Schools in session with more SROs, new buildings, Common Core initiatives

Stephanie Myers-News-Herald

With the start of another new school year, students in Loudon County saw a new teacher, a new classroom, new educational approaches through Common Core implementation, new school resource officers and now, some even attend school in a new building.

Lenoir City and Loudon County teachers, staff and administrators say they had high expectations for the 2013-14 school year on the first day back Wednesday as students filed through the hallways with new backpacks, fresh pencils and new supplies.

Fort Loudoun Middle School moved into a new building located off of Steekee Road despite a last minute construction push. The school received a temporary certificate of occupancy the day before school started, according to Director of Schools Jason Vance, while the auditorium and gymnasium are yet to be finished.

Principal Christie Amburn said she felt things ran smoothly Wednesday despite some minor kinks.

"Some of our challenges are it's just new to everybody," Amburn said as students filed through the cafeteria. "There are going to be small things in the building that we don't realize until we move in. We have ordered trash cans, but we donít have any. We're improvising so we have cardboard trash cans. There are things like that you don't anticipate until it's almost time to move. ... That's a pretty long process trying to get all of that worked out."

The smell of fresh paint and new construction lingered in the air.

Amburn said since the gym and auditorium have yet to be finished, morning bus duty was a bit crowded and physical education classes will be held outside unless itís raining.

Vance said the gym and auditorium should be finished in a couple of weeks. Students were excited for a new school year in a new school, Amburn said. Teachers were giving students a tour of their new school Wednesday during lunch period.

"I am really excited," Amburn said. "I think it's going to go well because itís new. The building itself is new, and we're transitioning to Common Core at the same time. It's like we can do a lot of different things because we are making this big shift. Every routine we are establishing is a new routine." With a new FLMS building, Loudon Elementary School students and faculty expanded into the old FLMS building that neighbors the elementary school. Vance said a connector wing will be constructed by February or March 2014. The cafeteria and library will be expanded as well, he said.

Plans are still on track to move Greenback students to the new building in January, Vance said.

New Common Core standards will continue to be implemented in Loudon County and across the state.

"We need to show kids we are applying the information, and how it's applicable in the real world," Vance said.

Some local school officials say they will take on additional new educational strategies. Eaton Elementary School will implement science, technology, engineering and math with Common Core initiatives in a program they dubbed "STEAM," assistant principal Ashley Talley said.

"We added art in there. ... They're going to dissect a flower," Talley said of an upcoming project for youngsters. "They will talk about the parts of the flower, they are going to draw a flower and just multiple things tying in the engineering.

"Itís going to allow us to incorporate math, engineering and technology in a new way that gets those creative juices flowing. Often we don't tend to always develop that part of students, and it's another way for them to express and connect what they are already learning with something that relates to them. A lot of STEM is very hands-on," Talley added.

With the new school year also came a school resource officer for each of the nine county schools.

"You could tell it was more smoothly run this year than it has been in years past and part of that is attributed back to the fact that we have a school resource officer in each of the schools," Vance said.

Lenoir City Schools Superintendent Jeanne Barker said Lenoir City Police Chief Don White is still waiting to hear if the city has been awarded a grant to fund an SRO in each of the three schools. As of now, there are two SROs for the city schools.

If enrollment numbers remain the same as they were at the end of the first day at Lenoir City High School, Barker said a high school teacher may be added. LCHS had an influx of 94 students, which translates into about three more classes, Barker said. That could prove challenging for the city schools. Barker said in a previous interview that there would not be any new positions due to budget constraints.

"Because it has been a tight budget year we typically like to keep a little bit in reserve, and we do have a fund balance," she said. "We don't like to go into that for reoccurring costs for salaries, so we may have to cut into another area in order to make sure we have money for a teacher if it pans out. We will have to just wait and see. That would be something that would be a challenge for us at this time."

Lenoir City Intermediate/Middle School will muscle a new schedule pattern to keep from letting staff go under budget cuts.

"One challenge is we've moved to four periods. It does increase our student-teacher ratio. That's the downside to that, but I can tell you we are maintaining a 30-to-1," Principal Chip Orr said of the seventh- and eighth-grade class ratio.

The start of the school year proved exciting, however, Barker said. Lenoir City High Schoolís STEM Academy got underway with 186 enrollees.

"I think it's great knowing we have that many students that will go the extra mile because there are extra class requirements," Barker said.