Community buy-in necessary for school success
By Matthew Stewart | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Blount County citizens will decide today whether to levy a wheel tax to help plug a Blount County Schools budget shortfall for fiscal year 2013-14, but educators won’t allow the outcome to dictate the district’s future success.
“Regardless the outcome, we’re going to succeed,” said Renda Crowe, William Blount High School’s theater teacher. “I’m not worried about Blount County Schools, because we’re in good hands with (Director of Schools Rob) Britt and the school board. They’ve got a vision. It might take us 20 years to get there, but we’ll get there.”
If the district doesn’t receive additional funds, educators will attempt to pick up the slack, she said. “We’re very good at producing above-average academic results with below-average per-pupil expenditures.”
Crowe, who was the 2012-13 Tennessee Teacher of the Year for the East Grand Division, works an average of 66 hours per week. “Most teachers work overtime, but we don’t get paid for it.”
The teacher starts her workday about 7 a.m. and gets prepared for the day’s lessons. She then teaches four classes and works with students after school. She holds rehearsals from 3:30-8 p.m. most weekdays and 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Saturdays.
Crowe teaches about 300 students per year. She taught 50 advanced theater students, including 23 seniors, this school year.
The teacher isn’t provided with a textbook. She locates material and makes her own lesson plans.
Crowe uses classroom technology, including a laptop and projector, to help students gain insight into acting and stagecraft. She located grant funding to purchase the technology.
“As an educator, I’ve got three jobs,” she said. “I’m a fundraiser, which comes with running any program. I’m also a schoolteacher. I teach Theater I to full 35-student classes three times per day, and I teach Advanced Theater to 50 students per day. Lastly, I’m an amalgam of producer, director, designer and manager.”
The teacher works daily to manage these responsibilities and provide rigorous, relevant instruction for students. “They’re not going to keep me from being successful and supporting them.”
Crowe also strives to model this positive attitude for the high-schoolers. “We’re constantly thinking about what will serve the community. We always ask ourselves that question when we’re selecting a show.”
The Vagabond Players recently presented a play, “Korczak’s Children,” which is based on a true story about a group of orphans living in the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II. “We selected that play as a service to our community, especially the Jewish community. It’s a very important story for everyone to hear.”
In addition to rigor and relevance, the teacher is a firm believer in building relationships with students.
“In education, the most important thing is relationships. I became a teacher because I formed relationships with teachers when I was a child. They took an interest in me, and it filled me with a sense of pride. I’ve tried to follow their examples. I’m not just a teacher. I’m a mentor and family member. I try to be whatever they need me to be so they can be successful.”
Crowe’s instructional practices and work ethic have received a considerable amount of attention from her peers. She previously taught one year at Gatlinburg-Pittman High School, 14 years at Greenback School and eight years at Carpenters Middle School.
Crowe was previously named Loudon County’s Teacher of the Teacher for grades 9-12. She received the honor in 1997-98 and 2001-02.
Crowe was a state finalist in 2007-08. At the time, she was an eighth grade language arts teacher at Carpenters Middle School.
Five years in program
During the past five school years, Crowe has worked to revitalize the theater program and its facilities. When she took over the program, it didn’t even have an operating fund.
Steve Lafon, who was then principal, allocated $1,000 to start the program, Crowe said. “We didn’t have any resources, but I wasn’t going to let that serve as an excuse. I told the kids: ‘We’re going to think big, and we’re going to be the best theater that we can be in the shortest amount of time.’ The kids bought into my vision, and everything has fallen into place.”
Students sell candy bars and tickets to fund the program, she said. “They’ve never questioned me. When I ask them to raise money, they do it.”
The high-schoolers’ fundraising efforts are helping William Blount to upgrade its theater, Crowe said. “If you’re going to have a successful program, you need a sense of pride and common goals. I’ve always involved them in the program’s goals. All of us want to improve this facility, so we’re setting aside money to make it a better place. We want to leave it better than we found it, because we served here.”
As a result of fundraising efforts, school officials have invested more than $60,000 into the theater program. They’ve outfitted Crowe’s classroom with technology, refinished the stage, and purchased new lighting and sound boards.
“We might have older seats, but we’re still going to provide a clean, functional auditorium,” she said. Students clean the auditorium every week.
The majority of Blount County teachers are doing similar things, Crowe said. “I’d put our teachers against anyone in the state. They do an outstanding job, but we can always grow and improve. However, it would be easier if we knew that the community was behind us. I’m a living testament to the power of community support. The community has supported my program for several years. As a result, we’ve seen tremendous successful.”
If the community similarly partnered with Blount County Schools, staff and students could build an even more successful program, she said. “You build successful programs with a sense of pride and common goals. It’s the same way with schools, communities, states and countries.”