ELIZABETHTON — The Carter County School System gets a fresh start this week. It is not only the start of a new school year, but it is also the start of a new administration under interim Director of Schools Kevin Ward. The high schools are also moving to the block schedule and the whole school system will be moving to the Core Curriculum.
It is a daunting list of changes, but they all come together for one goal, to improve the educational performance of Carter County students. Last week, Ward met with the Johnson City Press to discuss the goals and the ways the schools are working to accomplish them. Carter County Secondary Supervisor Danny McClain and Elementary Supervisor Dan Winters were also a part of the discussion.
The three leaders have no problem measuring student performance. For the past couple of decades the measurement has been done by the Tennessee Comprehensive Achievement Program.
Unlike most years, when the results of the TCAP tests taken in the spring were not received until October. This year the results were released by the state Department of Education a few weeks ago. While system administrators are still pouring over the details, they are well ahead of the schedule of past years.
While the results are still being analyzed, Ward said there are several goals that have already been set. These include a few that he personally set for the system.
“We need more district wide consistency,” Ward said. Another goal is to emphasize the need for more rigor and relevance in the subjects taught in the classroom. That will be the topic of this year’s keynote speech given during this week’s inservice training by North Carolina educator Bobby Ashley.
There are other important goals being set for the system from the state level.
One state-set goal the district has been working on for a year is the need for more improvement by students with disabilities.
“Closing the gaps,” Ward said.
Closing the gap has been a difficult task because the student population as a whole is expected to make as much progress as possible. That means the target group must not only keep pace with the improvements made by the entire student body, the group must make even more improvements to close the gap. Nevertheless, the school system has been working hard to close the gaps for the past year.
Making sure subgroups were keeping up with the main body of students was one of the goals of the federal No Child Left Behind program. When the Tennessee Department of Education successfully petitioned to be exempted from No Child Left Behind, it promised that closing the gaps would be a part of the state program that replaced it.
In place of No Child Left Behind, the state has set specific targets for each school in the system. These goals vary in number and subject.
Ward said another obvious system-wide goal is to improve math scores.
This has been a difficult task because teachers who have a strong background in math are in short supply. Often, those new teachers coming into the profession with strong math backgrounds have offers from higher paying school systems.
McClain said those teachers in Carter County who have been strong math teachers were frequently not the ones who took a lot of math in college. These teachers continued to take math courses after they became teachers. But the problem of competing with surrounding school systems offering higher pay has sometimes resulted in the loss of these dedicated teachers.
“It is difficult when a teacher can cross a line and make several thousand more dollars,” Winters said, referring to the boundary line between city and county.
There have been some important success stories, McClain said. In the latest TCAP results, the system as a whole showed a 9 percentile improvement in the number of students who were proficient or advanced in algebra I. But it is obvious that more improvements are needed this year in algebra and geometry.
Winters said more advanced math continues to be taught at lower and lower grades. He said algebra and geometry concepts are routinely taught in elementary school, as any parent who has tried to help a seventh grader with homework has already discovered.
There are a lot of changes in the school system this year, as there has been for the past several years. Last year there was a lot of emphasis placed on the new teacher evaluation program. This year, there is a lot of emphasis on the adoption of Common Core curriculum. School systems have also seen changes as the state went away from No Child Left Behind.
All of these changes have been a challenge for the teachers to master. Ward said the changes have been easier for the younger teachers.
“Younger people have been accustomed to seeing constant change,” Ward said. He said they learned to master the constant changes in cell phone technology, for instance. “They have had to adapt to change. They have become flexible because of it.”
There is a fresh start this week in the Carter County School System and it is time to hit the ground running because there are a lot of goals to be met this year.