While Blount County Schools will be embarking upon a new journey in the next decade, the district’s future mission is firmly rooted in its past.

“From our district’s inception, we have created and cultivated a culture of caring, in our schools and out in the greater community,” said Blount County Director of Schools Rob Britt. “It’s this characteristic that drives our future plans. We will build upon this culture and prepare both students and the greater community for the 21st century.”

Path to Success

Blount County will begin directing additional resources, both materials and personnel, to classrooms in the next decade, Britt said. “We intend to personalize the educational experience for every student, in an effort to both enhance and expand learning for all students, including the top.”

The district will continue expanding its Advanced Placement offerings at Heritage High and William Blount High, he said. The College Board recently named Blount County to the Sixth Annual AP District Honor Roll, marking the third consecutive year that the system has received the recognition.

The College Board’s honor roll recognizes districts that increase access to AP courses while also increasing the percentage of students earning a score of 3 or higher on AP exams. Colleges generally require scores of 3, 4 or 5 on AP exams for college credit, placement or both.

“Blount County Schools is committed to increasing academic rigor and stressing higher expectations and standards for all students,” Britt said. “AP courses will meet that need for some students. However, we know that it is not the answer for all students.”

The district will additionally direct more materials and personnel to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) courses in the next decade, he said. Both high schools currently operate STEM academies on campus.

The Blount Partnership is helping to identify apprenticeship and internship programs for its students, as well. The quasi-governmental agency expects to announce another boon for career and technical education students in the coming months.

Blount County also plans to expand an internship program for students with disabilities. It has partnered this school year with five organizations — Maryville College, Sertoma Center, Tennessee Department of Education, Tennessee Department of Human Services’ Division of Rehabilitation Services and Tennessee Department of Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities — to offer the Project SEARCH High School Transition Program.

Project SEARCH is a business-led, school-to-work program that takes place entirely at the workplace. Its total workplace immersion model facilitates a seamless combination of career exploration, classroom instruction and hands-on training through worksite rotations.

Five William Blount high-schoolers who are in their final year were selected by their school’s IEP (Individual Education Program) team to participate this fall. They are overseen by teacher Tammy Hearon and job coaches provided by the Sertoma Center in Knoxville.

Each student is spending one hour each morning in a Fayerweather Hall classroom, then working four hours at an internship site. They return to a classroom setting for the final hour of each school day and work on academics, including functional math and reading skills.

Students are interning in Bartlett Hall, Crawford House and the Margaret Ware Dining Room. They are performing tasks that include clerical work, serving in the housekeeping department and washing dishes.

“All of our efforts must be aimed at creating a bridge between high school and what comes next for students,” Britt said. “It’s not enough anymore to simply leave with a high school diploma. If a student plans to attend a postsecondary institution, they should leave with college credits, possibly even an associate degree. If a student plans to enter the work force, they should leave with industry certification.

“We must provide them with the knowledge and skills to be successful,” he said. “We must provide everyone who leaves our high schools with a plan, a path, toward success.”

Digital Conversion

In addition to these initiatives, Blount County aims to implement a one-to-one digital conversion plan within the next three to five years. It has discussed purchasing touch screen devices for K-2 and Chromebooks for 3-12.

A digital conversion team has conducted site visits to Lebanon Special School District, Maryville City Schools and Tullahoma City Schools. It plans to designate 30 educators who will serve as “early adopters” next year.

Early adopters will provide internal support and training when additional phases come online, Britt said. Every school will have at least one early adopter next year.

In tandem with these efforts, the district hopes to hire support staff and increase bandwidths at each school to 1 GB. It has been steadily increasing its connection speeds for the past three years.

The digital conversion is expected to “personalize learning experiences,” provide additional educational resources and reduce textbook costs, Britt said. “We will be teaching in a 21st century way.”

Students can create projects anywhere and interact with teachers outside of class, he said. They could listen to lectures and watch videos at home, then complete work in school.

“Educators would have more opportunities to move students up the learning ladder,” Britt said. “They could create interdisciplinary lessons, individualize and target instruction, offer enrichment and remediation, provide instantaneous feedback and so much more.”

Facility Needs

County officials also plan to invest in capital improvements. They will create a sustainable multiyear plan for improvements and evaluate needs at both high schools.

“The district learned its lesson at Middlesettlements Elementary and Montvale Elementary,” Britt said. “We put off repairs and ended up replacing floors, ceiling tiles and computers, in addition to those roofs. We cannot postpone capital improvements and function in a cost-effective manner.”

The system will replace all critical roofs within the next five years. It will enter into a proactive phase when those roofs are replaced.

Gary Farmer, facilities and maintenance coordinator, has additionally created a multiyear schedule for installing heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) units, replacing gym floors and restriping parking lots. He created general maintenance schedules, as well.

Blount County plans to conduct a comprehensive study that will assess all spaces, including athletic facilities, career and technical education buildings and main buildings. It will also evaluate Heritage High’s planetarium, Heritage High’s portables and William Blount Ninth Grade Academy.

The consultant will bring back a list of critical needs and outline plans to “renovate, remodel and create 21st century learning spaces,” Britt said. The firm is expected to complete its assessment by November, and the school board hopes to begin work in May 2017.

“Our goal is to create an improved learning space that could last for another 50-60 years,” he said. “We’re preparing for the future.”

The district also plans to enter into an energy savings performance contract. The chosen energy savings company will develop and implement a facility energy management and conservation program. Its goal will be to realize maximum energy-related improvements and utility savings without upfront capital investment.

The firm will guarantee savings, and the system will reallocate that revenue to finance construction and equipment, said fiscal administrator Troy Logan. The entire project would be “budget neutral.”

The system is currently spending about $3.5 million on total utilities, including electric, fuel, gas, sewer and water, Logan said. It is spending about $1.54 per square foot, which is “much higher” than the mean nationwide.

School officials plan to reduce expenditures to at least $1.25 per square foot, which is the number touted by experts in the field, he said. “There’s a lot of reasons why we’re probably inefficient in a lot of our schools. One of which is our well-documented, aging energy infrastructure.”

Emphasize Relationships

As Blount County Schools transitions from one chapter in its story to the next, Britt is committed to maintaining the same tone.

“We must keep what we hold dear for students as we move forward,” he said. “Our mission and vision statements might change, but our identity, who we are, will not change. We will continue to emphasize relationships. We will continue to emphasize loving, caring for and serving others. We will continue to provide uncompromising support to our students and their families. That’s Blount County Schools.”

Students are the “center of the entire educational process,” Britt said. “We’ve never shifted our attention from them.”

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