Community News New schools superintendent outlines focus

Community News New schools superintendent outlines focus

September 27th, 2017 by Rosana Hughes in Community Metro

Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Bryan Johnson speaks during a meeting with the Times Free Press editorial board shortly after taking over as the district's leader. (Staff photo by Doug Strickland)

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

Measuring up

With Superintendent Bryan Johnson now firmly at the helm of the school district, the school board is discussing how to evaluate him.

Johnson’s contract, approved in July, gives a rough outline of the board’s annual evaluation of him. It requires him to present the board with a strategic plan containing specific goals and objectives each year for consideration and approval.

School board member Joe Wingate is spearheading the task of developing an evaluation tool for Johnson. School board Chairman Steve Highlander suggested a one-year temporary evaluation tool be implemented while the district’s strategic plan is developed further with the new superintendent’s input.

Johnson said it’s critical for the board’s members to be thoughtful about what is needed to set them on a path that sets everyone up for success.

“It’s tough to pick a specific target that you want me to address when we have funding issues, partnership issues, just school issues in general,” he said. “So what are the foundational things that are critical to you all as a board that you’d have me work through as a superintendent?”

New Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Bryan Johnson believes students graduating from high school need to be prepared for at least one of three futures: to go on to college, join the armed forces or go straight into the workforce.

His plan to prepare students for that is by exposing them to options and opportunities early on, rather than in their senior year, Johnson said during a talk at the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's Hixson Council lunch meeting last week.

"We have to be intentional with our work in regards to making sure students don't just graduate from Hamilton County, but when they walk across the stage, they're prepared for the next step," Johnson said.

He also said administrative decisions will be made based on the needs of the system. He gave the example of identifying the needs of struggling schools, which led to the development of the Opportunity Zone that will bring additional resources to those schools.

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Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Bryan Johnson addresses the crowd during the Chamber of Commerce Hixson Council luncheon Sept. 20. (Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter)

Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Bryan Johnson addresses the...

Photo by C.B. Schmelter

"We know we need to offer [them] an expedient level of support," he said. "We are committed to the Opportunity Zone, which will offer those schools a chance to experience the level of success we feel they deserve."

Data show county schools need to do better in math, science and social studies. The Hamilton County Department of Education is going to put additional support in those areas, he said.

"We're going to fix it, because the reality is that our teachers and our leaders are too engaged in the work [to] not have a successful public school system," he said.

Recruiting and retaining teachers and training leaders will be a focus, he said.

"Our recruitment efforts won't be isolated to Hamilton County," said Johnson. "We have to look at Georgia, Nashville, Knoxville. We want the best in Hamilton County."

As for retention, Johnson said the department will work to make sure mentorship and other support programs are "second to none" so teachers will want to stay in Hamilton County.

The department plans to create a more accessible website to increase community engagement.

Hixson Council President Donald Kane had a few questions for the new schools chief, including about the "history of behavioral issues" and how Johnson plans to deal with it.

Acknowledging that "it's an issue that won't go away," Johnson said teachers will be trained on how to better manage classrooms. The school system also has a protocol called "Love and Logic," which asks students to "contemplate their actions, instead of reacting to punishment," according to the education department's website.

Johnson also addressed the $100 million recently allocated for school repairs by the Hamilton County Commission.

"We've got needs that go beyond $100 million," he said. "It's exciting to hear you're getting $100 million until you get the $100 million and then realize there's $360 million in needs."

He said some people won't be happy with the way the money is spent, noting the school board "can't do everything for everybody." The money's use will be based on community growth, said Johnson, maximizing building efficiency by addressing schools built for more students than are enrolled, and not putting money into buildings that are beyond repair.

Marv Martin, a local Realtor, said "Chattanooga has always had a reputation for a 'good old boy' system, and I think the solution to that is transparency and communication," adding that the audit called for by UnifiEd was "a really good place to start."

Johnson agreed and said a long-term plan will be put in place to efficiently use the $100 million.

"The $360 million deficiency didn't happen overnight," he said. "It won't be fixed overnight."