Johnson City superintendent: Collaboration is key to district's academic success

Brandon Paykamian • Updated Oct 24, 2017 at 9:14 AM

Johnson City Schools Superintendent Steve Barnett said the district’s TNReady assessment scores show that the school system, which is ranked among the top in the state, is on the right track. 

Towne Acres Elementary and Fairmont Elementary schools both earned Reward School status based on their academic performance, which is a designation given to the top 5 percent of schools with the highest success rates in Tennessee, and Johnson City was named an Exemplary School District by the Tennessee Department of Education.

Barnett, who was Towne Acres’ principal for 12 years before he was hired as superintendent over the summer, said his experience as an educator has taught him the importance of collaboration between teachers and schools. It’s this collaboration that drives much of the success at Fairmont and Towne Acres, which were named Reward Schools for four consecutive years. 

“I think one of the things we do really well is collaborate from one school to another. When you look at all the elementary schools, they really collaborate. We have opportunities for teachers from every grade level to work with other teachers at the other schools, and our schools take advantage of that,” Barnett said. “We’re trying to continue to do more of that where teachers learn together, plan together and share those lesson plans and best practices with each other.

“We celebrate each other’s successes in this system, which I think is really special. You have that friendly competition from one school to another, but at the end of the day, we all teach the same children and we all want the children to be successful.”

Before passing the torch to Town Acres’ current principal Josh Simmons, Barnett said he witnessed a strong sense of community and dedication from instructors and administrators across the district. Through communication, he said teachers and administrators have learned a lot from each other over the years.

Because of the collaboration Barnett emphasized, he said he was confident Simmons would be able to continue where he left off at Towne Acres. 

“Dr. Simmons had wonderful training from the Governor’s Academy of School Leadership, and I was his mentor through that learning experience. He has wonderful experience in being able to teach in a variety of settings. He taught at Towne Acres for some time, but he also taught at North Side. He also was the assistant principal split between Mountain View and Fairmont, then he was a full-time assistant principal at Lake Ridge,” Barnett said. “He understands the culture and the climate of the school, and he understands that it’s important to provide training for the teachers.”

Even with the district’s success in recent years, Barnett said there is still work to be done. Some of the district’s goals include reaching an average ACT score of 23, more schools earning Reward Schools designations and continuing the collaboration that has helped the district find success.  

“We’re always looking for better ways to provide instruction for students and opportunities for students,” Barnett said.

Barnett said he and other educators within the school system are willing to share their success with other districts looking to grow, just as he and others at Towne Acres have done in the past. 

“When I was a principal, we’d have visitors from other school systems come in on a routine basis to see what we do,” Barnett said. 

When it comes to funding and its effect on districts’ academic success, Barnett said he believes the success of a school is measured by the dedication of instructors and how the funding is used rather than the amount itself. 

“To me, it’s more about how you spend your money than the amount of funding,” he said. “Johnson City has a rich tradition of focusing on teacher development and paying teachers well so we can retain them.”

And Barnett said teachers throughout the district work hard to earn that. 

“Just to brag on our teachers a bit — they’re excited about teaching students, and they bring a sense of urgency to the classroom,” he said. “All of our teachers take the responsibility to help each child grow academically and socially very seriously.”

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