By Ron Barry
Right before the start of school all across the state of Tennessee, interested persons checking out the website of the Tennessee Department of Education are getting an eyeful of Alamo and Crockett County schools.
TDOE has been featuring some of the schools who received the status of “Best For All” District, a designation awarded to those districts in the state who have done the best job of providing innovative education during the COVID-19 pandemic. Alamo City School has been the focus this week for TDOE, following a similar presentation for Crockett County Schools during the week of July 11.
“It’s quite an honor to be featured,” said ACS Principal Kelsie Henning, “and the probable reason for the ‘Best For All’ attention is the teaching we do in our STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) Lab. There are some very innovative things going on in there every day, from robots to experiments and other fun ways to learn. But…”
Henning paused for emphasis, and it was obvious his next words were both sincere and grateful.
“The real reason this is a ‘Best For All’ school is because every single teacher, staffer, and board member involved with this place puts the individual student above everything else,” he said. “The students come first here, and every program, every class, and every minute we spend with them is designed to show them that, so they’ll grow up to be responsible people and be equipped to make good decisions throughout their lives.”
Henning wanted the credit to be directed toward those who work most directly with the children every day.
“I can be in this main office and do everything I can to keep things running smoothly,” he said, “but the key to the accomplishments around here is the daily work put in by these teachers and staff. My job is to help them get what they need to excel, but they’re the ones who are lifting these kids up each day and challenging them to do their best. I can’t say enough good things about them.”
A quick visit to the school’s STEM Lab – something the staff did when TDOE Commissioner Dr. Penny Schwinn visited earlier this summer – shows how the teachers help to get students to think “outside the box.” The room is full of supplies used to stimulate the imagination, including a group of small robots that can be individually programmed by the students using tablet computers.
Colorful signs at the rooms at the lab’s entrance immediately challenge the students to “Design, Perform, Explore, Innovate, Dream, Invent, Create, Inspire, Express, Imagine,” leading into another sign of an illuminated giant light bulb.
Another series of wall signs outline the “Design Process,” encouraging students to follow the steps of “Ask, Imagine, Plan, Create, Improve, and Present.” Everything in the room is designed to jump-start the art of thinking.
During the July 11 week that saluted the Crockett County school district, TDOE featured several photographs from Gadsden, Friendship, and Maury City elementary schools. The website featured a video that highlights: the Board of Education, citing its decision to allocate $2 million of the district’s $3.2 million in ESSER 3.0 funding to summer school, early intervention in literacy, and ACT Prep for college and career success; CCHS, for its orientation nights for upcoming students, ACT prep, providing a college/career success coach, and new computers; CCMS, for summer school work, math and STEM work, computers, and orientation nights; Friendship Elementary, for summer school, STEM, TNALL Corps, hiring kindergarten assistants, and providing iPads and computers; and Gadsden Elementary and Maury City Elementary, for similar improvements and the hiring of literary interventionists.
TDOE’s salute to Crockett’s districts is yet another testimony that the cooperative agreement the systems work under is performing extremely well.