One thing I have always admired about Chattanooga and Hamilton County is our resolve amid difficult situations. Education has been an undeniable weakness within our county for decades. We as residents of Hamilton County have seen, for so long, poor results with no real progress from the school system; many have become apathetic toward the challenges our school system faces. But for the first time in decades, over the past several years, we have seen just a glimpse of what this school system can be.
The Board of Education has a proven, strategic plan which the district follows meticulously. The strategic plan sets clear goals. Admittedly, the goal that the school board has set — to become the best school district in Tennessee by 2023 — will be a difficult task to achieve. Nevertheless, I am convinced this ambitious goal is worthwhile and achievable. We have worked every day to make this school system better. For example, we have seen vocational education certificates increase from 60 in 2017 to just under 1,200 this past school year; we have increased scholarship monies to our graduating seniors; and we became the fastest improving school district in the state in 2019. It is evident we have been moving in the right direction.
For the past few years, we have had the momentum and leadership to take these steps forward. Is it feasible for us to continue with such momentum given the departure of Dr. Bryan Johnson? I believe it is if we approach education with the same tenacity as with other problems our county has overcome. To be sure, the school district has some challenging issues in the coming years — a $1 billion facilities backlog, the state partnership focusing on our lower-performing high schools, and now a vacancy in our superintendent position.
So, as a system and county, we find ourselves at a pivotal moment. We are about to launch a search for a new superintendent and to begin a new school year. Our options are twofold: We can become distracted by the hyperpartisan politics that are plaguing our country, or we can unite around our school system to support it. We can take advantage of our momentum, or we can allow apathy and skepticism to stop us in our tracks.
My hope is that this county is poised to unite around our school system and continue the momentum we have gained in these past three years. With a concerted effort, Hamilton County is positioned to continue to revitalize its public education. This will require effort from every citizen in this county. We need continued support from our parents as we return to normal this school year. We need continued buy-in from our business community as we build upon the success of our Future Ready Institutes. We also need support from our government partners as we continue our strides to become the best school district in the state of Tennessee.
I encourage all of us to look past the rhetoric, the partisan politics and the lackluster past of the county. We finally have made measurable progress, and we can take this opportunity to move education forward. We can become the best school district in the state of Tennessee. The possibilities are endless for this county if we have a successful school system.
Tucker McClendon is the District 8 representative for the Hamilton County Board of Education.