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Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / The Partnership Network Advisory Board met at Dalewood Middle School on March 10, 2020.

The advisory board overseeing Hamilton County's five lowest-performing schools will soon be taking to the Hamilton County Board of Education a list of recommendations to hasten school improvement.

Specialty salary scales, additional staffing and additional professional development for teachers are among the six recommendations unveiled Tuesday night by the seven-member advisory board at a Partnership Network meeting at Dalewood Middle School.

The board, made up of community members outside of the school district, was appointed in 2018 after former Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen launched the initiative between the Tennessee Department of Education and Hamilton County Schools.

The network allows Hamilton County to maintain governance of five of its longtime failing schools — Brainerd High, Dalewood Middle, Orchard Knob Middle, Orchard Knob Elementary and Woodmore Elementary — while also giving the state education department more control. The state had previously threatened to take over the schools and add them to the Achievement School District, the state-run intervention model that includes schools primarily in Memphis and Nashville.

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Hamilton County's failing schools

The recommendations focus on retaining, training and rewarding high-quality teachers, which research shows is vital to school turnaround.

Wayne Brown, vice chairman of the board, said the advisory board recommends raises for principals, teachers and even classified staff in the five schools as a means for recruiting and retaining employees in these hard-to-staff schools.

"These increases [would] specifically go toward helping retention and recruitment of teachers and staff. In addition to this raise, there is also an expectation that there would be additional work days," Brown told the advisory board.

Though the Partnership Network only includes five out of 74 schools in the district and only 5% of total teachers, 16% of total resignations so far this school year have been by teachers from those five schools.

As of January, two teachers each had resigned from Brainerd High, Dalewood Middle and Orchard Knob Elementary. Four teachers have left Orchard Knob Middle and one teacher left Woodmore Elementary, according to district data.

Advisory Board Recommendations

1. Salary Scale

2. Staffing

3. Grant Funding

4. Strategic Plan Alignment Supports

5. Professional Learning

6. District Priority Plan Review

Brown also noted that, though about 40 positions have been added to Partnership Network schools in the past two years, the board recommends the district hire more behavior specialists, interventionists and staff for kindergarten and first grade classes.

Additional teacher training, one-on-one coaching and even opportunities to visit once-failing schools in other parts of the state or country also are recommended.

Valoria Armstrong, president of Tennessee American Water Co. and chairwoman of the advisory board, said these recommendations are the results of feedback from "a gamut of folks in the community," including students, parents, principals and teachers, community leaders and Hamilton County Schools leadership.

School board member Karitsa Mosley Jones, of District 5, asked the advisory board why school board members — the governing body — had not been included as stakeholders, though. Mosley Jones represents three of the Partnership Network schools.

Armstrong and schools Superintendent Bryan Johnson both said that the next step would be bringing the recommendations to the school board for feedback, and eventually approval.

Partnership Network Schools

— Brainerd High School

— Dalewood Middle School

— Orchard Knob Elementary

— Orchard Knob Middle School

— Woodmore Elementary

"All six of them are things that the team have been beginning to have conversations around. Your recommendations will be extremely helpful as we continue planning," Johnson said. "The next step would be to get these recommendations in front of the board, hopefully in March as we begin budget season."

Board member Tiffanie Robinson, of District 4, represents Orchard Knob Middle and Elementary schools, but was not present at the meeting.

The Partnership Network is a five-year agreement between the state and the district, but as the state works to revamp its school improvement methods, it is unclear how the five schools could be affected. The next list of priority schools, or the lowest-performing 5% of all state schools, will be released in the summer of 2021. Schools will exit the Achievement School District by the summer of 2022 with the introduction of a new tiered model of school improvement, according to a draft of the plan proposed by Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn and her team.

Stephanie Hinton, executive director of the Opportunity Zone that encompasses the five schools, said she agrees with the advisory board's recommendations and is encouraged by the progress already being made in the schools.

"We know state assessments matter, but there are gains and increases that tests don't cover," Hinton said. "Kids are moving and they're learning."

Contact Meghan Mangrum at mmangrum@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.

Partnership Network Advisory Board Members

— Valoria Armstrong, chair, president of Tennessee American Water Co.

— Wayne Brown, vice chair, Woodmore community member and member of the Tennessee Parent/Teacher Association (PTA)

— Ardena Garth, attorney and president of Chattanooga Endeavors

— Patricia McKoy, retired Hamilton County educator, former Public Education Fund Leadership Fellow

— Ernest L. Reid, Jr., pastor of Second Missionary Baptist Church

— Dakasha Winton, chief government relations officer at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee and first vice chair of the board for the nonprofit Park Center in Nashville

 

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