County students make the grade

Jeremy Styron-News-Herald

Students in Loudon County Schools have proven they are proficient or advanced in reading, language arts, math and science, according to the Tennessee Department of Education.

Mike Garren, deputy director of schools, made a presentation Thursday to the Loudon County Board of Education showing that students in third through eighth grades achieved higher marks in the three subjects compared with the state average across all but one category.

In eighth-grade math, 30.8 percent of students were classified as proficient or advanced, compared with 37.8 percent in the state.

"Eighth-grade math is significantly much more difficult than it's ever been before, and I would say that eighth-grade math today is significantly more challenging than the old high school algebra was," Director of Schools Jason Vance said.

Garren added that students were increasingly asked to tackle more difficult arithmetic at an earlier age.

"(At the) end of sixth-grade, beginning of seventh-grade, they're addressing the curriculum that used to be taught in Algebra I, so you're teaching a high school course now," Garren said.

While the school system's focus has been on reading, language arts and math, Garren said the district still saw gains in science, eclipsing the state average for proficiency by more than 10 percentage points in four grades.

"We're seeing great growth," Garren said. "The focus is reading and math, and we're still pulling it up in science."

Also during the meeting, the board considered a resolution that listed the district's priorities for future school construction. As outlined by Vance, the first priority was the Loudon County elementary and middle school combination, which will cost an estimated $5 million. The second item on the list was constructing an additional wing on the Loudon County High School for $6 million.

Other priorities included a solution to traffic concerns at Eaton Elementary School and North Middle School, as well as reviewing the Highland Park Elementary blueprint to determine future spacing needs.

"I think we need to share with (Loudon County) Commission that we're addressing this, but we're not prepared to make a statement as far as what it should be as of today," Vance said about plans at Highland Park.

Vance said he purposefully excluded any mention of the property that the school board currently owns along Highway 321 near the Interstate 75 exit.

"I think it cloudies the resolution," Vance said. "I think it makes it unclear, and it's just confusing at best. I think the commissioners are starting to question and they may be absolutely right whether or not we've got the potential to sell that property."

The property, which includes about 80 acres, was purchased five years ago for an estimated $2 million.

Vance said in a follow-up interview that the school system has two options regarding the property along Highway 321.

"I think the question is do we declare it surplus and turn it over to the county or do we declare it a surplus and still have the opportunity to sell it as a school system since it's deeded to the Loudon County Board of Education?" Vance said, noting that the school system would seek legal advice and consult with the University of Tennessee County Technical Assistance Service on how to proceed.

"I want to make sure that we consult with our attorneys and consult with CTAS and that we come to some sort of mutual agreement before we move forward in this and make a decision," Vance said.

During the meeting, board member Ric Best recommended the school district add a fifth priority to the resolution to conduct a potential land purchase study on the north end of the county. The resolution will be presented to Loudon County Commission.

"Everything that is on our menu for building expansion we need to make sure that our fiduciary committee that supports us is fully aware of what our plans are," Best said.

The school board was recognized Thursday as a Board of Distinction by the Tennessee School Boards Association, which reflects excellence in establishing policy, planning and board development. The recognition is given for two years.