The topics laid out for discussion highlighted recent progress in some areas while drawing attention to the need for change in others.
All board members were present as two teachers from Yates Primary School, Emily Foggin and Sandy Miller, were recognized as the schools’ employees of the month. After that came recognition for 10 teachers who were named Teachers of the Year at their respective schools, as well as three who were named as systemwide Teachers of the Year for each level of schooling.
Teachers honored by their schools were Judy Bianucci from E.L. Ross Elementary School, James David from Cleveland Middle, Blair Deacon from the Teen Learning Center, Danielle DeBusk from Arnold Elementary, Jane Littlejohn from Stuart Elementary, Michelle McMahan from Cleveland High, Holly Penix from Blythe-Bower Elementary, Ronda Phillips from Yates Primary , Loes Riggins from Cleveland Middle and Jon Souders from Cleveland High.
The teachers recognized citywide were Christy Duncan from Mayfield Elementary, Dianna Johnson from Cleveland Middle and Patty Puckett from Cleveland High.
A Mayfield Elementary fourth-grader — Kaleigh Quinn — was chosen as the local “Outstanding African American Student.” She was nominated by her teacher to be featured on a Chattanooga TV station for that honor in celebration of Black History Month.
After the board had honored the achievements of local teachers, Cleveland High teacher Jon Souders received attention for an award that had been given to him by the state of Tennessee. The broadcasting course Souder had been teaching was named “Outstanding Program of the Year.”
“It’s unbelievable the numerous hours he put in,” said Renny Whittenbarger, the school system’s vocational and career education coordinator.
The program his students have produced was ranked No. 1 in the nation for the number of views online, and Souders is known for his dedication to helping his students learn. Whittenbarger said he even took the time to explain what had happened at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., interrupting normal studies to ease students’ minds as they processed what they had learned in the news.
Board member Steve Morgan said Souder’s level of dedication was rare for a teacher of his age.
After hearing a list of events in the school system, including progress being made toward starting a new culinary arts program at Cleveland High School, board members turned their attention to a first reading of some proposed policy changes. Up for discussion were changes to the school system’s emergency plan, a list of learning opportunities for teachers and attendance ages.
Section 3.202, “Emergency Preparedness Plan,” was amended to remove language that referenced nuclear threats and add a requirement that all schools have at least one safety drill during the school year that focuses on what to do in case of an armed intruder. That was “in light of the Sandy Hook tragedy,” said Paul Ramsey, energy education specialist for Cleveland City Schools.
Section 5.133, “In-service and Professional Learning Opportunities,” was changed to remove a requirement that any administrator or supervisor who had 15 or more years of experience had to partake in 72 hours of professional development activities.
The most detailed changes were made to Section 6.201, “Compulsory Attendance Ages.” It was edited to say any child who will be 5 years of age on or before Aug. 31 of this year and on or before Aug. 15 in future years will be allowed to attend school. That age decreased from 6 years of age. The requirement will still be that children between the ages of 6 and 17 must attend a public or private school. However, parents will have the option to enroll their 5-year-old children in school if they so choose. Age 5 will also be the beginning age for any transfer students who have been enrolled in kindergarten and need to move to another school.
Christina Duncan, who helps coordinate the city school system’s English as a second language program, gave the board a report on the state of the program. She said she has seen the program improve over the years, going from a few teachers serving all the city schools to more than nine being certified to teach ESL in dedicated classrooms.
“I taught in the closets, in the hallways and even on the floor,” Duncan said. “I’ve watched it [the program] grow and change tremendously over the past 12 years.
Duncan said there are an average of 50 students in each city school who receive extra help learning English. Spanish is the top primary language spoken by those students, but students from Russia, India and other countries bring their languages to class with them as well. She said most were born in the United States and spoke other languages at home. In fact, there was a relatively small number of students who had been born elsewhere, she added.
“There are really only about 15 we consider to be true newcomers,” she said.
Many students in local ESL programs know some English because they were born in the U.S., but are behind on the “academic English” needed to succeed in school. She expressed the need for continued support in the program but reiterated she was happy with the progress she had seen.
Cleveland City Schools Director Martin Ringstaff said language barriers have been a challenge for standardized testing. Other board members echoed the need for continued ESL programming.
Board member Murl Dirksen shared the site committee’s report. Security measures were addressed at various elementary schools, including adding more secure entrances at E.L. Ross and Blythe-Bower Elementary Schools, as well as Yates Primary School. Designs for new secure entrances had been submitted, but the board was still waiting to hear about how much funding could be applied toward those projects.
Further adding to security, the board hopes to have a new school resource officer stationed at one of the schools by the fall. However, the board is waiting to finalize funding for that as well.
Meanwhile, land has also been purchased to build a new school off Georgetown Road in Cleveland.
“I’m really excited about the purchase of the new land,” Dirksen said.
Dirksen said the school was tentatively set to open in August 2015, with construction beginning in January 2014.
The board finalized a request for qualifications for prospective architects so the process could begin.
The last order of business for the night was to schedule a special called meeting March 13 to discuss the school system’s latest budget when it becomes available. It was set for 9:30 a.m.