Educational Equity in Hamilton County

In June of 2020, Chattanooga 2.0 released a statement committing to put equity at the center of our work to impact strong educational outcomes in Hamilton County. Around the globe and in our own community, the topic of equity and specifically racial justice is top of mind for many. Today, we find ourselves in an important moment. Now is the time to set common definitions around equity and begin a productive community conversation about how we ensure that in Chattanooga and Hamilton County, one’s future success is not determined by zip code, background, or skin color.

Chattanooga 2.0 defines educational equity as intentional supports, resources, and policies designed to meet the individual needs of each learner and eliminate disparities in outcomes, ultimately ensuring that all students have the opportunity to unlock their full potential.

Equity is different from equality. Equity recognizes that each individual will need unique supports to cross the same finish line. While equality implies that everyone should be given the exact same supports in the same amounts.

In a step towards starting these community conversations, we posed five questions on the topic of educational equity to the 2020 Hamilton County School Board candidates. We believe that engaging public leaders in this conversation and equipping the community with the information they need to make informed decisions is essential to the work.

But it’s just one step. We invite you and/or your organization to join us in the important work that lies ahead.

 

2020 Hamilton County School Board Candidates on Educational Equity

DISTRICT 1

Q: Do you believe educational equity, as defined by Chattanooga 2.0, should be a priority for the Hamilton County School Board and Hamilton County Schools? Why or why not?

A: Equity has been a priority for many years in Hamilton County Schools. In 2006, a document titled, “Hamilton County Secondary Priority Schools Resources Provided an Actions Taken”, shows the following schools – Dalewood Middle , Chattanooga Museum Magnet, (now closed-became Normal Park Upper), Orchard Knob Elementary, East Lake Elementary, Calvin Donaldson Elementary and Woodmore Elementary received either all, or a vast majority of the following between 2004-2006: Lower student teacher ratio, system-wide fact finding team, system-wide fact intervention team, added assistant principal; provided training for administrators in leadership accountability and achievement, provided literacy consultants, secured literacy coaches, provided coaching and training in team building for staff, provided professional development in math strategies and literacy instruction, secured family partnership specialist to work with families, provided consulting teachers, secured principal coaches, provided attendance incentives, secured literacy  coaches, provided curriculum facilitators, provided reading interventionists for at-risk students, reconstituted school staff, added alternative classroom, implemented in-school suspension programs and truant officers.

So, yes, equity has already been a focus for Hamilton County Schools for many years.

 

Q: What specific strategies or policies have you learned about or experienced that you believe would promote greater educational equity in Hamilton County Schools?

A: In addition to the aforementioned programs and positions that have been in place since 2004-2006, more have been added. Millions in Opportunity Zone money from the State has also been poured into these Priority Schools. We have added additional teachers, counselors, night school, additional buses to make extra trips to get students to school, Dean of Students, attendance specialists, later school starting times and other positions and programs. Teachers and administrators are given stipends to work in hard to staff schools.

 

Q: What role should the school board, specifically, play in eliminating racial and socioeconomic disparities in resource allocation, discipline, and access to high quality learning options in Hamilton County Schools?

A: The Board has approved a Code of Acceptable Behavior to ensure that students in every school get the same punishment for the same offense. HCDE has also formed an Equity Task Force as well as appointed a Chief Equity Officer. I trust the Leadership Team to continue to make sure equity issues are a priority.

 

Q: 48% of students in Hamilton County Schools identify as non-White, yet in 2019, approximately 11% of teachers employed by HCS were classified as racially diverse. Do you support increasing teacher diversity in Hamilton County Schools? If so, how will you prioritize the development of a more racially diverse teaching workforce?

A: HCDE Human Resource has made hiring minorities a top priority. HR hired recruiters to do nothing but actively search surrounding counties and states searching for minority teachers. Also, Teach for America was hired last year to recruit and hire minority teachers.

 

Q: What steps do you support the Hamilton County School Board and Hamilton County Schools taking to ensure students from low-income backgrounds and students of color attend college and earn college degrees at the same rates as their peers?

A: The main thing the School Board can do to ensure low income and students of color attend college, is to be sure they are academically ready to go to college. In 2008, Dr. Robert Green, Professor Emeritus at Michigan State University, (at the cost of $150,000), did a study “A School Retention and Academic Achievement Plan”. In this study Dr. Green states, “one fourth of Brainerd and Howard ninth-graders are over age (17-18 years-old). Dr. Green went on to say that in interviews with current at-risk students, recent dropouts, and high school teachers, it was revealed that many young males “never learned to read in elementary school.” Teachers interviewed for the study said many 17-18-year-old students either can barely read or cannot read at all.” Dr. Green recommended a “renewed emphasis on reading.” HCDE has taken steps in recent years to improve literacy in all of our schools, especially at-risk schools. Reading must continue to be the most important focus of the School Board.

Other findings in Dr. Green’s study was the need for “more positive male role models in schools, development of a black academy, possible same-sex classes, more support from black businesses, professionals and churches, a student recovery class in each school, cultural and diversity training for teachers, better trained and highly paid teachers and an expansion of vocational programs.”  Most all of these suggestions have been acted on. However, more can be done to accomplish Dr. Green’s suggestions.

Each high school has College Access Counselors to encourage students to seek higher education. Counselors find opportunities and assist students and parents to fill out paper work with colleges that many times offer minority only scholarships. Counselors provide students information so they can pursue vocational opportunities if that is their desire. Students are also given information how to apply for admission to Chattanooga State where they can attend for two years free of charge.

As far as “ensuring that students from low-income backgrounds and students of color attend college and earn college degrees at the same rate as their peers”, I do not see how the Board can ensure students go to college and graduate. We can provide the opportunity but, not the outcome. After high school it is their responsibility to continue their own education.

Q: Do you believe educational equity, as defined by Chattanooga 2.0, should be a priority for the Hamilton County School Board and Hamilton County Schools? Why or why not?

A: Educational equity as defined by Chattanooga 2.0 must be a priority of Hamilton County Schools and its school board. It is essential for school board members and educators to consider all decisions through an equity framework in order to be sure that all students have the opportunity to unlock their full potential. As I have said, you must unlock the heart before you can unlock the mind. Therefore, additional resources must go to students with greater needs.

 

Q: What specific strategies or policies have you learned about or experienced that you believe would promote greater educational equity in Hamilton County Schools?

A: When it comes to strategy or policy, I suggest working to strengthen the links between school and home to equip parents to help their children learn. We didn’t call that a strategy or policy when I was young, but I experienced it. My mom said that when I was a student in district one, many times she didn’t have enough extra money to buy a Coke. Fortunately for me, I had teachers, coaches, community and people in my church who invested time and resources in me. They helped me have positive experiences and at times they believed in potential and a future that I did not yet see myself. Being raised by a single mom, I am grateful that teachers and other key adults in my life partnered with my mom to ensure that public education would be the “great equalizer” that Horace Mann believed it could be. No one called it equity back when I was a student, and there were not any policies to ensure that I experienced equity, but the difference it made continues to significantly impact my life. I’m a data guy. I like data, and I believe it tells a story. Using data to shine a spotlight on equity and illuminate our equity issues is a strategy that should continue. How we use and respond to data matters. My experience looking at trends, patterns and their implications will help as the school board works to promote greater educational equity.

 

Q: What role should the school board, specifically, play in eliminating racial and socioeconomic disparities in resource allocation, discipline, and access to high quality learning options in Hamilton County Schools?

A: There’s three parts to this question, so let me tackle one part at a time.

  1. Resource Allocation. School board members can insist that the district root causes for disparities in resource allocation and set clear expectations for the elimination of these gaps.
  2. Discipline. Enforcement of discipline and code of conduct is the role of an administrator and classroom teacher. Anyone who has been a teacher knows that classroom management is essential to being an effective teacher. School board members do approve the code of conduct, and we can of course ask questions. It is my understanding that the district has offered COMP (Classroom Organization and Management Program) training to educators. This program is out of Vanderbilt University and from the teachers I have talked to I have heard positive feedback. They say it does improve student behavior, student learning, and they enjoy teaching more after participating in the training. If elected, I would like to form an advisory council of parents and school staff to better understand how I can improve training and policies to support the discipline needs in our schools.
  3. Access to quality learning options in Hamilton County Schools. The role of the school board should be to examine the data and see how we are progressing towards the goals of our strategic plan. If elected, I will constantly be asking myself before I vote, “How will this decision improve student learning and performance?” I believe and support accountability. The school board, along with the Superintendent, sets the tone for the district in being tightly aligned and focused on our priorities.

 

Q: 48% of students in Hamilton County Schools identify as non-White, yet in 2019, approximately 11% of teachers employed by HCS were classified as racially diverse. Do you support increasing teacher diversity in Hamilton County Schools? If so, how will you prioritize the development of a more racially diverse teaching workforce?

A: If our teaching work-force does not mirror the racial demographics of our students, those minority students have limited access to same-race role models. Research indicates that minority students find greater success in school when they experience teachers with similar racial and cultural backgrounds. This leads into the second part of this question: in order to have a racially diverse teaching workforce, we have to increase the number of minorities attending college.

 

Q: What steps do you support the Hamilton County School Board and Hamilton County Schools taking to ensure students from low-income backgrounds and students of color attend college and earn college degrees at the same rates as their peers?

A: I think we need to take a close look at how we dedicate resources to increase college readiness. Getting more students ready for college will require an all-hands-on-deck approach with strategic early interventions, smaller class sizes in grades K-3, early interventions to connect low-income students to college, summer programs and other enrichment activities, financial aid awareness and opportunities, and early exposure to STEM education and college level coursework. I might have been a student who slipped through the cracks and did not attend college if class sizes were as large when I attended school as they are now.

DISTRICT 2

Declined to participate

Q: Do you believe educational equity, as defined by Chattanooga 2.0, should be a priority for the Hamilton County School Board and Hamilton County Schools? Why or why not?

A: Yes. Education is often referred to as the great equalizer, but it cannot be if the quality of education is not equitable across the county. Every one of our students should have an opportunity for an excellent education regardless of where they live or their socioeconomic status. Creating opportunity for every one of Hamilton County’s residents builds the overall wellbeing of our community attracting businesses and additional talent.

 

Q: What specific strategies or policies have you learned about or experienced that you believe would promote greater educational equity in Hamilton County Schools?

A: The earlier we begin to offer support for families the better we will be preparing students for learning. We need to strengthen early intervention and education programs to support children from the beginning of their educational development. We need to identify needs of our students and families and provide support staff to bridge some of the gaps in educational attainment. This would be done in partnership with local organizations as well as directly through the services provided by Hamilton County Schools.

Developing partnerships between the parents, the teachers and the schools has always proven to improve student achievement. One possibility is by improving the community schools program, which can also provide support to families but also engage parents better.

Great teachers are a key to great success. The teacher is the first partner in working with our schools and students. Hamilton County Schools has to be an attractive and appealing option for teachers to consider us. Our teachers are seeking to experience the support from the school system and from the community.

The district has implemented programs that are proving to have some positive results and impacts. Allowing students opportunities in open enrollment, magnet schools and future ready institutes of their choice, allows families to determine the best fit for their child. I want to support these, but also continue evaluating their success. They need to have results that are truly measurable.

Of great concern in the coming year is the effect of COVID on potentially deepening inequity due to the challenges of the digital divide. As students will have to combine learning at home with learning at school or perhaps even potentially moving toward a completely virtual model, those without the technology or support structures will risk falling far behind. The less interaction students have with teachers and the learning environment the further back they will fall in their educational development. As the nation is learning through this reality together, there are currently no “best practices” to draw from. This will require that as a board and as a district we be at the forefront of developing what education will look like while keeping in mind all students that may need additional resources in order to succeed in their learning.

 

Q: What role should the school board, specifically, play in eliminating racial and socioeconomic disparities in resource allocation, discipline, and access to high quality learning options in Hamilton County Schools?

A: As the primary entity that develops policies and approves the budget, it will fall on the school board to review existing policies that may create disparities, in collaboration with the Superintendent and his leadership team. The first priority is to ensure that we are providing the needed social and emotional support from the earliest moment possible in order to reduce future effects on education.

The Board needs to look at our budgeting methodology as well. Whether we apply a student-based budget, a priority-based budget or a combination of methods, we need to make sure that the resources are made available to support and enhance the learning of those who need the most additional support.

 

Q: 48% of students in Hamilton County Schools identify as non-White, yet in 2019, approximately 11% of teachers employed by HCS were classified as racially diverse. Do you support increasing teacher diversity in Hamilton County Schools? If so, how will you prioritize the development of a more racially diverse teaching workforce?

A: Yes. There are recognized benefits to having non-White students interact with teachers with whom they can identify. I also recognize that recruiting racially diverse teachers is a broader challenge as there are less individuals in general pursuing teaching degrees nationally and there are even less racially diverse individuals pursuing teaching as a career option. This requires intentionally developing a pipeline of talent and strengthening relationships with programs and universities that are specifically recruiting diverse teachers, such as Teach for America and TNTP nationally, and Project Inspire locally. Recruitment efforts need to be made as well with colleges and universities that have higher minority attendance, including but not exclusive to HBCU’s.

Equally important is the retention of great teachers. This requires that first-year teachers feel supported by the administration and the community. Providing first year teachers with mentorship has been proven to help them remain longer in their role.

 

Q: What steps do you support the Hamilton County School Board and Hamilton County Schools taking to ensure students from low-income backgrounds and students of color attend college and earn college degrees at the same rates as their peers?

A: The first priority is ensuring that our students are ready for college. It is not enough for students to get to college if they cannot succeed in their first years and not complete their degree.  Providing rigorous courses in high school, and reducing remedial needs will allow for students to be better prepared for college.

Hamilton County needs to provide sufficient career and guidance counselors to help students walk through the college and scholarship opportunities available.  There are too many questions for students to walk through on their own, and some students whose own parents did not graduate from university may have even more difficulty understanding the options. We need to provide support at the schools in order to help students determine their possibilities and find their best fit.

We need to partner with local nonprofits and foundations in order to offer wrap around supports so that our low-income students who attend college can get the additional support they need.

DISTRICT 4

Not yet received from candidate

DISTRICT 7

Q: Do you believe educational equity, as defined by Chattanooga 2.0, should be a priority for the Hamilton County School Board and Hamilton County Schools? Why or why not?

A: Yes I do believe that educational equity should be a priority. All children regardless of their race, gender, socioeconomic background should have the opportunity to unlock their fullest potential.

 

Q: What specific strategies or policies have you learned about or experienced that you believe would promote greater educational equity in Hamilton County Schools?

A: One strategy to promote greater educational equity is empowering our highly qualified educators with training and support for the individual needs of students that attend their campuses.

 

Q: What role should the school board, specifically, play in eliminating racial and socioeconomic disparities in resource allocation, discipline, and access to high quality learning options in Hamilton County Schools?

A: The school board should be the voice of all students within Hamilton County Schools and advocate for each and every child to have the same opportunity regardless of which school they attend.

 

Q: 48% of students in Hamilton County Schools identify as non-White, yet in 2019, approximately 11% of teachers employed by HCS were classified as racially diverse. Do you support increasing teacher diversity in Hamilton County Schools? If so, how will you prioritize the development of a more racially diverse teaching workforce?

A: Yes I do support increasing teacher diversity within Hamilton County Schools. We can prioritize this by offering our highly qualified teachers compensation and benefits that are competitive.

 

Q: What steps do you support the Hamilton County School Board and Hamilton County Schools taking to ensure students from low-income backgrounds and students of color attend college and earn college degrees at the same rates as their peers?

A: As a district getting a handle on literacy rates of all students should be top priority. Offering a variety of vocational classes to our students. Having counselors that support students in applying for and seeking out grants and scholarships. Also supporting other avenues such as our Military as well as Trade Schools.

Q: Do you believe educational equity, as defined by Chattanooga 2.0, should be a priority for the Hamilton County School Board and Hamilton County Schools? Why or why not?

A:

 

Q: What specific strategies or policies have you learned about or experienced that you believe would promote greater educational equity in Hamilton County Schools?

A: This Board, since I have been a part of it, has been proactive and not reactive.  This Board has sought to improve the school system so that it increasingly adds value to the County.  All of that work has been centered around a plan.  The Strategic Plan, Future Ready 2023 that was created by this Board to improve all aspects of our school system.

Our strategic plan’s intent has also been to also address equity – meaning meeting the diverse and specific needs of all children. We have focused on closing the opportunity gap. Working through this strategic plan, an office of equity has been established. Through this office, we have allocated resources in a more equitable way, provided more intense intervention for our neediest learners and increased supports for the whole-child just to name a few.

 

Q: What role should the school board, specifically, play in eliminating racial and socioeconomic disparities in resource allocation, discipline, and access to high quality learning options in Hamilton County Schools?

A: If there are inequities, injustices, barriers, or gaps that exist in the structure, function, or operation of this school system, then they MUST be addressed to ensure that all of our children graduate Future Ready.

 

Q: 48% of students in Hamilton County Schools identify as non-White, yet in 2019, approximately 11% of teachers employed by HCS were classified as racially diverse. Do you support increasing teacher diversity in Hamilton County Schools? If so, how will you prioritize the development of a more racially diverse teaching workforce?

A: This has been a priority of the current School Board and we have charged our Superintendent and the Chief Talent Officer to develop recruitment and retention strategies to accomplish this objective.

 

Q: What steps do you support the Hamilton County School Board and Hamilton County Schools taking to ensure students from low-income backgrounds and students of color attend college and earn college degrees at the same rates as their peers?

A: I support making sure that all students and families have access to the same educational opportunities and avenues to success.

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