Dyer: Mission is to formulate five-year strategic school plan

By KAITLIN GEBBY
Posted 2/18/20

Cleveland City Schools is coming off  a year of change and the administration is looking ahead in 2020 with a strategic plan in mind. In June 2019, Candy's Creek Cherokee Elementary School …

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Dyer: Mission is to formulate five-year strategic school plan

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Cleveland City Schools is coming off  a year of change and the administration is looking ahead in 2020 with a strategic plan in mind. 


In June 2019, Candy's Creek Cherokee Elementary School opened its doorsin an open house, welcoming the community in to see the newly constructed school.

Director of Schools Dr. Russell Dyer said Candy's Creek was “years in the making,” whose foundation was laid by the administration before him. 


“I think my very first meeting as director of schools was asking for money at City Council,” he said. “We were ready. The plans had all been laid out. We were ready to request a bond amount.” 


The Cleveland City Council unanimously approved a $10 million bond for the construction of the new school, which was handled by J&J Construction  of Chattanooga. 


The school’s need was made evident by the increasing population throughout Bradley County, which resulted in both school districts seeking to expand their facilities. Over the last three years, Cleveland City Schools has maintained an average of 5,530 students, peaking in the 2017-18 school year with 5,563, according to the Tennessee Department of Education. 


Although Dr. Dyer was not present at the time Candy's Creek began taking shape in the minds of the administration and school board, he said they were “very intentional” with the design of the new school.

He said they worked to create “an open feeling” throughout the school using natural light. The entrance to the new school is marked by a large wall of windows, high ceilings and rich-colored tile and brick. 


“We also have really used natural features, such as bringing in natural light,” he said. “All of our schools have windows, and that's great. But Candy's Creek was specifically designed where we can capture sunlight and get it into the school and just make it feel like a warmer learning environment. That's something our architect team does a really good job with.” 


The large windows also accompany wide hallways and a different type of layout that make Candy's Creek unique. 


“I think when you look at the overall flow of the school, one of the first things  people notice when they go to the school is how open it is on the inside. And that's something you don't find in a lot of older design schools,” Dr. Dyer said. “In older design schools the hallways are a lot narrower. They're smaller. The open spaces and the community spaces are just not as bright, not as conducive to, at times, bringing in larger groups of people. Candy's Creek was specifically built to handle the load of the students. And what I mean by that is there's plenty of room in the hallways for whatever needs to happen, from moving from one section of the building to the next are open spaces such as the cafeteria, the gymnasium, the community room, the restrooms are all open space, and there's plenty of just wiggle room.” 


The new school sits on a 19-acre property at 4445 Georgetown Road and Highway 60. The single-story building measures around 97,500 square feet. It includes a gym with an attached stage and multipurpose room and designated wings for specific grade levels. Three long hallways lined with classrooms are at the back of the building, while common spaces like the cafeteria and media center are on the side of the building that faces Georgetown Road. 


The new school is also energy efficient, featuring a geothermal heating and cooling system as well as LED lighting throughout. According to previous reports, the energy efficient switch means Candy's Creek is 15% more energy efficient than it would have been without the LED and geothermal changes. 


Dr. Dyer said the geothermal system had a large upfront cost, but it will pay dividends as the school continues to save money on its utility bill. 


Perhaps the largest hurdle in the establishment of Candy's Creek Cherokee Elementary was the districtwide rezoning effort. For Cleveland City Schools, adding a new school not only meant a new facility for students, but it meant there needed to be a redistribution of its current student population. 


Dr. Dyer had previously served in school districts in West Tennessee, namely the Shelby County and Memphis area, where he said they were adding one to two new schools every year. 


As a result, rezoning had become a point of “contention.” He knew if they weren’t wise with their process at Cleveland City Schools that emotions would run high. 


“I've had the opportunity to go through quite a few rezonings over there. When I became a middle school principal, some of those folks that came to my school had already been rezoned two or three times. And, you know, it was very contentious. They were tired of being rezoned,” he said. “And so   when we had to go through rezoning here, one of the things I was really looking for is how we could do this the most scientific way possible. How can we get away from, as much as possible, the emotions that tend to run high when rezoning takes place. And I get that, you know? In rezoning, you're moving students. You're moving people. That's difficult at times.” 


Using a program called Guide K12, Cleveland City Schools was able to share the rezoning process with parents. They also used open houses and allowed families to apply for exemptions in rezoning, keeping their students in the schools  they knew best. However, Dr. Dyer said they didn’t see a lot of families applying for exemptions. Instead, he said the open houses and transparent process helped ease the pain of rezoning. 


He added the experience with Guide K12 worked so well, Cleveland City Schools hosted a webinar to share their process and decision making with other school districts. 


A new school also meant offering the latest in technology and safety to students and staff. While Dr. Dyer couldn’t share some of the safety features within Candy's Creek, he said all schools are equipped with cameras and School Resource Officers at every entrance. 


Looking ahead, Dr. Dyer said their mission for the first portion of 2020 is to establish their five-year strategic plan. He said the plan will act as a guide for the entire school district in terms of spending and academic goals.

Some areas of particular focus he foresees in the upcoming plan, which will be presented at the May board of education meeting, are continued growth in Career and Technical Education as well as expanding their Capturing Kids’ Hearts model. 


Capturing Kids’ Hearts is a 6 through 12 grade model used to promote a close-knit, family-like culture throughout the schools, creating buy-in from parents, staff and students. The model operates on the belief that schools will see success across the board under a positive environment and support from teachers. 


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