reimbursements of $3,400 to purchase a paint machine for Ooltewah High School from Commissioner Discretionary bond funds.

Federal Grants and Self-Funded Programs

  • HCDE is recommended to approve the FY2017 budget amendment for the School Improvement Grant Cohort III for Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy Charter School, totaling $33,702.
  • HCDE is recommended to approve the FY2017 budget amendment for the Homeless Education Grant, totaling $71,028.
  • HCDE is recommended to approve the FY2017 budget amendment for the Title III Immigrant Grant carryover, totaling $2,179.
  • HCDE is recommended to approve the FY2017 budget amendment for the ConnectTN Internet, totaling $200,000.
  • HCDE is recommended to approve the FY2017 budget amendment for the Read To Be Ready Coaching Network, totaling $5,000.
  • HCDE is recommended to approve the FY2017 budget amendment for the Special Education Self-Funded Program, totaling $500.
  • HCDE is recommended to approve the FY2017 budget amendment for the E-Rate Technology Self-Funded Program, totaling $100,000.

General Operating Budget Amendments

  • Board approval is needed to amend the FY17 General Purpose Operating Budget to recognize the increase in the State Final FY17 BEP revenue.

Appropriation of Unassigned Fund Balance

  • Approval is recommended to appropriate unassigned fund balance in the amount of $1,350,000. These funds will be used to purchase and make ready property in Ooltewah, TN to provide a soccer field for the Ooltewah High School girls soccer program.

Grant Application Requests

  • UTC EXCEL: EXploring Clean Energy through hands-on Learning (Funded by NSF for $1,192,081)

Human Resources

  • Request for the title change and promotion of Ms. Karen Glenn, effective retroactively to July 1, 2016, for taking the responsibilities as Title IX Coordinator and Coordinator of STARS. A salary increase to $83,485.86 plus benefits is recommended.
  • Request for one employee to serve as a trustee for the Certified Sick Leave Bank and two employees to serve as trustees for the Classified Sick Leave Bank. Each of these employees will serve a three-year term.
  • Request for a full time I.T. Technician with benefits. Starting salary will be approximately $29,277.77 plus benefits provided by Benwood Foundation for 2016-17 school year.

Updated Policy

  • Wellness Policy: In order to ensure that all schools offer a healthy, safe, and a supportive environment for students, Hamilton County Schools shall implement the CDC’s Coordinated School Health (CSH) approach to managing new and existing wellness‐related programs and services in schools based on State law. This includes the creation of a School Health Advisory Council, a commitment to nutrition, nutrition education, commitment to physical activities, and assessments of wellness policy.

Second and Final Reading of Board Policies

  • Board Policy 5.205 – Retirement: The Board will pay a bonus of $20 per unused sick leave accrued by a teacher at the time of his or her retirement. If the teacher submits their notice on or before February 1 and completes the remainder of their contract, the bonus will be $40 (the bonus was only $30 in the previous policy).
  • Board Policy 6.201 – Compulsory Attendance Ages: The compulsory attendance policy has been revised to clarify provisions regarding compulsory attendance ages.

First Reading of Board Policy

  • Board Policy 6.309 – Zero Tolerance Offenses: The zero tolerance policy now includes a provision that if a student is under the influence of any drug including any controlled substance or legend drug, he or she shall be expelled for a period of not less than one (1) calendar year. The director of schools shall have the authority to modify this expulsion requirement on a case-by-case basis.

Ooltewah High School Property Expansion

  • Ooltewah girls’ soccer team has appeared before the board twice in the past several months because of inadequate practice space at the school for the past 15 years claiming the boys’ teams had priority. Parents of the girls’ soccer team began to threaten a Title IX lawsuit if the board did not take action. The board voted to purchase a 5-acre field for $925,000 and will approach County Commission for approval at their next meeting.

North Hamilton County-Bakewell Utility Easement

  • Justin Witt to address the School Board about formalizing the relationship between Union Fork-Bakewell Utility District (UFBUD) and North Hamilton County Elementary to continue water quality testing to eventually have a permanent water source for the community. In addition he will discuss options for future expansions of Ooltewah High School.

 

School Board Watch Blog: August 18, 2016

In this edition of UnifiEd’s School Board Watch Blog, we will take a look at the agenda for the August 18th 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:

  • Board Policy 5.205 – Retirement: The Board will pay a bonus of $20 per unused sick leave accrued by a teacher at the time of his or her retirement. If the teacher submits their notice on or before February 1 and completes the remainder of their contract, the bonus will be $40 (the bonus was only $30 in the previous policy).
  • Board Policy 6.201 – Compulsory Attendance Ages: The compulsory attendance policy has been revised to clarify provisions regarding compulsory attendance ages.
  • Board Policy 6.309 – Zero Tolerance Offenses: The zero tolerance policy now includes a provision that if a student is under the influence of any drug including any controlled substance or legend drug, he or she shall be expelled for a period of not less than one (1) calendar year. The director of schools shall have the authority to modify this expulsion requirement on a case-by-case basis.

Bids:

  • Approval sought from HCDE to participate in National Cooperative Purchasing Alliance.
  • Approval sought from HCDE to expend $32,700 to purchase Rosetta Stone language learning software.
  • Approval sought from HCDE for Powerschool access and training services totalling $211,994.00.
  • Emergency approval sought from HCDE to increase funds for Smart Find Express to find substitute teachers totalling $31,713.00.
  • Emergency approval sought from HCDE for Public Consulting Group services totalling $10,631.67.
  • Recommended Award of Bid to Contract Paper Group for dual purpose paper totalling $75,062.40.
  • Recommended Award of Bid to Affordable Fence for fencing needs.
  • Recommended Award of Bid to Sweetwater Valley Oil Company for fuel purchases totalling $26,064.00.

Conferences and Consultants:

  • Approval sought for self-funded Bible in the Schools program which provides seventeen Bible History teachers.
  • Approval sought for instructional consultant for the Bright School totaling $6,939.00 (funding source: Title II).
  • Approval sought for contract with Sunistanai Educational Consulting to implement teacher residency program totaling $20,250.000 (funding source: NSF Project Inspire Residency Grant).
  • Approval sought for contract with Teachers Development Group to provide professional development for three residency schools totaling $78,750 (funding source: NSF Project Inspire Residency Grant).
  • Approval sought for contract with Dr. Beverly Tyner for iZone curriculum development totaling $34,200.00 (funding source: iZone/School Improvement Grants).

Monthly Financial Report

  • The monthly financial report is not available due to year-end closing, but will become publicly available after completion.

Federal Grants and Self-Funded Programs

  • HCDE received community donations totaling $952.00 for supplies and other materials.
  • HCDE received funds totaling $13,086.00 from maintenance recyclables for supplies and other materials.
  • HCDE received funds totaling $7,460 from the Flower Fund.

Appropriation of Unassigned Fund Balance

  • $2,135,000 of unassigned fund balance will be reassigned to the current HCDE telephone system from analog lines to VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) for all schools at a cost of approximately $2,000,000 and repair the foundation at Westview Elementary at a cost of $135,000.

Grant Application Requests

  • Interdisciplinary CubeSat Research and STEM Education Platform at the University of Chattanooga (Funded by NSF for $354,045)
  • REU Site: Interdisciplinary CubeSat Research and STEM Education Platform (Funded by NSF for $360,551)
  • Building Strong Brains: Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) Initiative (Funded by State of Tennessee Dept. of Children’s Services for $141.194)
  • Introduction to Sustainability: Using a Zero+ Energy Building as a Living Lab for Students (Funded by NSF for $1,049,235)

Request for New Positions

  • The Bible in the Schools organization is now in a position to expand the Bible History program by adding a teacher for Soddy Daisy High School. This position (salary and benefits) will be fully-funded by Bible in the Schools.
  • The Benwood Foundation will fully-fund (salary and benefits) an educational assistant for the Forest Kindergarten class at Red Bank Elementary School.

Commissioner Donations

  • Commissioners Tim Boyd and Greg Beck donated $2,500 each, totalling $5,000, as a reimbursement for the building of a playground at Barger Elementary.

First Reading of Board Policies:

  • Board Policy 5.205 – Retirement: The Board will pay a bonus of $20 per unused sick leave accrued by a teacher at the time of his or her retirement. If the teacher submits their notice on or before February 1 and completes the remainder of their contract, the bonus will be $40 (the bonus was only $30 in the previous policy).
  • Board Policy 6.201 – Compulsory Attendance Ages: The compulsory attendance policy has been revised to clarify provisions regarding compulsory attendance ages.  
  • Board Policy 6.309 – Zero Tolerance Offenses: The zero tolerance policy now includes a provision that if a student unlawfully possesses or is under the influence of any drug including any controlled substance or legend drug, he or she shall be expelled for a period of not less than one (1) calendar year.

 

Chattanooga 2.0 Calls for Bold Action in Education

Chattanooga is a city at the forefront of growth, innovation, and economic development making it one of the best cities in America to live and work. However, when it comes to education, Chattanooga is falling behind and is currently not equipped to meet the demand of a growing workforce and economy that depends on knowledge to succeed. In order to address the much needed improvement in early education, K-12 learning, and postsecondary degree attainment, the Benwood Foundation, the Hamilton County Department of Education, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, and the Public Education Foundation have launched “Chattanooga 2.0”. This effort is to ensure Hamilton County students have the ability to be academically successful and to compete for high tech jobs that sustain our growing community.

Chattanooga 2.0 has identified Chattanooga as one of the top 10 metro areas in country for growing advanced industries and shown that Hamilton County has added jobs at a higher rate than Tennessee as a whole. Despite this economic boost, only 38% of Hamilton County residents have a postsecondary degree that is needed for advanced industrial employment. Currently, there are 15,000 jobs available that cannot be filled by Hamilton County residents because of education requirements alone. Hamilton County is not able to meet the demand because our public schools are falling behind on educational benchmarks in literacy, math, ACT requirements, and student completion of a postsecondary credential or degree. These new jobs can only be filled by applicants with a postsecondary certificate or degree, and jobs that require only a high school diploma or less are rapidly declining.

The main goal of Chattanooga 2.0 is to ensure 75% of Hamilton County residents hold an industry certification, two year degree, or four year degree by 2025. In order to do this we need to strategize as a community to set bold educational goals, eliminate equality barriers, and support and empower talented teachers. A focused action plan centered on improving early childhood learning, K-12 success, and college and career readiness, is currently being developed and will be released in the next 100 days.

UnifiEd, along with dozens of other businesses and organizations, is an endorser for this new initiative. Since our founding, we have formed a strong community coalition and are actively pursuing many of the goals outlined in Chattanooga 2.0. Currently our Pact for Public Education calls for increased access to pre-k, improvement in reading, math, and ACT scores, teacher support, and eliminating socioeconomic barriers for students in schools, all of which are crucial points of Chattanooga 2.0. We strongly support uniting the community around improving public education and developing the continued growth of our city.

School Board Recap – December 2015

The December 17th school board meeting began with a work session focused on the new Chattanooga 2.0 initiative. During the regularly scheduled session, board members voted to approve all agenda items. In addition, there were two presentations recognizing Loftis Middle School Beta Club and the STARS program.

Heather DeGaetano, a Normal Park parent, addressed the school board to discuss scaling back standardized testing. The parent opt-out movement is growing in Hamilton County.  Parents involved are not against standardized testing as a whole, but they do believe the new testing standards are inappropriate for grade school children. Their platform has three main components: 1) the testing is developmentally inappropriate, 2) the tests take away too much instructional time, and 3) the time needed to meet testing requirements is too long for grade school children.

Donna Horn pulled the agenda item accepting donation requests from county commission to be discussed further among board members. Chairman Welch made a motion for future requests to be sent to the superintendent with monthly updates. Steve Highlander made a motion to table the change until further discussion could be had. The motion failed and the board members voted to approve the motion to let the superintendent decide on future requests.

The meeting concluded with a discussion about the Coalition of Large Area School Systems (CLASS). Rhonda Thurman and Greg Martin both questioned the accomplishments of CLASS over the past year, but the board ultimately decided to approve the payment of membership dues needed to continue the partnership.

New TVAAS Scores Show Room for Growth

Every year, the state releases a Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS) score for each school district measuring academic progress among students. This assessment focuses on academic growth based on TCAP achievement and end-of-course tests. The TVAAS score helps paint a clearer picture of how students are progressing over time in the school system. These scores are important to fully understanding how our school district is performing based on previous years of student achievement. School districts receive a score between 1 and 5. A score of 1 means students performed worse than expected based on previous years of testing, a score of 3 means students scores show no change, and a score of 5 reveals students performed better than previous years.

According to the most recent TVAAS score, Hamilton County received the lowest possible composite score of 1 out of 5 revealing our students are receiving lower test scores than expected when comparing current scores to previous years. When comparing our TVAAS score to other large school systems in Tennessee, Hamilton County performed far lower. For example, Davidson, Shelby, and Knox counties all received a score of 5 meaning they not only met academic expectations, but exceeded them. Instead of progressing in overall student achievement, Hamilton County is digressing and has tremendous room for growth.

We, as a community, should take this opportunity to work together and take shared responsibility for improving public education in Hamilton County. Chattanooga continues to grow and progress as a city, and we need a school system that will fully support the continued success of our community. Innovation is the driving force in our county providing us with the capacity to build a successful school system. Now is the time to take action ensuring all students have access to supportive school environments, resources, and an excellent education.

What can we do as a community to solve these issues? Sign the Pact for Public Education! By signing the Pact for Public Education you are making a promise to support universal excellence for all students (Sign the Pact HERE).

As a community supporter, you can also become more involved in the movement towards decreasing the number of schools in concentrated poverty by attending our upcoming event with Richard Kahlenberg on November 5th from 5:30-7:30pm at The Church on Main (RSVP HERE).

To get involved please visit our website at www.unifi-ed.org. Join our community and stay up to date by following us on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

Student SoundOff: A Seat At The Table

“We can make our voice louder, we can make them hear us by forming this group and doing something positive.” – Brainerd High School senior

“I just feel like if they listen, some things wouldn’t happen like they do. We’d have better health, better teachers, better everything.” – Howard senior 

Teachers, counselors, and parents across Hamilton County have found common places to work with one another across school lines. These places vary from professional development workshops to organizations that support various schools. What’s interesting is that there are very few spaces for students from different schools to meet that aren’t competitive. We may see one another at a football game, mock trial competition, or maybe even when we take the ACT, but when do we get the chance to collaborate and improve our community?

Student voice is integral when discussing issues in our education system because we spend more time in our county’s schools than any other group. It’s hard to form a cohesive student voice when we don’t have opportunities to come together; remaining separated can be detrimental if we truly want to make change. We are working to create these opportunities for Hamilton County students. We started by organizing Student Roundtables, inviting students from every high school in Hamilton County to share their thoughts on our school system.

We recently held a student roundtable at The Howard School. We were happy to have six students representing 5 different high schools attend because having a smaller group allowed us to have a much more intimate and deep discussion. They were shy at first but as we began working through icebreakers, asking questions such as “What is one thing you believe your school is doing well?”, we saw ideas begin to flow. A student from Brainerd responded, ”My teacher’s text me daily asking “are you okay”. We have teachers that do that. We have teachers that care.” When asked if they feel like they have a say in decision making students expressed frustration in being left out – “Our students don’t really have a voice. They listen to us, but it goes in one ear and out the other. We don’t have a voice.”

We also asked questions such as, “If we were going to go to the schools and out to the community, what would be the best groups to reach out to?” A student responded, I think y’all should reach out to anybody honestly. You have students from hard places, like the hood, but they want to do good, to better themselves. You should reach out to everybody.” Another focused on the necessity of provided food and snacks for participants – “Ima be honest…. Food. That’s like the number one thing. They would be like, “shoot, they got us free food.”

Email nick@unifi-ed and akia@unifi-ed if you’re interested in learning more about our Student Team, and if you’d like to attend or host a Student Roundtable in your area.

Are you a high school student passionate about education and student voice? Apply to join our team and become a Student Organizer! Click through for a job description.

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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