Karitsa Mosley Jones highlighted the successes and challenges facing the schools she represents on the Hamilton County school board during a community meeting Monday night.
"We all know our kids are faced with socioeconomic obstacles," Mosley Jones told those gathered in Brainerd High School's auditorium. "... let's stop condemning our kids and start empowering them."facebook
Mosley Jones represents District 5, which contains a large share of minority and poor students, as well as three of the five schools that could be taken over by the state this summer because of years of low performance.
Hamilton County Schools Interim Superintendent Kirk Kelly explained how the state's Achievement School District may intervene in those priority schools, also known as iZone schools. Priority schools are those that rank in the bottom 5 percent of schools statewide.
"We have to meet the required [test] scores or we will end up having students go into the [Achievement School District]," he said.
Hamilton County Schools has been working for four years to turn around its five priority schools — Brainerd High, Dalewood Middle, Orchard Knob Middle, Woodmore Elementary and Orchard Knob Elementary — with more than $10 million in federal grants and extra support. The schools have struggled to make progress, as measured by standardized test growth and proficiency scores, and the state sent a scathing report to the district last school year saying it needed to act with "absolute urgency" to improve the schools.
Last year, Brainerd High School posted what the state considers expected academic growth, earning a Tennessee Value Added Assessment System, known as TVAAS, score of 3. The year before the school received the lowest possible score, a 1 out of 5. Kelly said if the priority schools can earn a TVAAS score of 4 or 5 this year they will not be taken over.
"I'm optimistic we can make it," Kelly said, touting Brainerd's success.
The other four priority schools did not receive test score data last year due to the cancellation of TNReady, the state's new standardized assessment, for grades 3 to 8.
Kelly highlighted a few things the district is doing to help boost student attendance, which was one of the state's main concerns as more than 60 percent of Brainerd's students were considered chronically absent.
Starting in January, Brainerd High School has a sweep bus that picks up truant students who did not make it to school on time.
Brainerd High School's Principal Uras Agee said since the sweep bus began operation, he's seen an uptick in attendance.
"Those that can't make it to school on time, we go pick them up with a smile," Agee said with a large grin. He added that the school is also working to identify social issues keeping students out of school and ways to help support them.
Agee also mentioned ways the school is working to provide teachers with professional development and better engage students through hands-on and workplace learning.
Kelly noted the extra grant funding that's been pumped into the priority schools ends this year, and he said the district will look for different ways to support those schools. Hamilton County also has 11 other schools ranking in the bottom 10 percent of schools statewide, and several of them could drop into the bottom 5 percent after this year's test scores are released.
Mosley Jones told the about 40 people attending the meeting, half of whom work for Hamilton County Schools, that they need to hold other elected officials accountable for adequately supporting schools and ensuring equity for students.
She also started the night briefly highlighting what's taking place in each of her district's schools, noting the science, technology, engineering and math — known as STEM — programs at Tyner Middle Academy, Tyner Academy and Lakeside Elementary.
She voiced excitement for the Black History Month play taking place at Hillcrest later this month and touted Dalewood Middle School's emphasis on the arts. Dalewood is also inducting 31 students into the National Junior Honor Society in coming weeks, she said.
At Woodmore, a large turnout of parents came to the school for Moms and Muffins and Doughnuts and Dads, two events hosted by the school. Washington Alternative School is also working to help students succeed, even when they are removed from their zoned school. Last year it allowed 28 seniors to graduate who may have dropped out otherwise.
Mosley Jones said she believes in the future of the students in her district and urged those in the room to believe, too. She plans to hold another community meeting in March.
"We've got to do something," she said.
Contact staff writer Kendi A. Rainwater at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @kendi_and.