1 A principal focus
Superintendent Rick Smith believes principals, such as East Hamilton School’s Gail Chuy, hold the most important job in the school system. Principals are expected to stay up to date on the latest educational research, stay in tune with ever-changing teaching standards and play a larger role in curriculum development and programming. Yet traditional management responsibilities remain — buses need to run on time, budgets need to be balanced and fights need breaking up.
2 Eating healthy
The meals served up in the cafeteria looks different this year, as school systems across the country continue to implement healthier foods. Beginning in the fall, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act requires schools to cut down on calories, fats, salt and sugars, while upping the daily servings of fruits and vegetables in lunches.
3 STEM school goes online
About 75 students kicked off the first year at the STEM School Chattanooga, a new magnet school focusing on science, technology, engineering and math. Students at the school, located on the campus of Chattanooga State Community College, complete most of their work on school-issued iPads. The school is funded by the school system and a state grant and aided by cash or in-kind donations from businesses and community groups. Officials expect the school to expand to 300 students over the next three years.
4 Student success
Hamilton County improved in every tested area on the 2012 report card. Six Hamilton County schools were honored for being among the top 5 percent of Tennessee schools in student achievement and in overall growth. Big Ridge Elementary and Lookout Mountain Elementary were honored in the achievement category, while East Side Elementary and Harrison Elementary were highlighted for growth. Chattanooga High Center for Creative Arts and Thrasher Elementary were among only a handful from across the state honored in both categories.
5 & 6 Buildings go up to keep up
Hamilton County Schools continued work on building new schools. Work on a new Ooltewah Elementary (6) and Red Bank Middle (5) will wrap up this summer, with the buildings ready for classes in August. Crews will break ground soon on a replacement East Brainerd Elementary. School officials have compiled a list of at least $200 million in future construction needs.
Hamilton County Schools scored a $10 million grant to turn around the prospects at some of its worst-performing schools. The new school innovation zone, or iZone, is meant to lift test scores at Brainerd High, Dalewood Middle, Orchard Knob Elementary, Orchard Knob Middle and Woodmore Elementary. Schools will be able to purchase technology, pay teachers more, train them more and extend the school day.
8 Stable leadership
Superintendent Rick Smith won enough favor on the school board to likely earn a contract extension and a raise. For the second year in a row, the board’s evaluation said Smith met or exceeded its expectations. And board members this month moved to open contract talks with Smith, even though he has two years left on his current four-year agreement. Board members say they’ll vote on a new four-year contract in June.
9 On tablet track
Hamilton County Schools announced a 1:1 technology initiative that would put an iPad or similar device into the hands of all 42,000 public school students here at a cost of about $18 million. Administrators are banking on community support, as well as exploring a bring-your-own policy, to help relieve some of the cost. But many schools are moving forward on their own, implementing tablets and smartphones into their classes.
10 Maintenance needs steep
While administrators believe they have plenty of need for new buildings, the ones they have also need a lot of attention. At last count, the school system put its list of deferred maintenance projects around $200 million. Central High School’s roof was a prime example. It leaked for at least eight years, but wasn’t replaced until the roof failed in September and the school board approved an emergency expenditure of $800,000.
11 Bye bye Birchwood
After nearly 100 years in the education business, Birchwood School closed its doors for the final time this month. More than 500 alumni, teachers and parents celebrated Birchwood at a May ceremony. Residents hope to convert the building, owned by county government, into a community center. But so far, county officials have made no commitment.
Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...