Harvard Ed Magazine features success plans for children in Hamilton County Schools
Posted on 11/14/2019
A student writing.The fall edition of Harvard Ed Magazine explores work in school districts seeking to develop Success Plans for all children and features work in Hamilton County Schools to prepare students for success after graduation.  We know that every child is different and requires varied approaches to learning.  Much like IEPs are needed for students with disabilities to ensure each child receives instruction that will fit the needs of each child, Success Plans extend that concept to all students to provide the optimum opportunity for each child to be successful.  Success Plans are part of the school district’s work with the Harvard Education Redesign Lab’s By All Means initiative.  

The Student Success Planning three-year pilot in Hamilton County Schools aims to create student-centered, customized learning experiences for children; integrate social, emotional, and health services with a child’s education; and provide easily accessible, high-quality expanded learning and enrichment experiences for all children.  A technical assistance partner in the pilot is City Connects, based at the Lynch School of Education at Boston College.  The organization works in partnership with school districts and community agencies to develop customized support services based on the needs of the child.  The effort is comprehensive with in-school and out-of-school support, coordinated with organizations in the community.  

“We need a different approach to investing in and supporting children and families in our community – one that meets them where they are, and sets them on a path to be future-ready and prepared for success after graduation,” said Dr. Bryan Johnson, superintendent of Hamilton County Schools.  “Student Success Planning moves away from the one-size-fits-all model of education and, instead, intentionally focuses on what every child needs to prepare our graduates for a bright future.”

Eight Hamilton County schools are participating in the pilot using City Connects’ data platform, MyConnects, to adapt a model that will address factors impeding learning for students in schools and also connecting the child’s family to additional community resources that will also assist in academic success.  Schools participating in the pilot include Calvin Donaldson Environmental Science Academy, Dalewood Middle, Hixson Middle, Howard Connect Academy, Red Bank Elementary, Red Bank Middle, Soddy Elementary, and Woodmore Elementary.  The Student Success Planning pilot is made possible by a grant from Smart City Venture Fund (SCVF).   The work is also directly connected to the goals of Chattanooga 2.0 to support improving education in the community from cradle to career.   

In April, Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger and Superintendent Johnson announced the formation of the community’s first-ever Children's Cabinet.  The group brings together government agencies and community organizations that serve children in the community.  The goal is to connect every student in the school district with what the individual child needs to thrive.  The Children’s Cabinet will support the Student Success Planning pilot and work with the school district to identify and address needs related to basics needs like food, housing, healthcare, and high-quality after-school and summer experiences, including mentoring and internships.

“We know that with the right support, every child in Hamilton County can thrive,” said Mayor Coppinger. “Other communities across the country are using the Children's Cabinet model to align resources and coordinate supports for youth with promising results, and we are confident the Cabinet will work in our community.”

The Children’s Cabinet builds on the work of Chattanooga 2.0, which includes a broad representation of community leaders and organizations dedicated to increasing educational and workforce opportunities for the youth of the community.  The Chattanooga 2.0 staff and partners will serve a vital role in supporting the work of the group as efforts move forward.

“The Children’s Cabinet shows the continued commitment of the community’s elected leadership to the well-being and success of our children, said Molly Blankenship, executive director of Chattanooga 2.0. “The Cabinet will help us reach our shared vision of being the smartest community in the South, and achieve the bold goals set forth by Chattanooga 2.0.”

The City Connects process is effective according to data from school districts using the organization’s model.  Evaluations show the elimination of the achievement gap in reading between English language learners in schools working with City Connects and students proficient in English in comparison schools, students outperformed their peers on statewide test scores in grades 6, 7, and 8; and the rate of students dropping out of high school was about half the rate of comparison students.  

A focus on the success of each child will help Hamilton County Schools continue the historic growth experienced in the past year and help the district attain goals in the Future Ready 2023 five-year action plan.  Hamilton County Schools earned a Level 5 designation, the highest possible, based on TNReady test results and Tennessee Value-Added Assessment Scores (TVAAS) for academic growth.  The district also had forty-five Level 5 schools, and 32 Reward schools. Hamilton County Schools had its highest graduation rate since the 2012-2013 school year, at 86.9 percent.  The academic achievement results moved Hamilton County Schools from the number 130 school system in growth ranking in the state two years ago to the second-ranked district in Tennessee in 2019 to become the fastest improving school district in the state – a goal set by Superintendent Johnson and the school board when he came to the community in 2017.  Student Success Plans will help the district Accelerate Student Achievement - Action Area 1 in Future Ready 2023 - and develop Future-Ready Students – Action Area 2.

“The results of the past year are a testament to the tireless efforts of teachers, staff, students, and the support of our families,” said Dr. Johnson. “It is time to focus on how we can be even better and become one of the best school districts in Tennessee for the future of our children and community.”