Four take­aways from the Hamil­ton County school board’s an­nual re­treat

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - REGION - BY MEGHAN MANGRUM STAFF WRITER

The Hamil­ton County school board and Su­per­in­ten­dent Bryan John­son met for their an­nual re­treat Thurs­day and Fri­day to dis­cuss the di­rec­tion and goals of the dis­trict and the board’s role in gov­ern­ing it.

Led by new Chair­man Joe Win­gate, along with new board mem­bers Jenny Hill and Tucker McClen­don, the board fo­cused on is­sues such as transportation, fa­cil­i­ties, stu­dent per­for­mance and board com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

Here are four take­aways from the board’s two-day dis­cus­sion:


Be­cause of a re­cent de­bate over how and when the board is no­ti­fied about big de­ci­sions placed on the agenda — such as the re­cent vote on whether to ap­prove a four-year, $1 mil­lion con­tract with Teach for Amer­ica — the board is work­ing on an un­of­fi­cial com­mu­ni­ca­tion plan for the

board and John­son.

In the past, the board has re­ceived some flack from the com­mu­nity for not be­ing in­formed or up­dated on de­ci­sions, but board mem­bers also have cited com­plaints about items be­ing added to the board’s agenda at the last minute.

Board mem­ber Joe Smith said lo­cal me­dia out­lets some­times drive pub­lic opin­ion by ini­ti­at­ing sto­ries about top­ics be­fore the board has voted on or dis­cussed it.

The board also plans to hold a work ses­sion prior to the reg­u­lar monthly board meet­ing to dis­cuss the fol­low­ing week’s agenda and other is­sues, such as poli­cies that might arise, start­ing in Jan­uary.


In the coming months, the dis­trict will be re­view­ing its transportation man­age­ment poli­cies, as well as seek­ing a ven­dor to per­form an as­sess­ment of its cur­rent transportation ser­vices.

A con­sul­tant has al­ready been brought in and given the board sev­eral rec­om­men­da­tions in­clud­ing: pro­vid­ing pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment and train­ing on poli­cies and laws; im­ple­ment­ing an in­ci­dent re­port­ing sys­tem, up­dat­ing dis­trict poli­cies, re­quire con­duct­ing back­ground checks on ap­pli­ca­ble driv­ers and im­ple­ment­ing safety drills, said Ken Brad­shaw, chief of op­er­a­tions for the dis­trict.

The board also will vote to ap­prove a re­quest for pro­posal for a new bus con­tract in the coming months.

“We know this is a very con­tentious topic. In Novem­ber, we want to bring a draft of the RFP and bring it to the board and let y’all digest it. The board has to make a de­ci­sion on this. We want to give you the in­for­ma­tion to make the best de­ci­sion on this,” John­son said.

One topic still up in the air is which stu­dents will con­tinue to be trans­ported, such as those at­tend­ing mag­net schools or Fu­ture Ready In­sti­tutes out­side their zones. Also up for dis­cus­sion are the use of in­de­pen­dent con­tract driv­ers, in-house transportation ser­vices and con­sol­i­dated routes.


Shan­non Moody, the new di­rec­tor of ac­count­abil­ity and re­search for the dis­trict, briefed board mem­bers on stu­dent per­for­mance and ac­count­abil­ity met­rics at the re­treat.

Though the dis­trict has seen im­prove­ments in some ar­eas, such as an in­crease in re­ward schools as rec­og­nized by TVAAS scores and higher pro­fi­ciency rates in ar­eas such as English and read­ing, sub­groups within the dis­trict con­tinue to un­der-per­form.

“The big take­away from cur­rent dis­trict suc­cess rates,” Moody said, “is that our sub­groups are still un­der-per­form­ing com­pared to all stu­dents.”

Sub­groups, as de­fined by state ac­count­abil­ity mea­sures in ac­cor­dance with fed­eral law, in­clude black and His­panic stu­dents, eco­nom­i­cally-dis­ad­van­taged stu­dents and English lan­guage learn­ers.

Suc­cess among these groups, which make up grow­ing por­tions of the stu­dent body, will con­tinue to be a fo­cus along with over­all suc­cess in the coming year.


Along with transportation, fa­cil­i­ties also will be con­duct­ing au­dits in the coming months, both on de­ferred main­te­nance and growth and ca­pac­ity. Schools are over­crowded in some ar­eas, such as East Ridge, East Brain­erd and the city’s ur­ban core, but there is room to grow in other schools.

With the suc­cess of River­mont Ele­men­tary, which has been op­er­at­ing un­der an ope­nen­roll­ment sys­tem for the past year, John­son told the board his team planned to present a list of schools to the board in De­cem­ber to also con­sider for open en­roll­ment.

“One thing we want to think about, and one thing we’ve talked about, is open en­roll­ment,” John­son said.

The dis­trict had more than 3,000 hard­ship trans­fer re­quests last year, and with some build­ings not be­ing fully uti­lized, John­son asked his board, “When we look at hard­ship, why are we forc­ing par­ents to go through hard­ship if the school is un­der ca­pac­ity?”

Re­gard­less if ad­di­tional ele­men­tary or mid­dle schools im­ple­ment open-en­roll­ment poli­cies, with the Fu­ture Ready In­sti­tutes, most high schools have open en­roll­ment op­tions.

The board did not dis­cuss how such op­tions would fur­ther af­fect transportation though.


Hamil­ton County Board of Ed­u­ca­tion Chair­man Joe Win­gate opens the board’s re­treat Satur­day at Chat­tanooga State Com­mu­nity Col­lege. Main top­ics of dis­cus­sion dur­ing the re­treat in­cluded fa­cil­i­ties, main­te­nance, transportation and the bus con­tract with Durham Ser­vices.

Hamil­ton County Board of Ed­u­ca­tion mem­ber Kar­itsa Mosley Jones writes down ideas from her break­out group Satur­day.

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