Director of Schools John English recognizes Unicoi County High School students Trey Hatcher and Cassi Foster for their performances in the recent Technical Students Association National Flight Endurance Competition in Orlando, Florida. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Kendal Groner)

By Kendal Groner

With the recent recognition of the Unicoi County School System by the Tennessee Department of Education as an exemplary school district, the Unicoi County Board of Education saw a presentation of the data that earned the district its high ranking in its Thursday, Nov. 9, meeting.

The four steps that were utilized to calculate the rating were recapped by Sherry Ray, Secondary Curriculum and Instruction supervisor, for the system. The four step assessment evaluated several indications of student’s achievement as well as the scores from TN Ready, a standardized test more rigorous than the previous TCAP tests.

A performance goal that required a minimum of 95 percent of all student’s participation in testing was the first hurdle a district was to overcome in order to reach an exemplary status. For both the three through eight and high school grade levels, Unicoi County has a participation rate of 99-100 percent.

“I will say that we’ve had other school districts ask us how we get a participation rate that high,” Ray said. “Some other districts don’t have participation rates that high and so we’re very proud of that. We’re proud of our students, but also their parents for making that happen.”

After meeting the participation rate standard, the performance goal was also comprised of three smaller hurdles that Ray described as “all or nothing” assessment goals. The three other evaluations under the performance goal consisted of achievement goals, value-added assessment and an underserved student subgroups goal.

Improvements were made on the TN Ready test scores for grades three through eight in the English and language arts portion of the test. At the high school level, the students met 75 percent of the state’s achievement goals. The composite ACT score increased to a 19.7, and the graduation rate for the class of 2016-2017 was 90.6 percent, an increase from the 89.5 percent graduation rate the previous year. 

TVAAS, or Tennessee Value-Added Assessment system, evaluates a student’s growth from one year to the next and then compares that to the relative performance of their peers. For the value-added assessment portion, Unicoi County students met the threshold of at least 25 percent for all eligible content areas.

For the underserved student subgroups goal, the scores of students who use English as a second language, are in special education or are economically disadvantaged also earned an exemplary rating.

These students were evaluated by the same measures as all other students, and this exemplary rating was then averaged with the performance of all other students in the county to determine the school system’s exemplary rating. 

“There were a lot of hoops our folks have had to jump through to get to that exemplary status,” Ray said.

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The Board of Education also heard a program update for Rock Creek Elementary from Principal Larry Howell. After the size of the school increased by 50 percent last year, Howell said that the students and staff have adapted to the situation and worked hard everyday.

He discussed the school’s current focus areas or goals that are centered around reading achievement, professional learning and college and career readiness. The school is focused on continuing to improve test scores and attendance rates.

To help improve reading achievement there have been multiple clubs implemented with a literacy focus, and the school has incorporated Accelerated Reader as a tool to engage families with reading nights that parents can attend. The school has recently been divided into groups for a school-wide book study of “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” that will tie into the professional learning focus area.

For college and career readiness actions steps, the school will divide into focus groups a few weeks prior to the TCAP test to help the students get as much preparation as possible, Howell reported. A school-wide truancy committee has also been set up to emphasize the importance of consistently arriving to school on time and prepared.

Howell said that Rock Creek Elementary has always done school-wide policy behavior programs, and they are currently using a positive behavior program that seeks to reward students and reinforce good behavior.

“The biggest compliment I’ve ever received as a principal is having visitors tell me that the students seem happy,” Howell said. “That makes me feel like I am doing my job.”

Second and third grade students from Rock Creek Elementary were invited to the board meeting where they shared their Veterans Day presentations, performed “This Land is Your Land” and handed out American flags to any veterans in the audience.

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In other business, the board recognized Cassi Foster and Trey Hatcher for their performances at the Technical Students Association National Flight Endurance Competition in Orlando, Florida.

Hatcher finished third in the nation for flight endurance and Foster finished second, setting a national flight time record of 3 minutes and 12 seconds.