Five Hamilton County Schools earn Tennessee STEM School Designation
Posted on 05/05/2020
Photo: Hamilton County Schools students work in the STEM lab.Five Hamilton County Schools are among 22 state-wide awarded the Tennessee STEM School Designation for 2020 in a recent announcement by the Tennessee Department of Education. Red Bank Elementary, Harrison Elementary, Red Bank High, Hixson Middle, and Normal Park Park Museum Magnet are the five schools in Hamilton County Schools earning the state designation for their work in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM.) The Tennessee Department of Education and the STEM Leadership Council worked together to develop the designation as a way to identify and recognize schools for their commitment to teaching STEM or STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) and for their work to prepare students for college and career success. The selection of five schools in Hamilton County is the most from one district in the state for 2020. The five schools join STEM School Chattanooga as district schools with the Tennessee STEM School Designation.

"The selection of five schools by the state is a reflection of the commitment by our district and schools to provide learning opportunities that will ensure that our students are Future Ready," said Dr. Bryan Johnson, superintendent, Hamilton County Schools. "The Hamilton County Board of Education's five-year plan Future Ready 2023, addresses the need to provide Future Ready Students in Action Area 2, and the designation of these five schools demonstrates our progress in this vital area."

The Tennessee STEM School Designation provides not only recognition but also a roadmap for schools to successfully implement a STEM or STEAM education plan at the local level. Schools that receive the Tennessee STEM School Designation serve as models from which other schools may visit and learn. All K–12 schools serving students in Tennessee are eligible.

When Hamilton County Schools launched the Office of Innovation and Choice last June, one of Superintendent Dr. Bryan Johnson's goals was for the district to increase STEM opportunities and designations. The Office of Innovation launched a STEM Cohort and provided year-long support to schools pursuing the state designation. The STEM focus addressed Accelerating Student Achievement and Future Ready Students, two key areas in the Future Ready 2023 five-year plan.

"The five recognized schools did an outstanding job this year of building on their already strong programs and increasing STEM and STEAM learning for kids," said Jill Levine, chief of Innovation and Choice, Hamilton County Schools. "Achieving STEM designation is a huge honor and means that these schools are now models for others throughout the state. To have five in one year is a big accomplishment for the schools and district."

Each school that was awarded the Tennessee STEM School Designation was evaluated through a rigorous application process. Schools were asked to complete a self-evaluation, participate in interviews, and host site visits with the Tennessee STEM Designation review team. The designation criteria included five focus areas: infrastructure, curriculum and instruction, professional development, achievement, and community and post-secondary partnerships. As a part of the process, schools were required to submit a plan of action for implementing and sustaining STEM or STEAM education for the next five years.

Locally, The Public Education Foundation (PEF) worked with the district and schools through the application process. Each school committed at least two teacher leaders to participate in STEM Fellows through PEF. The innovative year-long fellowship helps teachers grow as instructional experts, teacher leaders, and community connectors. PEF has partnered with Hamilton County Schools since 2012 in the fellowship program.

"For schools to equip students with a STEM mindset to solve problems in a dynamic setting, it is clear that they need strong leaders and teachers," said Michael Stone, director of Innovative Learning at PEF. "Thanks to support from the Benwood Foundation, PEF was able to partner with HCS to provide wrap-around supports designed to synchronously empower teachers and administrators to push their schools to earn STEM Designation from the state."

STEM or STEAM education is a unique approach to teaching and learning that fosters creativity and innovative thinking in all students. The learning process is focused on building critical and creative thinking and analysis skills by addressing how students view and experience the world around them. STEM or STEAM education is a diverse, interdisciplinary curriculum in which activities in one class complement those in other courses.

"Schools that earn STEM Designation incorporate strong STEM teaching and learning experiences that rest on inquiry, technology integration, work-based learning, and project/problem-based learning strategies tied to the world around us," said Brandi Stroecker, Director of TSIN. "Each school has a unique STEM program, yet incorporates a similar approach by providing diverse, transdisciplinary teaching practices where students become the drivers of their learning. These schools consistently provide students with learning experiences that shape their aspirations for the future."