Sharon Harper, executive director for the Southeast Center of Regional Excellence for the Tennessee Department of Education, gave the Kiwanis Club of Cleveland a snapshot of her office’s initiatives.
“Now where I am we have 77,000 students in my region alone,” Harper said. “And I am really affecting change. It feels good.”
The Centers of Regional Excellence offer “targeted, differentiated” support to help schools across the state meet academic goals. School districts are separated into eight regions: East Tennessee, First Tennessee, Mid-Cumberland, Northwest, South Central, Southeast, Southwest/Memphis and Upper Cumberland. Each CORE office serves in a consulting capacity for their assigned districts.
Harper and her team have 14 districts under their region: Bradley County, Cleveland City, Hamilton County, Marion County, Richard City, McMinn County, Athens City, Etowah City, Meigs County, Polk County, Rhea County and Dayton City.
CORE values for the central office and every school district are: excellence, optimism, judgment, courage and teamwork.
The four initiatives focused by SE CORE are:
- Common Core implementation for reading and language arts, K-12; math, K-12; and literacy and special education discipline.
- A balanced assessment system to cut down on the testing by “using the right tests in the right way.” Harper said this includes looking at different formative instructional practices in the classroom.
- Teacher and Leader Effectiveness which focuses on providing support for the “phenomenal” teachers and leaders in the region.
- Response to Intervention and Instruction.
Additional initiatives include analyzing student performance indicators, implementing early teacher observations by principals and assessment and district matching of strong and weaker school systems.
An overview of the Southeast region’s recent testing data was included in the presentation.
Math Coordinator April Kabler of CORE worked with the SE districts over the past year. Harper reported a noticeable increase in students scores. Two years ago, 48.2 percent of students scored proficient and advanced in math. The number rose to 52.9 percent for the 2012-13 school year.
A slight increase was seen in the region’s jump from 52 percent of students scoring proficient and advanced in Algebra I to 55.9 percent. Increased emphasis will be placed on both Algebra I and Algebra II.
“Significant” gap closures were seen within the 2012-13 math scores. According to Harper’s data, 16 of the 39 gaps were closed.
“Gaps include four different areas. That is our ethnic group (black, hispanic and Native American), students with disabilities, limited English proficient and economically disadvantaged,” Harper explained. “What we are trying to do is close the gap between those groups and the ‘all’ category.”
Only 5 of 38 gaps were closed in reading and language arts.
Harper said her office is hoping to enact the same change at the reading and language arts level. She said an increase in scores is expected with the recent addition of an RLA coordinator.
“Teachers are the ones who actually make [change] happen. They work with us,” Harper said. “I want you to just tell a teacher thank you, because they are really good to get these things in the classroom.”
In other Kiwanis news, Kiwanis President Chris Newton’s term has ended. Bruce Bradford will be taking over as club president.
“It has been an honor to serve you and it has been an honor to serve in this capacity. It is one of the more high honors I have ever had personally,” Newton said. “... It is not what we do as individuals while we were in office, it is what was done before us that was made possible by those who laid a foundation.”