County schools launch programs
by JOYANNA WEBER, Banner Staff Writer
Dec 27, 2012 | 1186 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Bradley County Schools implemented many changes in 2012 as the school system moved toward the Common Core standards, opened a virtual school and focused on teaching students about leadership.

“In Bradley County, we continue to do innovative and creative improvements,” Bradley County Schools Director Johnny McDaniel said.

Switching to the Common Core standards for education will mean fewer general standards will be taught in each core subject, with a focus toward having a deeper understanding of these concepts. Kindergarten, first and second grade moved to Common Core standards in 2012. The move to the new standards will also change the end of year testing format to using the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness of College and Careers assessment.

McDaniel said teachers are already being trained for the new standards.

Bradley County Virtual School enrolled its first students this year.

“I’m really proud of the work there; we’ve had a lot of interest in that,” McDaniel said. “My first desire was to really provide something for folks who felt like they wanted to home-school ... I wanted to provide curriculum for them, keep them engaged with the school ... and I wanted a program where we had face-to-face. Parents saw real teachers who work right here in Bradley County.”

While the curriculum is almost entirely online, BCVS has regular interaction between students, parents and teachers for support and field trips.

“There is a lot of interest — people are really pleased with what we are doing,” McDaniel said.

There are 35 to 40 students enrolled in the school. The program allows students to work ahead if preferred. McDaniel said he expects the program to grow.

Another new program for the system, “Leaders for Life,” was implemented at the elementary school level.

Developed by supervisor for elementary education Sheena Newman, the leadership focus combines the state-mandated Character Education with sailing concepts, to teach students about leadership.

McDaniel said the leadership focus gives students the tools they will need to be successful in life. As part of the focus, students learn about goal setting and keep track of their progress in data notebooks.

The system’s graduation rate was also a positive this year.

“I’m very proud of the graduation rate for 2012, at 93.86 [percent] for the system. That’s a great graduation rate, well above the state and national average,” McDaniel said.

The Academy model was another highlight of 2012. The model implemented at Walker Valley High School allows students to pick an area of focus for elective classes. Core classes are taught in a way that emphasizes each student’s area of focus.

Grants played a major role in new programs and innovations for the school system in 2012.

According to grant coordinator Patti Hunt, the school system has already been approved for $2.3 million in grants for the 2012-13 academic year. Hunt said this number included large systemwide grants and mini-grants that teachers receive through the Bradley Cleveland Public Education Foundation. However, the number does not include school-specific grants that may have been received from corporate donors apart from the foundation.

One major grant was Gear Up, which will provide funding to help middle school students at Lake Forest Middle School transition to high school and prepare for college.

McDaniel said a counseling grant received by the system allowed him to put additional counseling support at the middle schools. Another noteworthy grant will allow the school system to build an eight-classroom addition at Walker Valley High School.

Bradley County Schools also began a technology update to replace older computers this year.

McDaniel said money the system saved from receiving federal funding through the Education Jobs Bill gave the school system the necessary funding. “This is the first step. We are replacing all of our computers that were 10 and 12 years old,” he said.

The school system is also switching to a Windows-based operating system to replace the Novell operating system. McDaniel said the system has also made changes to allow more bandwidth for teacher use.

A technology update has been a part of McDaniel’s capital projects plan submitted yearly to the Bradley County Commission, but it has not been funded.

McDaniel said updated technology was important for students.

As part of the switch to the Common Core Standards, testing will be completed online beginning next year. This year, the system participated in piloting the English-language arts tests that will be used.

The school system also switched from the state-formulated teacher evaluation model to the Project Coach model. The switch has been seen as a positive one by teachers and administrators throughout the system.

A personal highlight for McDaniel was being recognized by the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents as the state Superintendent of the Year. McDaniel will be attending a national meeting in Los Angeles in February, where the nationwide Superintendent of the Year will be chosen.