Principals: Don’t cut ‘last, most valuable resource’
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.
School officials, for the most part, have been able to meet increased accountability and expectations with an ever-increasing scarcity of resources. The school district’s revenue levels have remained relatively flat throughout the past five fiscal years. The district spent $77,203,748 in fiscal 2008-09 and spent $77,141,822 in fiscal 2011-12.
The state Department of Education recognized Blount County Schools as a 2011-12 exemplary school district. Only 21 districts received the distinction, which was the state agency’s highest.
The state Department of Education also named four Blount County schools — Carpenters Elementary, Friendsville Elementary, Union Grove Middle and Walland Elementary — as 2011-12 Reward Schools, which represent the top 5 percent of schools for annual student growth and top 5 percent for academic achievement. Only 169 Tennessee schools received the designation.
Nearly one-quarter of the 169 Reward Schools earned both designations, rising to the top 5 percent for annual value-added growth while also ranking in the state’s top 5 percent for overall achievement, according to a new accountability system adopted through Tennessee’s No Child Left Behind waiver. Carpenters Elementary School earned both designations.
While principals, teachers and support staff have been able to provide praiseworthy educational services with limited financial resources, educators advise that they’d struggle to meet and exceed the same goals without adequate human resources.
“We’ve experienced cuts for the past five years,” said Carpenters Middle School Principal Mike Crabtree. “We’ve whittled down every resource, and we’ve had to make do. We’ve performed well, but we won’t see the same results if we’re asked to cut our last, most valuable resource: people.”
Carpenters Middle School stands to lose two teacher positions, Crabtree said. Administrators will probably eliminate two core academic positions.
School officials have developed multiple contingency plans that would displace at least five teachers, he said. Educators could be teaching out of grade level and subject area.
The school, which has 28 teachers, has a finite number of options due to certification and highly qualified teacher requirements, Crabtree said. “It’s going to be very disruptive.”
If teaching assistants are reduced in fiscal year 2013-14, the school’s delivery of services could be impacted. Teaching assistants oversee in-school suspension and work in the library.
The schoolwide impact of such cuts can’t be overemphasized, Crabtree said. “We’ve learned to do without material resources, because our philosophy has been people-centered. Our most important resource is personnel.”
Teachers rotate planning periods, giving up 45 minutes every other nine weeks to staff the school’s study hall and tutorial lab, he said. School community members sell cookie dough so Carpenters Middle can buy remedial software.
Educators are continually seeking outside funding, including Blount County Education Foundation’s minigrants, Crabtree said. In 2010, Carpenters Middle School received a $50,000 prize package in Samsung’s Four Seasons of Hope contest.
School officials aren’t only seeking additional funding. They’re seeking out library books, school supplies and technology.
Educators launched in 2010 the Great Cougar Book Rescue, Crabtree said. Community and family members donate books, which are either retained or traded at used book stores for more age appropriate content.
Staff members also visit Goodwill Industries International Inc. stores, thrift stores and yard sales in search of books and other classroom materials, he said. Blount County’s libraries haven’t received funds for books and materials for six fiscal years, including the upcoming year.
“It’s helped stock our library shelves,” Crabtree said. “If we didn’t do it, our shelves would be half-full.”
Educators have 6-year-old language arts textbooks and 11- and 12-year-old science and social studies textbooks like other county schools, he said. They supplement the material with outside resources, because they don’t align with current standards.
Educators have 2-year-old math textbooks, which align with Common Core State Standards, Crabtree said. They heavily supplemented the previous textbook series, which didn’t align with new standards, until they received the new textbook series.
Carpenters Middle School has been able to outfit its classrooms and other facilities due to the generosity of community partners, he said. Parents routinely volunteer their services, including athletic field maintenance.
School officials have outfitted some classrooms with a neighboring school district’s used desks, Crabtree said. They also transport broken cafeteria chairs to William Blount High School where Bruce Suddarth’s welding classes repair them.
Staff members have even picked up two truckloads of state surplus computers, he said. The surplus computers, which were acquired two years ago, are “one upgrade away from being obsolete. However, we desperately need them. If we didn’t have those computers, we’d be in real trouble.”
System-level administrators have assisted the school as much as possible, Crabtree said. However, they have limited resources, financial and human, as well.
“We’re doing a lot of great things on a shoestring budget,” he said. “We haven’t complained about it. We’ve learned to compensate, but we absolutely can’t compensate for staff reductions.”
Carpenters Middle School’s neighbor might not experience a classroom staff reduction, according to current forecasts.
Carpenters Elementary School shouldn’t lose a teacher position, said Assistant Director of Schools David Murrell. It’s unknown whether they’ll lose teaching assistant positions.
No additional school-level information was available. Principal Fred Goins recently retired, and the district hasn’t named his replacement.
Eagleton Elementary School shouldn’t lose a teacher position, Murrell said. It’s unknown whether it will lose teaching assistant positions.
The school stands to lose its assistant principal position, though, said Principal Buffy Wyrosdick. The position is split between Carpenters Elementary and Eagleton Elementary.
Eagleton Elementary could be affected by the loss of regular education transportation days, Wyrosdick said. “Five days will be challenging, because every instructional day is significant with the increased standards. Not to mention, we have a fairly large free- and reduced-price lunch population. It could pose an attendance issue.”
School officials have received assistance in several ways, including its annual cleanup day. Volunteers painted four classrooms in 2012 and performed a variety of landscaping efforts this year.
Eagleton Middle School stands to lose two teacher positions, said Principal Becky Stone. Administrators will probably eliminate one librarian position and one self-contained classroom teacher position.
School officials won’t fill the library position, which was recently vacated through retirement, she said. Eagleton Middle School, which has fewer than 400 students, isn’t legally required to staff the position with a certified employee, so teachers will give up planning time and take turns working in the library.
The school’s self-contained classroom serves fewer than 15 students, Stone said. The program, which is designed to provide individualized instruction for at-risk students, has shown success in recent years.
Officials also won’t be able to open the Eagleton Bridge Academy, which was scheduled next year to serve between 25 and 30 students, she said. They previously located the majority of resources, except one additional teacher who was required for it.
If teaching assistants are reduced this upcoming year, the school’s delivery of services could be impacted. Teaching assistants oversee in-school suspension and work in the library.
During the past four years, Eagleton Middle School has outfitted its classrooms and other facilities in a similar manner to Carpenters Middle School. School officials organize fundraisers and use the proceeds to purchase Apple iPads, Apple TVs, and interactive whiteboards.
Staff members visit Goodwill Industries International Inc. stores, thrift stores and yard sales in search of books and other classroom materials, Stone said. They also purchase school supplies, such as notebook paper and pencils, for students.
In the past four years, they’ve also gone from eight to 10 working computers to four computer labs, she said. Two computer labs contain primarily 8- to 10-year-old computers, though.
Staff members acquired 60 Social Security Administration surplus computers in Oak Ridge, Stone said. Airport Honda’s Chris Denny rented a truck and sent a friend to pick them up.
Blount County Schools funded an additional computer lab with First to the Top funds, and staff members purchased computer monitors at a yard sale, she said. Clayton Homes also donated computers for the school’s invention and innovation class.
Community partners are helping the school and its staff in numerous ways, Stone said. Morgan Quinn has bought new gym lights and paid for their installation. He also paid to have both gym floors refinished.
Community members have volunteered their time, as well, she said. They’ve painted benches, performed landscaping work, picked up trash and washed the school building. A teaching assistant also painted the football press box last summer.
Thomas Norville, a member of Boy Scout Troop 20 in Knoxville, also created an outdoor learning area for his Eagle Scout project. He built two picnic tables, two benches, two tree benches, one long bench, one birdhouse, one bird feeder and one swing. He also installed a new fence and walkway, planted monkey grass, and set out potted plants.
The Blount County Soil Conservation District recently developed a campuswide environmental education landscape plan for the school. The resource management agency is funding the project through an Environmental Protection Agency Targeted Watersheds Grant.
Eagleton Middle School has used Blount County Education Foundation’s minigrants to purchase graphing calculators, Stone said. A local organization also sponsors its Second Harvest Food Bank Food for Kids backpack program, which provides nutritious, nonperishable food to needy students and their families.
Community assistance has helped staff members focus on their specific tasks, she said. “Eagleton Middle School has made leaps and bounds in the past three years. Our test scores, academic growth, and school culture have all seen tremendous improvement.”
Staff members carry a heavy load without complaint, she said. “They’re doing everything right, going above and beyond. However, they seem to have to continually fight to keep doing something that most people wouldn’t want to do. And, they do it with professionalism. They come to work every day with smiles on their faces. They love these kids, and they’d do anything for them — because that’s what our kids deserve.”
Across the system, building-level administrators tell the same stories and warn about the impact on their respective school communities.