By MARINA WATERS
It’s not everyday that Kimber Halliburton, the Washington County director of schools, drives by the future Boones Creek School site on Boones Creek Road. But when she does, she’s overwhelmed with a feeling of opportunity and a new era coming to Tennessee’s first and oldest county.
“If I’m a busy, working parent and I’m driving by that new school site to go to another school to get to work, I’m going to be questioning, ‘Hey, can I go there? Can I send my children there?’ I think what a new school means to the community is a fresh start,” Halliburton said, thinking of the school that will set on the ridge of the old Williams Farm in a few years. “It doesn’t mean that things aren’t going well; it’s just an opportunity to become even better. As Commissioner Matherly said, this isn’t the finishing line, this is the starting line of the Washington Way. I find that very exciting to be a community leader and to be a part of cultivating the culture of that new school. What an opportunity.”
As much time as the director spends thinking of groundbreakings and future sites of the Boones Creek and Jonesborough K-8 schools, she spends even more time working on what is going on inside the 12 schools throughout Washington County. And when asked what makes the county a desired destination for students and families, the internal workings were her first replies.
Halliburton said the school system just completed a year with Rutherford Learning Group, Inc and their professional development training. That’s something she sees as a major draw for parents.
“The reason that’s appealing for parents is that it really helps the teachers beef up their talents in the classroom,” she said. “Anytime a teacher can build upon their talents, what we find is that rigor and academic challenge increases in our classrooms which is very exciting for parents because that’s what parents want.”
While upping the amount of professional development for many district employees, Halliburton also increased the amount of technology in schools.
After serving as the principal at a technology demonstration school in Metro Nashville, Halliburton headed to Washington County with technology as one of the most prominent tools in her academic toolbox. The director of schools said all eighth through 12th grade English Language Arts classrooms are equipped with laptops, all second through fourth grade classrooms have interactive panels and audio enhancements are set up in all kindergarten through fifth grade classrooms.
Now, Halliburton is ready to do more of the same.
“We’ve increased the use of technology and increased the technological tools that those teachers and students have access to,” Halliburton explained. “Eventually what I would like to see for Washington County is that we are a one-to-one device school district, meaning every student will have access to either a tablet or a laptop that they use in their academic coursework every day.”
The professional development and technological implementation Halliburton has plugged into the school district also goes hand-in-hand with another newly added element in Washington County; Halliburton recently got her dream of housing an academic coach in each school in the district and these academic coaches will also serve teachers struggling with lesson-plan hangups or even help with the new technology in the classroom.
“You know, we have placed new technology in our schools. So this is a way we can offer some additional training,” She said. “As a teacher, I might be reluctant to walk up to my principal and say, ‘Hey, I’m really struggling with this clear touch panel. I really don’t know what I’m doing.’ But I’m more likely to go up to a peer that’s serving as an instructional coach and say, ‘Hey I’m really struggling with this. Can you come in and spend some time with me on this?’ That is the role of a coach—to really spend time with teachers.”
In addition to adding new roles and devices to Washington County, Halliburton is also looking ahead at the future of Washington County—which will include an academic magnet school for top-performing students in the area. The school, which is scheduled for 2021, will be a lottery school that will find a home in the current Jonesborough Middle School building after the Jonesborough School is constructed.
“Being totally honest with you, the magnet school that will be opening would definitely appeal to me as a mom,” she said. “My husband and I, we were always very serious about the level of education our kids were receiving. This magnet high school will be lottery and students will have to meet a certain criteria to even make application. That would be very appealing to me as a parent because I would welcome the opportunity for my three children to be around other very serious-minded students who knew they were going to college, who wanted to qualify for some of the best universities, to be in a highly academic school where there is rigorous demand and challenge. I think the magnet school is going to appeal to that type of parent.”
All of this change doesn’t come without a solid reason, though. Halliburton considered the big picture when explaining the academic magnet among other parts of the Washington Way plan. For the director, it’s about attracting families while also showing what a county school district is capable of.
“I think that there is a perception sometimes about county schools verses other school districts that is not accurate. And I think the only way to change that perception is to start offering as many academic programs that will appeal to various parent types and then I think it will just snowball. I’ve already seen a culture shift since I’ve been here.”
She’s also hoping that culture shift will be one that parents will be excited about, especially when it comes to the new school being built on Boones Creek Road. As a former principal and parent of a newly opened school back in Nashville, Halliburton considers the new schools a real opportunity for all in Washington County.
“I would just encourage parents right now that are attending Boones Creek Elementary and Middle School to really help us out in the community and talk about what a great instructional program we have at both of those schools,” Halliburton said.
“The opportunity for me to be a pioneering parent at the new Boones Creek would be very appealing to the Halliburton family. It just truly would as a parent. I would be ecstatic.”