‘Only carry so much’: Blount Schools see uncertainty, increased challenges
By Matthew Stewart | (email@example.com)
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 would struggle to continue meeting and exceeding academic goals without adequate human resources. If additional funds aren’t allocated to the school district, they will be asked to accomplish that feat, though.
“I don’t think we’ll know what’s going to be the true impact,” said Union Grove Elementary School Principal Kristy Brewer. “We’ve spent a lot of time looking at the big issues. However, it’s going to be the little things that make a real difference in day-to-day operations. It’s going to be those things that we take for granted. Maybe things will break down, and we won’t be able to fix it. Maybe we won’t have custodial supplies to clean something. We won’t really know until we get into the school year and try to figure it out.”
Townsend Elementary School stands to lose one teacher position, said Principal Steve Stout. Administrators have discussed several contingency plans.
If teaching assistants are eliminated, it would affect the delivery of services, he said. Teaching assistants oversee small group work, provide Response to Intervention (RTI), and work in classrooms. They also help students work with online resources.
Townsend Elementary was ranked seventh out of 761 elementary schools in academic growth last year, Stout said. “TAs are a big part of our success. If we lost them, we’d feel a big hit.”
The school has one computer lab, which is about two years old, he said. They don’t have a dedicated teacher, though.
Staff members also upgraded technology through the generosity of community members, Stout said. The school’s PTO (Parent Teacher Organization) raised funds two years ago and earmarked them for interactive whiteboards.
Area businesses and service organizations support Townsend Elementary, as well, he said. “We’re a true community school, which is a great benefit to our staff and students. Increased accountability and standards makes it absolutely essential. We’ll take all the help that we can get.”
Union Grove Elementary
Union Grove Elementary School shouldn’t lose any teacher positions, Brewer said. However, she’s been advised about the possibility of moving the school’s literacy leader.
If teaching assistants are eliminated, it would affect the delivery of services, she said. Teaching assistants oversee individual and small group work, provide RTI, and work in classrooms. Several employees lead lessons from time to time.
“Students depend on them for extra support,” Brewer said. “They need that one-on-one attention. Some children will sit and wait until their TA gets into the room. If we lost them, it’d impact every student.”
Union Grove Elementary provides one teaching assistant for every two regular education classrooms, she said. “We’re very thin compared to other schools.”
If the school district eliminates five days of regular education transportation, it would further impact students, Brewer said. She estimated that 30 percent of students wouldn’t be able to make other travel arrangements.
Union Grove Elementary faces other challenges, as well.
The school’s two computer labs are composed of nearly six-year-old machines, Brewer said. They’ve started replacing computers as they’ve fallen into disrepair.
School officials are currently trying to determine whether the machines are ready for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) online tests in 2014-15, she said.
Union Grove Middle
Union Grove Middle School stands to lose two teacher positions through attrition, said Principal Alicia Lail. The staff reduction will be complicated by increased student enrollment.
Union Grove Middle had 725 students in the 2011-12 school year, she said. It had 808 students in 2012-13.
If teaching assistants are eliminated, it would affect the delivery of services, Lail said. Teaching assistants oversee in-school suspension and work with at-risk students.
School officials moved eight years ago to full inclusion, she said. Under the inclusion model, special needs students spend most of their time in regular education classrooms.
“We’ve seen a lot of success,” Lail said. “We’ve seen increased test scores, and it’s created a more cohesive school environment.”
Inclusion has contributed to the school’s academic gains in recent years, she said. The state Department of Education named Union Grove Middle School as a 2011-12 Reward School, because it’s in the top 5 percent of schools for annual student growth. Only 169 Tennessee schools received the Reward School designation.
If Union Grove Middle loses teaching assistants, it also won’t be able to provide full inclusion, Lail said. “We’d be going backwards. It could have a major impact for us.”
School officials are working with community partners to provide students with adequate resources, she said. Y-12 Federal Credit Union operates an in-school, student-run branch, and its employees volunteer in a number of capacities, such as working the concessions for every athletic event.
Private individuals contribute to fundraisers and help teachers, as needed, Lail said. Union Grove Middle also receives Blount County Education Foundation minigrants.
“Our staff is doing a wonderful job,” said Assistant Principal Rhonda McLemore. “They’ve worked to overcome a lack of funding and personnel, but they can only carry so much. We need some help.”
Walland Elementary School shouldn’t lose any teacher positions, said Principal Jed West. However, it could lose teaching assistant positions.
If teaching assistants are eliminated, it would impact the delivery of services, he said. Teaching assistants provide RTI and work in classrooms.
“Our goal is to provide a great education and maximize the academic potential of every child,” West said. “Staff reductions cut into it.”
A reduction in regular education transportation services would further cut into the goal, he said. Many students wouldn’t be able to make other transportation arrangements.
Staff members are also working to upgrade technology, West said. The school, which has a 2-year-old computer lab, has older computers throughout the building.
“We’re in need of technology upgrades,” he said. “However, we’re on pace with our building-level technology plan.”
William Blount High
William Blount High School stands to lose three teacher positions, said Principal Rob Clark. Administrators were asked to eliminate a combination of core academic and career and technical education (CTE) programs.
School officials have created several contingency plans, he said. “We’re looking at several options, because our class sizes will increase and limit course offerings.”
Administrators also have to be careful, because one CTE teacher represents an entire program of study, Clark said. Some students are taking two programs of study instead of a foreign language.
School officials have reviewed the number of students in each program of study and identified engine repair as a potential cut, he said. Collision repair wouldn’t be affected by the potential cut.
If William Blount High School experiences a staff reduction, school officials might not be able to offer a credit recovery class, Clark said. Students might have to take summer school.
The credit recovery class served at least 50 students in 2012-13, he said. If the school loses the class, it could impact William Blount High School’s graduation rate.
A staff reduction could reduce the number of AP (Advanced Placement) courses, as well, Clark said. “We’re going to be impacting every student group, including our most gifted.”
Recent graduate Robby Ferguson was the county’s first Haslam Scholar. He is one of 15 first-year University of Tennessee students who were selected for the Haslam Scholars Program.
Ferguson wouldn’t have received the scholarship without the AP program, Clark said. “If we’re going to produce college- and career-ready students, we need to maximize their potential wherever they are on the learning ladder.”
William Blount High faces additional challenges, he said. The school, which recently replaced about 35 computers, requires an additional computer lab for PARCC.
School-level cuts will ultimately impact classroom teachers. However, educators advise that they’re determined to minimize the impact on their students.