City schools acquire grants, new testing platform

Published 9:26 am Thursday, April 21, 2016

Grant funding allows the Elizabethton City Schools to spend general funding elsewhere while expanding programs and developing professional skills of staff and administrators. That is why Dr. Myra Newman, director of Special Education Response to Intervention curriculum and related services, spent months applying for four grants, of which the system was awarded two.

On Tuesday, she received confirmation from the Tennessee Department of Education that ECS will be awarded $60,000 for the 2016-17 school year to benefit Special Education and Tier III classes.

“She’s really captured what the state has wanted school systems to do, so they’ve awarded a project saying, ‘You’re moving in the right direction, and we want to help you get there,’” said Director of Schools Dr. Corey Gardenhour. “We’re very proud of her and her work.”

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Newman, who has been with ECS for less than a year, said the Least Restrictive Environment program grant will make it possible to purchase peer-reviewed Math and Reading intervention programs and training.

The total award will be divided to spend $50,000 on the programs and $10,000 on teacher training, she said.

Her goal stated in the grant application explains the continued need for students with disabilities to improve in Math and Reading in order to close the achievement gap.

She also gained the school system $10,000 in a State personnel Development Grant (SPDG), which will also increase personnel training to improve special education programs. Of 49 applicants, ECS was one of 30 recipients of the award.

Newman said this will make it possible to assign a teacher to be a special education coach who will get training and return to train other staff members including an administrator, special education teacher and general education teacher at each school.

Training for these teams, according to the program overview, will include instructionally appropriate individualized education plans, transition framework, behavior intervention, student communication needs, and differentiating instruction and scaffolding.

The program also includes ongoing support from the state level.

Though these grants are one-time awards for the upcoming school year, Newman said the staff training and program development will be long-term benefits.

In other news, the Elizabethton Board of Education on Monday unanimously approved the switch to a new testing platform which Newman said will go into effect next school year. The platform is called PowerSchool for Interactive Achievement onTRAC.

The program describes itself as “a web-based instructional improvement system that delivers standards-aligned content, assessments, and instant reports for precise analysis of student achievement.”

Curriculum Coach Marsha Taylor said teachers will be trained at the end of May and that a pilot testing has already been completed at the fourth grade level in all three elementary schools.

The platform is an online assessment in the four core subjects for grades third through 11 at a total cost of $21,870.

After attending a session about formative assessments at a conference last Fall in Nashville, Taylor, felt she had found the testing program that would meet their needs.

“We’ve been trying to find a newer online assessment for our students,” Taylor said. “We’ve been using Discovery Education for four years now.”

She said administrators and teachers in all subject gave input on the platform after a trial and pilot.

“We’ve had good feedback,” Taylor said.

She demonstrated for school board members the usefulness of the reports in identifying student strengths and weaknesses in both content and testing skills.

“Interactive Achievement solutions have been utilized by over $1.6 million and 180,000 teachers every day by districts in over 12 states,” Taylor said. “…Local districts utilizing onTRAC include Johnson City, Johnson County and some schools in Carter County. Other local systems currently exploring onTRAC includes Sullivan County, Kingsport and Bristol.”

The program retained 100 percent of its clients in the 2014-15 school year, Taylor said. On top of that, the trial run in Elizabethton schools received positive feedback.

“Interactive Achievement allows us to be more efficient in looking at data to pinpoint specific levels of our students’ performance and quickly identify their improvement needs,” said East Side Principal Travis Hurley.

Upcoming dates:

• April 21, New Track Groundbreaking, 1:30 p.m.

• April 24, Ham Luncheon for playground at West Side, noon

• May 5 Music Room Grand Opening, 7 p.m.

• May 14 Graduation

The next ECS Board of Education meeting will take place at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 17.