Sohn: Community ‘study room’ tests Hamilton County educators, community

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Study Hall opens up channels of communication

Chattanooga 2.0’s 10 Urgent Strategies

1. Strengthen and support families.

2. Provide early learning networks to help parents prepare their children for school.

3. Reinvent learning to bring 21st century technology and Gig into the classroom.

4. Make reading a priority.

5. Make teaching excellence a priority and increase the number of highly effective teachers in classrooms.

6. Empower and support managers – with training, not just hype.

7. Emphasize equity in community schools to make all schools good schools.

8. Prepare all students for college and career.

9. Increase completion of post-secondary education.

10. Connect more residents to high paying jobs.

Sad to say, but education in Hamilton County last year had almost as much drama as the 2016 US presidential campaign.

But still not enough. Not enough, because there is more at stake in our classrooms.

So we go to the village.

All politics here is local, and it will take our village to fix what is broken for many of the 43,000 students in Hamilton County Public School classes, for the over 100 large Hamilton County employers who do not. can not find enough local workers ready for employment and for all of the approximately 350,000 residents of the county.

Last week, the Chattanooga Times Free Press hosted a “Study Hall” community conversation where about 150 people listened to and interviewed four K-12 public education experts.

The subject was painful: how to recruit and retain highly effective teachers in a school system with the highest percentage of “least effective” teachers among the largest urban school districts in the state, a state that ranks in the top. lower half of the nation on many educational measures.

Almost 30 percent of Hamilton County public school teachers are rated as “less effective” by state measures – nearly three times as many least effective teachers as the state average and twice as many more than the Knox County, Metro Nashville and Shelby County school systems. Adding insult to injury, many of these less effective teachers are placed where they can do lasting harm – in overwhelmingly poor and minority classrooms that already contain students who are already overcoming more obstacles.

For two hours, a listener could summarize the problem to about three words. Dedication, fairness and compensation.

The dedication part was obvious. A stellar teacher must have a passion for teaching, to begin with. But achieving equity and support, both in terms of mentoring and compensation, is more difficult.

The way our “Study Hall” audience approached the thorniest issues was revealing. Two of the last questions came from students, and their pointed questions – devoid of political correctness – were among the most difficult for panelists to answer.

Howard School student Akia Lewis was adamant this is a great discussion, what’s next and what are you going to do about it? she wanted to know. Another Howard student, Menachin Brown, got right to the point: why does CSAS have more effective teachers than Howard?

Edna Varner, a former teacher and principal who is now a Leading & Learning Senior Advisor at the Public Education Foundation’s Project Inspire, explained how a school’s leadership culture partially answers both questions.

Prior to becoming Howard’s principal years ago, she was the deputy principal of a Magnet school. She found that the mindset and conditions of Magnet School were great for removing barriers and securing resources, but it’s a culture magnetless schools rarely have.

“If I hadn’t been to the magnet, I wouldn’t have known what to ask,” she told listeners. “We need to speed up what works. It’s called fairness.”

As for the paid part? This is a question for state and local elected officials – and all of us as taxpayers. The starting salary for teachers in Hamilton County is $ 37,500, according to Acting Superintendent of Schools Kirk Kelly. In Nashville, it’s about $ 4,500 more. And in Georgia it is even higher.

But teacher pay alone won’t solve the fact that one-third of Hamilton County teachers are rated “least effective.”

The Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce, the local foundation, and school leaders have been working for about a year on an improvement plan known as Chattanooga 2.0. The major components of this plan are early childhood development initiatives and teacher mentorship programs. One of the leaders of the Chattanooga 2.0 effort, Jared Bigham, describes the plan as “a silver buckshot approach, because no silver bullet will solve this problem.” But having very effective teachers is the closest thing to a quick fix, he added.

Another Chattanooga 2.0 leader said privately that the most difficult obstacle in the plan is the more basic problem of “getting everyone to hear us.”

It doesn’t just mean finding enough groups to organize similar “Study Hall” events. It means making people realize how serious it is that we hire and retain better teachers, that we help all of our preschoolers, all of our third graders and all of our high school graduates – not just four in 10. of each group. Right now, only four in ten kids in the county are ready for kindergarten. Only four in 10 third-graders can read at grade level or above, and only four in 10 high school graduates earn some kind of technical certificate or diploma that would help them qualify for the county’s many new living wage jobs that are emerging. pay $ 35,000 per year and up.

So listen carefully, parents: you – some 80,000 people here in our riding – are the means to voice these needs and these objectives.

You are already doing Yeoman’s job: you get up at dawn to get these kids on the bus. You pinch pennies for notebooks, readers, lunches or snacks, extra travel expenses. You ask for homework every day, you reassure your children week after week that they and their schools are doing well – and then you pray to be right.

But there is one more thing you need – you must – do.

Demand.

Requirement of your school system. Requirement of your city leaders and your county leaders. Request from your community.

Like Akia Lewis, ask them to go beyond talking about having effective and better teachers and to getting them. Demand that they stop talking about why our schools don’t have art and music teachers – proven ways to improve learning – and find a way to get them. Demand that they stop talking about Hamilton County occupational classes and start developing those classes. Enough about embracing and achieving the goals of Chattanooga 2.0. Do it.

Demand it from city councils. Demand it from the County Commission. Demand it at your local chamber meetings, your Kiwanis meetings, your Rotary meetings.

Your children are waiting.


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