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COLUMN: Anderson County — working for students

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By Sheila Mitchell

The vision and mission of Anderson County Schools is to ensure all students are safe, reach high academic standards and act as responsible citizens. Some of the expectations we have for our students include: Students who act responsibly, work independently and as a team member, think and reason, reach academic proficiency, participate actively and are accountable and prepare for a competitive future. Our number one goal is to provide a safe learning environment where students learn at high levels. We are focused on and committed to providing the funding that supports overall excellence.
There has been a lot of national attention recently about public schools and how well they are accomplishing their mission in preparing America’s students for grade 13. Much of this media attention is painting a picture illustrating that public schools have many areas to grow and comparatively, the U.S. is falling behind on performances on national assessments. Critics write about U.S. schools and the shortfalls that we are experiencing.
Like many of you, the Anderson County administrative team and teachers, think about this often. We have found ourselves asking these questions: How are we measuring up? What can we do to ensure that students are learning at high levels? What can we do to ensure our students are performing as well or better as other students in the state, in the nation? How do we know we are preparing our students to be competitive?
For Anderson County Schools these questions are discussed weekly, often daily. Our teachers and staff are working in professional learning communities to discuss ways to ensure students are mastering learning targets, using assessment data to drive their instruction and their decision making. If they do not, then the question becomes what intervention, tutorial or plan do we have in place to ensure that each student does master the learning targets? This is one part of the educational process that allows us to work for students, to meet their individual needs.
What are other important parts? It takes dedicated and caring staff members who build and establish relationships with students. It takes dedicated and caring staff members who motivate students.
It takes commitment, the commitment that Anderson County teachers, staff and administrators give each day and sometimes on the weekends.
It takes parents and community members who support the instructional process. It takes cooperative and supportive parents and community – like the parents and community we have here in Anderson County.
It takes a focused and dedicated Board of Education that provides the leadership and vision for our district. A board, like ours, that believes in our kids and the importance of their education.
It takes adequate funding to ensure all the needs of our students are met. Funding that is sometimes cut due to state budget constraints. Funding that is necessary to provide individualized instruction for all of our students. Funding that will be managed effectively to ensure the needs of our students are being met.
Anderson County has funded many programs and positions that are not state or federal funded to ensure that our students are provided the services needed to be successful. We are making progress, one student at a time. I would like to share with you some of the programs and services that we have implemented over the last three to five years. We are very proud that these implementations have helped many students learn at high levels and be successful.
- MAP on-line assessment has been implemented over the last three years. MAP assessment is an on-line, normed-referenced assessment given to students in grades kindergarten through 11th grade to identify their performance levels in reading and math. The levels can be compared to students in Kentucky to project their KCCT performance. It can also be used to determine if students are performing at, above or below with students in the same grade around the nation. This tool has allowed us to monitor student performance in each grade level so we will know if they are making adequate and appropriate gains. It also allows our students to set goals between assessments to ensure all students are growing academically.
- Response to Intervention has been implemented in Anderson County Schools over the last three years to ensure students are getting the appropriate interventions in reading and math. We began our RTI model hiring two additional staff members to serve as interventionist for grades K-5. The middle school and high school each have one staff member serving each school. The programs that have been implemented as part of our RTI model include: Read Naturally, Reading Recovery, Reading Mastery, Earobics, LLI Small Group Instruction, Lexia, CIM, Great Leaps, LIPS, Number Worlds, Dreambox. We also implemented the following assessments and screeners to identify students who need interventions: DIBELS, MAP Assessment, and SNAP. Each of our schools implements the model to meet the needs of their students. This program has allowed us to monitor student achievement in reading and math and serve students who need additional help to get or keep them on grade level.
- All day Kindergarten was implemented six years ago from a half-day program at our Early Childhood Center. The program went from six teachers teaching 48 students half day to twelve or thirteen teachers serving 24 students each day. Our kindergarten program has been very successful implementing a full day schedule including an RTI program. We are very proud of our kindergarten program and quality education that is provided for our five year old students.
- Our pre-school program at our Early Childhood Center has been a very successful program over the last several years. The enrollment in our pre-school classroom has decreased due to the number of qualifying students from 9 classrooms to 4.5 classrooms. Each of our classrooms is well staffed with one teacher and two instructional assistants. We have continued to support our pre-school program with hopes that we will be able to serve all students who would like to attend that do not qualify. The penalties given to the budget have created a larger general fund expenditure. We firmly believe that our pre-school program is beneficial for our 3- and 4-year-old students. We would like to see it grow and would like to be able to afford serving all students. Right now, we are limited to serving only qualifying students due to the budget cuts and the amount of funding that we are able to pay from the general fund.
- All of our schools have had additional staff funded to meet their needs. Some schools have an additional teacher to lower class size numbers or teach content necessary for our students to be competitive, some schools have instructional assistants to help run small group reading instruction, and some schools have had additional teachers to help run reading and/or math intervention programs. All of the additional staff members are working in positions to allow us to better meet the needs of students.
- Professional development for our staff members has been a focus in Anderson County Schools for several years. We have funded additional professional development for our staff members, as we believe that high quality professional development is necessary to ensure high quality instruction in our classrooms. We have used our additional time to analyze test data, train on rigor and relevance, Assessment for Learning, deconstructing standards, cooperative learning, customer service many other trainings to help our staff members continue to grow professionally. The training time is valuable for our staff members.
These are just a few of the ways that Anderson County Schools has used funding to support excellence and work for students. We are dedicated and committed to continue to provide high quality instruction that is individualized to meet the needs of our students. We continue to ask ourselves the hard question, “Is what we are doing enough?”
We will certainly stay focused on our goals – keeping our students safe, prepared for a competitive future and becoming responsible citizens. We will continue working to meet the needs of each individual student. We will continue working for students.

Sheila Mitchell is superintendent of Anderson County Schools. Comment at theandersonnews.com.