‘Not enough for kids’: Blount Schools will struggle to produce college- and career-ready students
By Matthew Stewart | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
For the past five budget years, building-level administrators and staff members have worked to overcome Blount County Schools’ budget shortfalls through business and community partnerships, increased workloads and self-sacrifice.
Educators say they will struggle to continue meeting and exceeding academic goals without adequate human resources. If additional funds aren’t allocated to the school district, they will try to accomplish that feat, though.
“We’d just be getting by in our schools,” said Mary Blount Elementary School Principal Jesse Robinette. “That’s not enough for our kids. We need to be putting them in a position to compete for spots at the next level whether it’s college or a career.”
Mary Blount Elementary
Mary Blount Elementary School shouldn’t lose any teacher positions, Robinette said. However, it could lose teaching assistant positions.
If teaching assistants are eliminated, it would affect the delivery of services, he said. They provide Response to Intervention (RTI), in addition to other services.
School officials are currently transitioning teaching assistants into “more instructional situations,” Robinette said. They’re leading small group work and working one-on-one with at-risk children. One employee also works in the computer lab.
A staff reduction would directly impact children, he said. “They help teachers organize their classrooms into more manageable groupings and provide students with the support to even get in the ball game. They’re absolutely critical to our mission.”
If regular education transportation is reduced by five days, it would further affect students, Robinette said. More than 70 percent of Mary Blount Elementary’s students receive free- and reduced-price meals.
Staff members are already working to fill student gaps, he said. “We’re doing everything that we can for our kids. We recognize that children who don’t have the latest resources will be left behind.”
In 2011-12, Mary Blount Elementary’s PTO (Parent Teacher Organization) and staff members raised $32,000 for classroom technology. The groups purchased Apple iPads, Apple TVs and projectors to create interactive space in each classroom.
In the same year, Robinette and parent Matt Webb acquired 120 surplus state computers in Nashville. PTO covered the truck rental and gas costs.
In 2012-13, StandardAero donated 30 computers. The adopt-a-school sponsor donated three- to four-year computers.
Every school computer needs to be upgraded prior to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) online tests in 2014-15, Robinette said. Mary Blount Elementary’s Apple iPads are the only current devices that could administer PARCC tests.
Middlesettlements Elementary School shouldn’t lose any teacher positions, said Principal April Herron. However, it could lose teaching assistant positions.
If teaching assistants are eliminated, it would impact the delivery of services, she said. They provide RTI and work in classrooms, dividing their time between the lower and upper grades.
Middlesettlements Elementary provides each classroom teacher with a teaching assistant for about three hours, or half the school day, Herron said. A staff reduction would reduce that time.
The school’s enrollment forecast is close to state Basic Education Program (BEP) class size requirements, she said. If enrollment further increases, school officials might need to create “creative class groupings,” such as multiage classrooms, to stay in compliance.
If regular education transportation is reduced by five days, it would further impact students, Herron said. She estimated 30 percent wouldn’t be able to make other travel arrangements.
“We have a record of high-quality instruction and services,” she said. “We want to continue offering the same level of service.”
Middlesettlements Elementary has been able to outfit its classrooms and other facilities due to the generosity of community partners, she said. Local churches donate clothing, food, and school supplies. Parents have paid for at least one field trip in every grade.
Montvale Elementary School stands to lose one teacher position through attrition, said Principal Gary Leatherwood. If enrollment further increases, the school might not remain in state compliance.
Montvale Elementary is already close to K-3 class size requirements, he said. In K-3, the state’s average class size requirement is 20 students.
If teaching assistants are eliminated, it would affect the delivery of services, such as RTI, Leatherwood said. “We can’t run effectively without them.”
A staff reduction would directly impact student achievement, he said. “We’ve made some gains in terms of academic achievement and academic growth. However, we can’t continue to make those gains without adequate personnel.”
Porter Elementary School stands to lose one teacher position, said Principal Deborah Craig. Some grade levels will have two teachers, and the school has historically employed three teachers in each grade level.
If teaching assistants are eliminated, it would impact the delivery of services, such as RTI, she said. “We heavily depend on them to provide these services. If we lose positions, our quality and level of instruction would be lacking.”
Porter Elementary has upgraded its facilities and technology through the generosity of community members, Craig said. Heritage High School’s carpentry classes recently built a “brain gym” for students. They’ve also built a gazebo near the gym.
Staff members are working to update computers, she said. The majority of computers are Microsoft Office 2003, but they still have some machines running Microsoft Office 1997. Every computer needs to be upgraded prior to PARCC.
‘We pinch each penny,” Craig said. “We want to get the most out of everything. When you start cutting personnel, it’s going to impact our effectiveness.”
Prospect Elementary School shouldn’t lose any teacher positions, said Principal Jake Jones. However, it could lose teaching assistant positions.
If teaching assistants are eliminated, it would impact the delivery of services, he said. They provide RTI and work in classrooms. One full-time teaching assistant serves each afternoon as a library assistant.
The school, which opened in fall 2011, was outfitted with the latest technology, Jones said. Each classroom has one teacher computer, three student computers, one LCD projector, and one interactive whiteboard.
Educators have experienced some challenges, though, he said.
During the past 1½ years, Prospect Elementary’s library has grown from 680 books to 7,600 books due to assistance from businesses, nonprofits and individuals. School officials have received both book and money donations.
In fiscal 2011-12, Prospect Elementary received assistance from Blount County’s Coordinated School Health Program, Blount County Education Foundation, DENSO Manufacturing Tennessee, numerous benefactors on http://DonorsChoose.org , and Modern Woodmen of America.
In fiscal 2012-13, DENSO, Lowe’s, New Providence Presbyterian Church, numerous benefactors on http://DonorsChoose.org , Prestige Cleaners, and the Walmart Foundation offered additional assistance.
Media specialist Lelia Rogers, who has acquired the majority of these grants, will lead a professional learning community on grant writing, Jones said. The school also receives Blount County Education Foundation minigrants, in addition to financial assistance from classroom sponsors.
Rockford Elementary School stands to lose one teacher position, said Principal Carol Chastain. If enrollment further increases, the school might need another teacher.
School officials added one kindergarten teacher position in the 2012-13 school year, she said. They forecast the same number of students in 2013-14.
Educators are concerned about the loss of five days of regular education transportation, Chastain said. “It’s a big concern of mine and the staff. It’s going to impact students.”
If teaching assistants are eliminated, it would impact the delivery of services, such as RTI, she said. “Every child is important, and the growth of every child should be important. We need to instill the dream in them and provide them with the confidence and security to know that they can do it.”
During the past 2½ years, staff members have tried to instill that dream in them. They completed a $50,000 project — outfitting the school’s then-20 classrooms with interactive whiteboards — in the middle of a global recession.
Community members and corporate sponsors, such as Clayton Homes, Rockford Manufacturing Co. and Vulcan Materials Co., contributed to the campaign, Chastain said. Massey Electric Col. modernized the school’s electrical infrastructure, which posed numerous challenges throughout the last several years. Workers also installed wireless access points.
Rockford Elementary has two computer labs, she said. One lab is composed of 7- to 8-year-old surplus state computers, and the other lab is composed of 2-year-old computers.
“We’re working on a new lab,” Chastain said. “We want to make sure that our kids have every opportunity available to them. We’re going to continue pushing forward for them.”