By Ashley Rader
The Elizabethton Board of Education approved to drop SACS/AdvancedEd accreditation for the school system and to no long pursue accreditation for the system from that organization during their meeting on Tuesday morning.
Director of Schools Ed Alexander described the change to the system’s accreditation process as “huge.” The Elizabethton City Schools has been accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) for the past three decades. However, the demands of the SACS accreditation process on top of the new state and federal mandates were proving to be too much and to be redundant for the teachers and administrators that had to complete the process.
Alexander explained that the system would still be accredited by the State Department of Education and that the change would not prohibit students from attending any college or university that they wanted. He said the system would still have to go through an independent process to make sure that all of the requirements and standards were being met.
“With all of the changes to the federal and state mandates and the information that is collected on the students, from the testing results to classroom data, I don’t feel we need to do the SACS process while meeting the state and federal requirements,” Alexander said. “Our teachers and principals can’t do anymore. They are at a breaking point with what they have to do.”
Alexander noted that Greene, Hawkins, and Unicoi County school systems and Kingsport and Bristol city school systems had already opted out of the SACS accreditation as a result of the new state and federal standards.
Chairman Matt Cooter stated that the SACS process was a redundancy of what the system was already doing through the state process. He said colleges and universities look to see if the school systems are accredited by the state but generally don’t pay much attention to other accreditation systems.
Rita Booher commented that she had served on a SACS committee before and said it was a lot of additional work for those individuals on top of everything else they have to do. Alexander agreed that the process added a lot of effort and took time when it was not necessary to do.
The board members present at the meeting unanimously approved the change. Kim Birchfield, Cooter and Booher all voted in favor of ending the SACS accreditation process. Board members Catherine Armstrong and Connie Baker were not present at the meeting.
The board also approved changes to the system’s personnel by abolishing a number of positions and creating new positions to fill in or enhance the changes made by the deleted positions.
The board abolished a 100- day contract language arts teaching position at T.A. Dugger Junior High School and an assistant principal position, media specialist position and guidance counselor position at Elizabethton High School. They also approved the creation of a split social studies and language arts teaching position at TAD, two assistant to the principal positions at EHS; one as Director of Student Services and one as Curriculum Director and two assistant football coaches, an assistant boys basketball coach and an assistant softball coach at TAD.
Alexander said the changes were requested by the principals as a way to make their school operations for the students stronger. He said the changes would be especially beneficial at EHS as they moved toward a new scheduling plan for the students. The changes at TAD would allow for more classroom time and space for students.
Birchfield questioned what the loss of the guidance counselor position would do to the student-counselor ratio at EHS.
Director of Special Education, Response to Intervention, and Guidance Services Dr. Corey Gardenhour explained the system had a contract with Frontier Health for counseling services once per week in the schools. He said that over the years the position of the guidance counselor in the schools had morphed into more of an administrative position since the counselors had to deal with testing, scheduling and helping students apply for colleges and scholarships.
After the changes in positions, there would be one person at EHS dedicated to the student services, such as helping them apply for college and scholarships while another individual would focus on curriculum and scheduling. This would leave the guidance counselor more time for counseling students after the administrative portions of their job were finished.
Cooter said he shared the same concern as Birchfield did and felt it was something that should be watched in the future to make sure the changes were beneficial.
“We do have all the accountability concerns but we can’t lose sight of our main focus which is the students,” he said.
Booher commented that it would be interesting to see how much the counselors are able to interact with the students with the changes in place.
Regarding the new TAD teacher position, TAD Principal Randy Little said the teacher would split their time between language arts and social studies instruction. He said the new position would help the students and would provide more instruction time for social studies. He said that in the past years there had been a lot of focus on language arts and math and the social studies teachers had not gotten assistance through the coaches or any of the positions that had been created while the student population had grown by 150 students.
For the coaches, he said some of the positions were for equity between the boys and the girls teams. For the football team, he said they had been working with volunteers. The school expected there to be between 60-80 players on the TAD team this year. Little said with that many students an extra two assistant coaches was not an unreasonable number.
The board also approved the meeting schedule for the board for the 2012-2013 school year and heard an update on the universal breakfast program. The program provides free breakfast to all the students in the school. It is funded based on the number of students that are on the free or reduced lunch program. The city schools started the program at East Side Elementary because that was the school with the largest amount of students in the free or reduced program.
Gardenhour said the program had been a success at East Side Elementary and they planned to expand it to Harold McCormick Elementary for the coming school year. If all worked out as planned they could bring the universal breakfast to West Side Elementary.
“We would love to be able to feed every child when they come to school,” Gardenhour said. “The families do not have to be in the free or reduced program to struggle to feed their children.”
Alexander added that not only were the children getting a nutritious breakfast for free but the test scores had improved at East Side as well. He noted there were numerous studies that connected a healthy breakfast with improved performance in the classroom.