Photo: Hamilton County Interim Superintendent, Nakia Towns
Photo Credit: Hamilton County Schools / YouTube
Published September 3, 2021
The Tennessee Conservative [By Jason Vaughn] –
Hamilton County Schools will be closed on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week in response to “upward trend” in COVID-19 cases, announced soon after the Interim Superintendent revealed the district’s standardized test scores.
The school district will have to use up two of their stockpiled days – days that are generally used for snow or other inclement weather. Students will not receive any instruction on those days, essentially extending the already lengthened Labor Day weekend.
Parents have been asked to have their students tested before they return to school next Thursday if they are exposed to COVID-19 or if they exhibit any of the symptoms of the virus.
In a video released on Wednesday, Interim Superintendent Nakia Towns announced the closure, stating that the district is feeling the strain under the continued upward trend of Coronavirus spread in the community.
“Our schools are a part of this community, and so we are not immune from this spread. The current case levels have created an unsustainable demand on our district resources for contact tracking, quarantining, and testing,” Towns said.
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The school system currently has almost 11% of their students out, with almost 5,000 of their 44,000 students quarantined due to COVID-19 exposure.
A week ago, the school system had 423 active student cases of COVID-19. This number nearly doubled over the course of the week. Faculty and staff have been affected as well, with 91 active cases. This number increased by more than 10 over the course of the week.
Hamilton County Schools are only three weeks into the school year, and the closure presents an unexpected struggle for parents who do not work from home.
Five schools in the system had already closed this past week: two schools were closed on Monday and Tuesday while another three were closed for the whole week.
The Tennessee Department of Education is no longer allowing school districts to temporarily switch to virtual learning this school year, instead forcing them to use their stockpiled learning-free days instead.
The Department has made in-person learning a priority, only allowing districts to submit a waiver request to close individual classrooms or schools but not the entire school system. Over the past week, twelve school districts have submitted waiver requests, with only 7 of those being approved. The state has not yet released clear guidelines on what will allow a waiver to be granted.
Not everyone is a fan of the new policy, though. Some parents, staff, and students believe that allowing for temporary virtual learning options will help keep students from falling behind from loss of instruction on those days.
This closure comes on the heels of Dr. Nakia Towns other announcement of the district’s 2020-2021 school-level standardized test scores.
In a meeting with the Times Free Press on Wednesday, Towns showed a 2016 newspaper front page that referenced a lack of teacher effectiveness in local schools. She then announced that Hamilton County Schools continued to be the fastest-improving system in Tennessee, with 67 schools meeting or exceeding growth standards.
27 schools increased achievement over their 2019 test scores. Those scores were used as the reference because students did not test in 2020. 34 schools were recognized for reward school status, growth, or both.
The school district had nine schools on the state’s priority list; two of those schools, Clifton Hills and Woodmore Elementary, have now been taken off of that list and are now on track with the performance of about a third of schools in the state.
In 2016-2017, Hamilton County Schools students scored a 1 out of 5 in achieved growth in 22 of 29 categories. For 2020-2021, students achieved a 5 out of 5 in all 20 available categories. Science and social studies were not included in the state’s categories for this year.
Towns pointed out that, while it has been stated that remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic year led to a drop in proficiency across the state, Hamilton County did not see as much of that slide.
Towns did acknowledge that these results do not mean it is time to ease off. She noted specifically the need to work towards improvement in ACT English, eighth-grade math, and eighth-grade science.
She noted that in 2016 the administration set a goal to “be the fastest improving district the last five years.” She proudly acknowledged that they were doing that and hoped that people could see that.
“The community deserves to know,” Towns said. “It deserves to be told and told well. We want there to be confidence for the community of the results. It’s real, and it’s based on the hard work of our team.”
About the Author:
Jason Vaughn, Media Coordinator for The Tennessee Conservative ~ Jason previously worked for a legacy publishing company based in Crossville, TN in a variety of roles through his career. Most recently, he served as Deputy Directory for their flagship publication. Prior, he was a freelance journalist writing articles that appeared in the Herald Citizen, the Crossville Chronicle and The Oracle among others. He graduated from Tennessee Technological University with a Bachelor’s in English-Journalism, with minors in Broadcast Journalism and History. Contact Jason at news@TennesseeConservativeNews.com