Ready or not: Students, teachers prepare to head back to class

Nathan Baker • Aug 1, 2013 at 2:13 PM

As the first day of school approaches for schoolchildren in Johnson City and Washington County, teachers and administrators are preparing their classrooms and hoping the learning curve won’t be too steep when a new curriculum debuts.

Johnson City Schools Director of Attendance Cindy Lawson said enrollment in the district will likely fall close to last year’s 7,673 students.

As of July 17, Lawson said, 7,517 students were set to begin school Monday, but the numbers have climbed since then.

“A lot of our schools are reporting having people enroll just about daily,” she said.

Starting dates for area school systems:

• Johnson City — Aug. 5 (abbreviated day)

• Washington County — Aug. 6 (abbreviated day)

• Elizabethton — Aug. 8 (abbreviated day)

• Carter County — Aug. 12

• Johnson County — Aug. 6

• Kingsport — Aug. 5

• Bristol — Today (abbreviated)

• Bristol, Va. — Aug. 12

At Johnson City's Indian Trail Intermediate School, Wednesday was the first day back for teachers, half of whom will be entering their second year at the school after it transitioned from holding sixth- and seventh-graders to housing fifth and sixth grades.

“This is our second year as a 5-6 intermediate school, so we’re obviously very excited because we had such a successful first year,” Indian Trail Principal Dave Peccia said in his office Wednesday. “Last year over half our staff was new to the campus, so there’s a lot more confidence this year, and the same goes for our students — last year all of our students were new, but this year only the fifth-graders are new, and they’ve heard from their older brothers and sisters that this is a good place to be.

“I think the community is much more at ease with the change now that we’ve gone through one full year,” he said.

In an effort to relieve classroom overcrowding, Johnson City school administrators instituted the grade-level changes at several schools for the 2012-13 school year, which was accompanied by a construction project to add classrooms to Indian Trail over the summer.

“We’re finishing up our construction project now, so we’ve got eight additional classrooms being put in place, and we’re very, very hopeful that they will be ready for the first day,” Peccia said. “We’ve had some extra meetings, and it’s given our custodians a few more challenges, but they’ve done a great job being flexible.”

If the new rooms aren’t complete next week, the principal said not to worry, the teachers assigned to those rooms are prepared with backup teaching space.

One new addition causing a degree of consternation for Johnson City teachers this year is the systemwide implementation of Common Core State Standards, a federal set of benchmarks designed to teach students in the U.S. critical thinking skills and help them to be better prepared to enter college.

With the gradual implementation of the new standards, students will receive instruction targeted at readying them for the Common Core testing, but Peccia said they will still take TCAP tests this year.

“We started last year actually working on our campus getting teachers in their rooms so they could plan a curriculum in groups of two and three,” Peccia said. “And a very high percentage of our teachers attended either a math or reading language arts workshop this summer, so most everyone has been able to get some type of Common Core training.”

Joe Crabtree, an Indian Trail teacher and president of the Johnson City Education Association, said many of the 250 city teachers who underwent Common Core training this summer are nervous about the unfamiliar standards.

“It’s a drastic change,” he said. “It’s making us rethink how we teach in class.

“Under the old style, we’d have a lecture, the students would take notes and then do some activities; in Common Core, you may have some individual activities, some partner work, table group work and a whole class experience all in one lesson,” he said.

But once teachers familiarize themselves with the new curriculum and testing methods, Crabtree said he believes tensions and resistance to the methods will ease.

“It’s going to be a challenge, not just for our students, but our teachers as well,” he said. “This really refocuses our drive and how we want to teach it, and I do believe it’s going to make the students more prepared for college.”

Editor's Note: Lawson's name was misspelled in an earlier version of this article. The starting date for Washington County was misstated. Both of have been corrected in the current version.

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