Polk has several Focus Schools
Focus Schools are the 10 percent of schools in the state with the largest achievement gaps between groups of students, such as racial and ethnic groups, students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, students with disabilities and English-language learners
Several of Polk County’s School have been named Focus Schools in accordance with Tennessee’s new accountability system, designed through the state’s waiver from No Child Left Behind. The Tennessee Department of Education has released lists of both Priority Schools and Focus Schools to the State Board of Education.
Focus Schools are the 10 percent of schools in the state with the largest achievement gaps between groups of students, such as racial and ethnic groups, students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, students with disabilities and English-language learners. The department has named 167 schools as Focus Schools.
Schools on the Focus list are not necessarily there because of low achievement. In fact, many showed excellent growth last year. Rather, the Focus designation provides districts the opportunity to look closely at particular subgroups of students who may be underperforming and to provide specific support and intervention.
Director of Schools Dr. James Jones said math needed improvement at the middle and high school levels; language Arts need improvement in the lower grades.
According to Jones, the need for more focus on math skills is what led to utilizing a modified block schedule at Chilhowee Middle School. The modified block scheduling increases the class time for math from 45 minutes to 90 minutes. Class times in areas where a focus is not needed remain at 45 minutes.
“Chilhowee math really needs to be worked on,” Jones said. “A lot of schools across the state have been doing this, so we’ve been trying it and it seems like it will have good results.”
Focus Schools will be eligible to apply for grants aimed at dramatically closing the achievement gap. Schools not awarded a competitive grant will be provided state resources to close their achievement gaps.
Jones said the school system has been taking steps toward improving math and language skills in other areas, as well, including teacher development. He said some of the required in-service training has been geared toward the issues of improvement and dealing with longer class periods in order to accomplish their goals.
Tennessee strives for all students to improve every year, with students who are furthest behind improve at a faster rate. By naming Priority Schools and Focus Schools, the department of education enables districts to assist these schools and create improvement plans tailored to the areas they need to grow. Districts may also work with the state’s Centers for Regional Excellence (COREs) to share effective strategies for raising achievement levels and closing gaps.
“We want all schools to be intentional about improving student achievement, especially for students who are the furthest behind, and this year, we have been able to offer more nuanced measures of school accountability,” said Kevin Huffman, state education commissioner. “We believe these measures will lead many schools to create effective intervention programs and ultimately address their needs for improvement.”
Priority Schools are the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools in Tennessee, in terms of academic achievement. None of Polk’s Schools are considered Priority Schools.
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