HAMILTON COUNTY SCHOOLS ON THE PRIORITY SCHOOL LIST
› Brainerd High
› Calvin Donaldson
› Clifton Hills Elementary
› Dalewood Middle School
› Hardy Elementary School
› Orchard Knob Elementary
› Orchard Knob Middle
› The Howard School
› Woodmore Elementary
Despite four more of its schools being added to Tennessee's list of lowest-performing schools last week, Hamilton County Schools leaders and community members found reason to be excited for the future as they celebrated year two of the district's Opportunity Zone on Tuesday night.
With sessions focused on topics such as restorative justice, how to engage readers and promote literacy, and resources for families and students who don't speak English, the school district and community partners showcased what is being done in the 12 schools that make up the learning community to promote student achievement.
"When I first got here, Jill [Levine, chief of the Opportunity Zone] and I talked about what we could do for our schools who have the most opportunity to succeed," said Superintendent Bryan Johnson. "And we know these 12 schools have the most opportunity."
The Opportunity Zone encompasses Brainerd and Howard high schools and the elementary and middle schools that feed into them.
It was launched in the fall of 2017 shortly after Johnson took over leadership of the district. Its goal was to provide intensive support to the historically low-performing schools and the students who attend them — mostly students of color and students who come from communities of concentrated poverty.
The district had been threatened with a potential state takeover of five of the schools, and it had been anticipated that some others would need more support.
Through state and federal funds targeted for priority schools, district allocation and the newly formed State Partnership Network, Hamilton County Schools has been pumping in resources ranging from hundreds of new books for classroom libraries to two new theater programs and new after-school programs to tackle the challenges within the 12 schools.
Leandrea Ware, the new principal of The Howard School, said essentially Tuesday's showcase showed that the district and the community were holding true to their word. She said the biggest success of the past year was the addition of intentional supports being provided to Opportunity Zone schools, educators and students.
"The intensive, intentional supports for these schools that need them the most," Ware said. "So often we talk about what these schools need, but to be able to see tangibly that the district has prioritized the Opportunity Zone schools."
Ware said Opportunity Zone schools and the community were undergoing a culture shift.
"The work here is such that if you don't believe in it, it's going to be a hard hill to climb. We are showing them that we believe in it," she said.
Contact staff writer Meghan Mangrum at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.