This month, Knoxville Parent sat down with Knox County Schools Superintendent, Jim McIntyre, to talk about the school system’s past and future strategic plans, the challenges to and opportunities for successful implementation of these plans, and how public education can be an effective spring board for knox County’s students, as they prepare for their futures.
Knoxville Parent: The Knox County Schools is entering the fifth year of its five-year strategic plan, called Excellence for All Children. What would you say are successes over the past five years, and where will you continue to work?
Dr. McIntyre: I am proud that since the plan’s inception, we have utilized the document as our planning tool, resource allocation guide and “to do” list, and as we near the end of the five-year planning horizon addressed in 2009, I remain convinced that our strategic plan is an excellent roadmap for educational improvement and success in the Knox County Schools. I am extremely proud of our educators, staff and school leaders for the intensive effort that led to our school system earning straight ‘A’s in achievement on the state report card for the first time and achieving significant improvement in early literacy.
Our five-year strategic plan guided us to enhance our science, technology, engineering and mathematics, often called STEM, and fine arts programs through varied enrichment opportunities, including robotics, math, outdoor and technology clubs and materials, and we opened L&N STEM Academy in 2010. We significantly bolstered our magnet schools program, which will soon include nine schools when Career Magnet Academy at Pellissippi State opens in August, by increasing the rigor of the programs and the number of students who apply for these schools from 390 in 2011-2012 to 570 last year.
These accomplishments would not have been possible without our excellent teachers, and over the past two years, we’ve been able to increase teacher salaries by 4.5 percent. These and many other successes convince me that we are on the right path for our students, but we still have work to do.
Over the next five years, we need to accelerate our progress in third-grade reading proficiency, increase our high school graduation rate and improve our ACT composite score. We need to undergird support for our teachers and administrators and communicate more robustly with our stakeholders. And, like most schools in America, we are experiencing unacceptable gaps in achievement that are defined by income, race, language or disability and must work to close those gaps.
Our summer bridge programs for rising ninth graders has shown to close skill gaps, and last year, we piloted a bridge program for rising sixth graders. Early results from this program are promising. Our next five-year strategic plan will address these and other goals with one overarching mission in mind: To improve education for each and every one of our students. When we’ve helped every student be well prepared for his or her future and ensured that our educational gains are shared by every single student in our school system, we’ve done our jobs well.
KP: You are embarking on a next iteration of a five-year strategic plan. What do you see as challenges to success in the next five years? What do you hope to accomplish?
Dr. McIntyre: For the past several months in a variety of ways, we actively sought input from stakeholders into our next five-year strategic plan, and we have received enthusiastic response. We held 10 community forums attended by close to 800 people, visited with 700 students, parents and community organization members in informal chatterbox sessions, received almost 1,200 online responses and 5,000 paper responses from a community survey, held several large and small teacher meetings and offered a teacher survey, to name a few.
From this input-gathering process, we are seeing themes emerge for the next five years, including focusing on every student, investing in our people, partnering with our stakeholders and embracing a culture of excellence. Much of the feedback we received encourages us to maintain our rigorous academic standards but seek ways to individualize instruction and supports for each of our more than 56,000 children. Understanding that the work of professional educators is indeed more demanding, we need to help ensure our teachers feel valued, supported and are appropriately compensated for the enormously important work they do for children.
To achieve all we can for our students, we all must share a vision for high expectations, outstanding instruction, continuous improvement, mutual accountability and a constant focus on student learning. For the past five years, we’ve worked toward achieving excellence for all children. I believe, however, that a more student-centered, personalized-learning effort will lead us over the next five years to reach excellence for every child.
KP: You’ve often referred to the improved academic results of the Knox County Schools. How do scores on tests translate to student success in life? How well does a public education in Knox County prepare a student for the top colleges in the country?
Dr. McIntyre: A child’s future success depends on a variety of factors, including academic performance. Tests and assessments can help us understand how far a child has grown in learning, as well as how a child grasps and can apply what he or she is learning. With that understanding, we can continue to challenge the child or, if needed, provide interventions, to help him or her excel. The better we understand each of our students, the better we are able to prepare them to succeed in their future.
KP: Knoxville Parent’s mission is to communicate with parents, so they have the best information in order to make good decisions for their children and family. What would you want to say to our readers, so they know they are in good hands when it comes to public education?
Dr. McIntyre: I believe deeply in the value and importance of high quality public education as a practical real-world tool to prepare our children for success in their future. I believe every child, regardless of circumstance, should have the opportunity for a successful and fulfilling life. I believe every day that we push ourselves and make difficult decisions that are, in the end, good for our children, we are creating opportunity for each and every young person to reach their full potential. As we look to the next five years, we will work to create these opportunities and achieve excellence for every child.