The Blount County Board of Education adopted a strategic plan for 2021-26 on Thursday, June 10, that sets ambitious goals for instruction, achievement and culture.
Blount County Schools developed a dozen goals, with action steps and measurable benchmarks, over a months-long process that included school board work sessions and three committees with nearly three dozen educators and administrators.
BCS also honed its vision and mission statements to just a dozen words. The vision: Graduating students equipped to achieve excellence. The mission: Maximizing the academic growth of every student.
“We’ve set some very high expectations, but this has been with the input of teachers and principals that feel like we should aim high,” Director Rob Britt said, adding that even if the district doesn’t hit the high targets the progress still would be worth celebrating.
Board members also indicated they plan to closely monitor action steps and progress, asking for updates after student assessments given three times a year, as well as during the board’s annual retreat starting this fall.
“In my experience when you don’t have those things on some sort of timeline ... it’s easy for things to slip,” board member Vandy Kemp said.
The plan is divided into three categories, effective instruction, equipped students and excellent culture.
Four of the six instruction goals focus on literacy, with different measures and steps from kindergarten through 10th grade.
One of the biggest pushes aims to increase from 33% this year to 83% in the 2025-26 school year the percentage of students in grades three through five scoring at the on track or mastery level on the TNReady literacy assessment.
At the high school level the district plans to add an ACT preparation course as a graduation requirement, to raise the number of students who score at least 21 on the exam, a measure of college readiness. An ACT score of 21 also qualifies students for the state’s HOPE Scholarship.
The “Equipped Students” goals are designed to help students meet not only academic but also personal and professional challenges.
BCS aims to nearly double the number of students the state considers “Ready Graduates,” based on measures such as ACT and military aptitude test scores, as well as earning industry certifications or college credit while still in high school.
With the Class of 2019 results released last November, BCS fell below the statewide average of 40.7% being Ready Graduates, while Maryville and Alcoa City Schools ranked fifth and 15th in the state, respectively.
To create greater awareness of the career and technical education programs in high school, the district plans events for elementary students and their parents.
Under culture BCS is looking at everything from how many students feel they belong and are supported at school to teacher pay and facilities.
One goal is to increase the minority educators on staff from 2% to 10%, a number that would mirror the current student population.
“We realize that’s probably the floor, but that’s where we need to start,” Britt said. “We need to get there first and then begin to build from there.”
A recent survey also found only 40% of students feel like they are an important part of their school, receive emotional support there and that individual differences are recognized and celebrated.
One of the action steps for that goal is to add two counselors a year to the district.
BCS also wants to increase teacher pay to rank in the top 25% of Tennessee districts, instead of near the bottom 15%.
Much of the work for facilities assessment and planning will fall to James Duke, recently hired to manage maintenance, facilities and capital projects. A retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, he has been on the job less than two weeks and already toured all 21 schools.