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IF YOU GO

The education forum is free and open to the public and will be held at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, 400 E. 11th St.

Refreshments will be served at 6 p.m. and the discussion will take place from 6:30-8 p.m. To register, visit www.studyhallchatt.com.

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Four experts in public K-12 education will discuss the impact of effective teachers on student learning, the importance of recruiting the best teaching talent and how to keep those teachers in Hamilton County, during a community forum Oct. 18 at the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The forum is titled "Study Hall: a Conversation on Teacher Prep and Quality." Panelists include:

- Sylvia Flowers, with the Tennessee Department of Education;

- Edna Varner, of Project Inspire;

- Brandon Hubbard-Heitz, of the Howard School;

- Zac Brown, with the Hamilton County Department of Education

The forum is free and open to the public.

"Education is the key issue facing this community. And there is a confluence of events that has put it at the forefront of community conversation," said Alison Gerber, editor of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. "With Chattanooga 2.0 launching and new leadership at the school district and board of education, this is a good moment in time to discuss this issue."

In December, Chattanooga 2.0 released a report stating that based on student growth data, fewer than half of Hamilton County public school teachers were rated as performing "above expectations." The percentage of "above expectations" teachers in high-poverty schools was 30 percent.

The Times Free Press published a story last month stating that nearly 30 percent of Hamilton County's public school teachers are considered "least effective" by state measures, and many of those teachers are in predominantly poor and minority classrooms.

The report also showed Hamilton County has almost three times as many least-effective teachers than the state average, and twice as many as Knox County, Metro Nashville and Shelby County schools.

"This story sparked conversations across the state, and locally generated some push-back," Gerber said. "Since the newspaper's role is to provide factual information and context to the public, we can help move the conversation on this complex topic by bringing together the community and experts. Hopefully, our conversation will foster broad understanding about solutions to this issue."

The Chattanooga Times Free Press is hosting the forum, along with the American Society of News Editors, as part of that organization's "Tennessee Tough Issues Forums."

The goal is to provide residents and the public with factual information so they can make informed decisions on education issues and policy, said Joe Woolley, state coordinator for Tennessee Tough Issues Forums, part of the ASNE News Literacy Program.

"Education policy is too important of an issue to have incorrect information or political spin inserted into the discussion," Woolley said. "We need everyone looking at the same data and making decisions and pushing for action that best affects our children."

He said forums like the one to be held at the Chattanooga Times Free Press provide a unique combination of news literacy and community engagement, as the focus is on facts and data, not opinions or biased statements.

"Community engagement and civil dialogue are the only way that we can move the community forward toward a consensus and positive actions," he said.

Hubbard-Heitz, a local teacher, said teachers play a crucial role in the development of students.

Teachers are not superheroes or miracle workers, he said, but passionate educators who deeply care about their craft and can have a lasting impact on the kids who fill their classrooms.

"When supported and challenged by their teachers, students do not merely master academic standards; they become active and informed citizens," Hubbard-Heitz said. "And isn't that the foundation of any functioning democracy?"

Contact staff writer Kendi A. Rainwater at 423-757-6592 or krainwater @timesfreepress.com. Follow on Twitter @kendi_and.

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