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Hancock, Niswonger Foundation partner to improve middle school

WALTER LITTRELL • Mar 13, 2007 at 5:45 AM

SNEEDVILLE - The Hancock County Board of Education unanimously agreed Monday to enter a partnership with the Niswonger Foundation aimed at improving academic achievement at Hancock Middle School.

The three-year partnership will concentrate on motivating students, involving parents and upgrading skills of teachers. A program of systematic professional development and an increased use of technology by both students and teachers will extend knowledge in the targeted subjects of language arts, reading and science.

The Niswonger Foundation will pay $670,500 for computers, hardware, software and other aspects of the program to be implemented.

This marks the third partnership between the county and the foundation. The first partnership focused on improvement of language skills for at-risk students, while the second placed attention on improving academic achievement for all elementary students.

John Goodman, superintendent of instruction for Hancock County, said the first two partnerships have made for significant improvements in the school system, and he is sure the new partnership will prove just as beneficial. Goodman said the first partnerships have helped improve the TVAAS (value added) math scores from minus 6.2 to 0.0 in the first year and to 2.2 in the second year. The programs improved Criterion Referenced Academic Achievement scores in math from 47 to 50 in the first year and to 52 in the second year.

Reading/language arts TVAAS scores have risen from minus 4.3 to 2.2 in two years, and CRT scores have risen from 43 to 50 in the two-year period, he said.

Goodman noted that these programs cost the county nothing, while the Niswonger Foundation has shelled out $182,000 for the school system, paying for everything from classroom teachers, assistant teachers, lab assistants and labs to staff development costs and more.

"This money is not free," he said. "We have to show we're making progress."

"We've made significant improvements, but I believe this is just the beginning. My hat is off to you because you've been a tremendous help to us in Hancock County," Goodman told Niswonger officials in thanking them for their generosity.

Under the new partnership, the county will adopt a new reading curriculum, conduct extensive staff development to prepare staff to teach the new curriculum, and implement a remediation and enrichment software program to prescribe supplemental instruction for each student and to track their progress on a weekly, if not daily basis.

The county will also implement a coaching model to help teachers in daily planning and delivery of instruction.

Linda Stroud, a respected educator and former middle school principal, has agreed to serve as mentor/coach of the middle school.

In the second year of the partnership, the school will focus on science and math instruction and adopt a new science curriculum. It will also conduct extensive staff development to prepare staff to teach it and create a new high-tech science lab using Synergistic Suites, and implement a coaching model to help teachers in daily planning and delivery of instruction.

Success indicators and benchmarks will be identified for each phase of the project, and a detailed evaluation will be conducted by Niswonger staff at the conclusion of each phase.

As part of the partnership, the school system agrees to designate an on-site curriculum leader, provide an additional teaching assistant in the science lab, and redesign class schedules to reflect academic need of middle school students and teachers.

"The Hancock County school system has shown a commitment to improve the education of all its students. The willingness of the administration and staff to take a close look at their progress and develop plans for improvement is commendable," Oliver Thomas, executive director of the Niswonger Foundation, said in a prepared release. "Because of the success of our elementary school partnerships, it is important that we continue our efforts in the middle level grades. Despite the many hurdles they have faced, I'm confident that the Hancock school system is going to become one of Tennessee's great educational success stories."

In other matters, the board approved overnight trips for several school board-sponsored activities, took no action on a request to build a clothing center on the elementary school campus, and approved a credit recovery program for the high school.

This program will allow seniors to receive credit needed to graduate after they have failed a course. To receive credit, a student must complete 10 hours of coursework plus one hour for every point needed to have a passing grade and one hour of coursework for each absence in class. It was noted the highest grade a student can obtain is a 70 if all conditions are met. Students must have been enrolled and failed in a core academic course, must have made no less than 50 in the semester class to be eligible, and have no more than 10 unexcused absences per semester.

The meeting adjourned until 7 p.m. March 16, at which time the board will consider a new teachers contract.

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