File Photo by Tim Barber/Chattanooga Times Free Press - Last September Christina Siciliano, left, and Rudy Foster worked with UnifiEd to go door-to-door in North Chattanooga inviting residents to a Community Summit on public education in Hamilton County.

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To learn more and sign the Pact, visit


Are you worried when you read or hear about poor standardized test scores in Hamilton County public schools?

Are you tired of feeling powerless to do anything about our public schools? Then here is help for you, and help for schools.

UnifiEd, a local nonprofit education advocacy group, is asking 10,000 people to show support for public education and work with them to ensure that every student in Hamilton County receives an excellent education.

Showing that support means signing a petition. UnifiEd calls the petition the "Pact for Public Education," and the document is a plea to our school administrators and school board to be transparent with a measurable plan of action to improve public education here.

UnifiEd's mission is to improve public education by getting the public involved. Members of the group have spent the last year walking Hamilton County communities and neighborhoods to talk with parents, students, teachers and community leaders about our grassroots hopes, needs and attitudes regarding schools. Those many conversations provided the blueprint of reforms that UnifiEd is now calling its Pact.

"We listened to the community, finding out what they wanted their plan to be, and these priorities were married with best practice research in public education to develop a list of four reforms." said Elizabeth Crews, executive director of UnifiEd.

The priorities are simple:

' Ensure a high-performing teacher is in every classroom

' Guarantee equal opportunity for all students

' Increase the school system's transparency and accountability

' Prioritize funding for public schools.

"One of the things that we know is that having a great teacher, an excellent teacher, in front of every student is imperative," said UnifiEd deputy director Lakweshia Ewing. That means recruiting and retaining great teachers from excellent universities and supporting those teachers by offering them professional development and mentorships — not just hiring to fill vacancies.

Guaranteeing equal opportunity by reducing the rate of concentrated poverty in some schools by 2020 would help both schools and students. That could be accomplished in a number of ways ranging from redrawing districts and expanding magnet schools to promoting partnerships between the school system, government agencies and other local organizations to improve early childhood education so more students enter public school ready to learn.

Transparency is easy to seek, but apparently quite hard for our public school system and school board to provide. A year ago, UnifiEd asked the school board to put documents online for parents to review. The group also asked the school system to encourage parents to attend meetings and give input by moving the board meetings around to different times and to different schools. (Or perhaps live-stream the meetings so the public can watch.)

We're still waiting on these improvements.

Other suggestions are to put the school system's budget online in an easy-to-read format. That's partly accomplished. County taxpayers invest more than $400 million a year in schools, but few of us know what that money buys.

UnifiEd now is asking the school district and the county to prioritize funding to have clear and updated short-term and long-term goals tied to student outcomes. The group wants the County Commission and school board to establish a five-year, measurable plan that connects money to results.

"We want to be sure that every dollar they have is being spent efficiently and in the most efficient way possible," Crews said. " And we would like for that plan to be tied to student outcomes."

This is a solid and reasonable blueprint. At its core, the Pact voices the community's priorities and demand for excellence and equity in our public schools.

We can make schools better. Please lend your signatures.