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School begins Aug. 10

Director of Schools John English announced last week that the first day of the 2015-2016 school year will be Monday, Aug. 10, with early dismissal.
Unicoi County Intermediate School, Unicoi County Middle School and Unicoi County High School will begin at 7:45 a.m. and dismiss at 10:45 a.m.
All elementary schools will begin at 8 a.m. and dismiss at 10 a.m.
The first full day of school will be Tuesday, Aug. 11.
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Teachers across the county began inservice on Monday, Aug. 3, in preparation for the first day of school.
“That was a huge thing for me, I was anxious to get the team in for this year,” English said about inservice on Monday. “We had a good morning today. The rest of the week will be about prepping and getting things together for the kids coming in next week.
“That’s when it really begins for us and we’re excited about getting the kids back for this school year.”
The school system went through the normal teacher turnover during the summer hiatus, according to English.
“We filled from within in a lot of spots,” English said. “With upcoming budget cuts, we’re trying to get in front of that. A lot of our teachers have left for other systems. We looked within first and tried to absorb some positions to help with the upcoming cuts.
“We’ve done a lot of work this summer, in terms of putting some things in place that we feel like will better support our teachers and staff from an instructional standpoint,” English continued.
The school system will be looking at tweaking some approaches as far as PLCs and lesson plans, English added.
“The biggest thing we asked ourselves this summer is, ‘Are the things we’ve asked our teachers to do providing value to us?’” English said. “Do we have evidence to show it works? In the cases it has, we want to continue it … but it some other areas we wanted to tweak the approach and change it up a little bit.
“And we were really excited to get the teachers in here to hear their input on things. I thought that was very important. There will also be a change in assessment. At the end of this year, TNReady comes into play. It is a brand new assessment and I think this will be a crucial year for everybody. You’re sort of preparing for the unknown. The state has rolled out some new examples, but at the end of the day it is a brand new test. This will be a key to try to adapt for that change in assessment.”
According to the state’s website, TNReady will become the state’s new and “improved” TCAP test for English, language arts and math in grades 3-11.
“We just got the test scores from this last year,” English said. “They do a bit of a soft roll out and give you pieces of it. Our test scores … there were some areas we were pleased with, but certainly, overall, we have a lot of work to do and we understand that. We’ve tried to look hard to see what some of the causes are.
“And one thing we know: It’s not the lack of commitment and hard work from the teachers. The questions we’ve been asking are what can we do as a leadership team and central office level to support the work they’re putting in and providing them with the resources. That’s where some of the funding battles come into play. We’ve got challenges and we want to make sure we’re providing our teachers with the absolute best resources at our disposal as they try to combat those test scores.”
One big change across the board will be the addition of iPads for high school students. The school system previously had iPads for the fourth through eighth grade students, but the addition for the high school students will be beneficial, English said
The school system has also been busy in the summer, the director said, with different projects going on at schools in the county.
“We’ve had a lot of projects this summer,” English added. “The main one, which is still underway, is the re-roofing at Unicoi Elementary. We also built a new access ramp at the elementary school. There’s new soffiting at the front and back of the high school, two new ovens and we’re in the process of replacing the exhaust hood at the culinary arts classroom and reconditioned the gutters.
“There has also been a lot of work put into Gentry Stadium and we hope people pay close attention to the work done on the bleachers … and the tremendous work done at the field,” English continued. “Our custodians have rewaxed each of the schools, we were able to repave the Temple Hill parking lot. We’ve had a long list of summer projects we were able to work on.
“I appreciate all the hard work our custodians and maintenance crews put into all of their projects over the summmer,” English said.