Rick Smith says no to vouchers

Rick Smith says no to vouchers

October 4th, 2012 by Kevin Hardy in Local Regional News

Hamilton County School Superintendent Rick Smith answers questions after delivering his annual "State of the Schools" speech Wednesday at the general meeting of the Hamilton County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations at the school system offices in Bonny Oaks.

Photo by John Rawlston/Times Free Press.

GRANTS ANNOUNCED

Brown International Academy and Tyner Middle Academy will receive two-year grants to help cut achievement gaps, the Tennessee Department of Education announced Wednesday. The two were among 56 statewide winners in a competition among focus schools, those cited by the state for having the largest achievement gaps. The schools will receive $100,000 to $300,000 this year and next, depending on enrollment size and performance.

Superintendent Rick Smith doesn't support public school vouchers or efforts to take public charter school approval away from local school boards, the Hamilton County Schools chief told parents and educators Wednesday.

In his second "State of the Schools" address to the Hamilton County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations, Smith spoke of the changing educational climate, continued student enrollment growth, the school district's widespread facilities needs and a renewed focus on teacher recruitment.

Proposed voucher programs take badly needed funds away from public schools, Smith said. And he said school boards are well equipped to handle the authorization of new charter schools.

"I think communities, if they're paying attention, are going to do what's best for kids," he said.

Some charter school advocates want the state Department of Education to have sole power to authorize charter schools.

Local school boards now have that authority, but applicants can appeal to the State Board of Education, which can reverse local decisions. Some state Republicans are calling for school vouchers to advance school choice.

On local issues, Smith said central office staff is emphasizing teacher recruitment this year, as the state and national teaching force grows younger and less experienced.

While once the most common experience level for teachers was 15 years, national research shows the largest group of teachers now has just one year of experience.

Smith couldn't say whether that's true in Hamilton County, but he said the district hired 83 brand-new teachers this fall.

"Right now we are getting a less experienced workforce in Hamilton County and across this country," he said.

When that happens, schools lose experts with practical classroom experience and historical knowledge, said Sandy Hughes, president of the Hamilton County Education Association.

The union leader said she thinks recent education reforms, like changes to teacher tenure and evaluation, have driven away longtime teachers. And schools are best-equipped when they have a mix of veteran, expert teachers and young teachers, who are often enthusiastic and creative, she said.

"We need a balance of both of those," Hughes said. "But in the last few years, I think we've lost a lot of our veteran teachers."

The school system sees the value in both, too.

"We're not going to shy away from hiring a promising, young teacher just because they have no experience," said Stacy Stewart, assistant superintendent for human resources. "We're going to work on training and supporting them."

Stewart said the school system has training, mentorship and induction programs in place to help ease beginning teachers into the job. On the recruiting end, her department holds events at local colleges and universities and pursues diverse applicants, she said.

"We are focusing our efforts locally but heavily," Stewart said.