Com­mit­tee aims to give all stu­dents same chance for suc­cess

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - REGION - BY MYRON MAD­DEN STAFF WRITER

Af­ter sift­ing through a pool of more than 100 ap­pli­cants, lo­cal non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion Uni­fiEd has cho­sen 27 com­mu­nity mem­bers to aid in its ef­forts to pro­mote eq­uity through­out the county’s 79 pub­lic schools.

The an­nounce­ment comes as the next step in the ed­u­ca­tion ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tion’s Ac­tion Plan for Ed­u­ca­tional Ex­cel­lence, or APEX, project. Launched in Au­gust with a se­ries of dis­cus­sion-driven “EdTalk” gath­er­ings, the project aims to craft a pol­icy to en­sure all Hamil­ton County Schools stu­dents have the re­sources they need to suc­ceed, re­gard­less of so­cioe­co­nomic sta­tus. The com­pleted pol­icy will be sub­mit­ted to elected of­fi­cials in the hopes of im­ple­men­ta­tion.

The 27 ci­ti­zens se­lected will help lead that ef­fort by serv­ing as the APEX project’s steer­ing com­mit­tee, made up of three rep­re­sen­ta­tives from each of the nine com­mis­sion dis­tricts in Hamil­ton County.

“Our steer­ing com­mit­tee is com­prised of an amaz­ing group of com­mu­nity lead­ers who rep­re­sent all ge­o­graphic ar­eas of our di­verse county,” said Ash­ley Con­rad, di­rec­tor of pol­icy and re­search at Uni­fiEd. “These par­ents, teach­ers, stu­dents and city and county lead­ers will be work­ing to­gether to share their ex­per­tise and en­sure trans­parency and ac­count­abil­ity through­out the cre­ation of the pol­icy plat­form.”

Over the next few months, com­mit­tee mem­bers will en­sure the de­mands in­cluded in the eq­uity pol­icy plat­form fully rep­re­sent the ideas and ex­pe­ri­ences of res­i­dents in their dis­tricts, as well as the county as a whole.

The group will work to­ward that goal by fa­cil­i­tat­ing con­ver­sa­tions and EdTalks within their com­mu­ni­ties to de­ter­mine ci­ti­zens’ pri­or­i­ties; shar­ing their ex­pe­ri­ences with in­equities with other mem­bers of the com­mit­tee; learn­ing about the school sys­tem and vis­it­ing county schools; and work­ing along­side Uni­fiEd to gen­er­ate stu­dent-fo­cused so­lu­tions to be built into the pol­icy plat­form, which is ex­pected to be re­leased in Fe­bru­ary 2018.

Rachel Turner, who teaches at Hamil­ton County High School and helps rep­re­sent Dis­trict 9 on the steer­ing com­mit­tee, said one of the most crit­i­cal dis­par­i­ties she sees among schools in her dis­trict is ac­cess to ef­fec­tive teach­ers.

Ac­cord­ing to the Tennessee De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion, al­most 30 per­cent of Hamil­ton County’s teach­ers were ranked as “least ef­fec­tive” on over­all class­room ef­fec­tive­ness dur­ing the 2014-2015 school year. The state av­er­age for “least ef­fec­tive” teach­ers within each school dis­trict that year came in at 11 per­cent. The scores, which range from “least ef­fec­tive” to “highly ef­fec­tive,” are based on a school-level eval­u­a­tion score, the growth of each teacher’s stu­dents over the aca­demic year and a self-se­lected achieve­ment mea­sure.

A large por­tion of the Hamil­ton County teach­ers who fell into the “least ef­fec­tive” cat­e­gory were in schools with the high­est con­cen­tra­tions of eco­nom­i­cally dis­ad­van­taged and mi­nor­ity stu­dents.

One such ex­am­ple lo­cally was Bess T. Shep­herd El­e­men­tary School. More than 90 per­cent of the school’s stu­dents were qual­i­fied as poor in 2015, statis­tics show, and 74 per­cent of its teach­ers were ranked as least ef­fec­tive.

Com­par­a­tively, 38 per­cent of Oolte­wah El­e­men­tary School’s stu­dents were poor in 2015, while 5 per­cent of its teach­ers were ranked as least ef­fec­tive, with more than 75 per­cent of its teach­ers be­ing con­sid­ered highly ef­fec­tive.

“These is­sues must be ac­knowl­edged and ad­dressed in or­der to en­sure that ev­ery stu­dent has an equal chance in life,” Turner said.

Still, end­ing ed­u­ca­tion in­equity won’t be the work of just one com­mit­tee, but rather the en­tire com­mu­nity, said steer­ing com­mit­tee mem­ber An­nie Hall, for­merly a mem­ber of the Hamil­ton County Board of Ed­u­ca­tion. She urges ev­ery­one to stay in­formed on the is­sue and get in­volved, whether through con­ver­sa­tions with the APEX steer­ing com­mit­tee or other meth­ods of ad­vo­cacy out­side Uni­fiEd.

“We can put Hamil­ton County on the map as a com­mu­nity with out­stand­ing schools where ev­ery­one is a stake­holder in the aca­demic suc­cess of ev­ery sin­gle stu­dent,” said Hall, who helps rep­re­sent Dis­trict 2 on the steer­ing com­mit­tee. “I be­lieve it is past time for our com­mu­nity to re­solve the eq­uity is­sue which has kept too many of our stu­dents from be­ing suc­cess­ful in school. I ap­plaud Uni­fiEd’s com­mit­ment to ad­dress and re­solve this is­sue once and for all.”

Once the eq­uity pol­icy plat­form is made pub­lic, Uni­fiEd and the com­mit­tee will be­gin their push to per­suade the school board, the Hamil­ton County Com­mis­sion and the Hamil­ton County De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion to im­ple­ment it.

Con­tact Myron Mad­den at mmad­den@times­freep­ress.com or 423-757-6423.

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