By MARINA WATERS
“We must be obsessed with data,” Washington County Director of Schools Kimber Halliburton said during her presentation at the joint board of education and health education and welfare committee meeting. “If we’re ever going to move the needle and be the No. 1 ranked school district in the northeast region, we have to constantly look at the data and constantly decide what strategies we will implement to improve that data. Data shows us what we’re strong in. It shows us what we’re weak in.”
The strengths and weakness presented by Halliburton during the Feb. 22 meeting from the state report card for Washington County Schools took over the first half of the meeting, starting with elementary TCAP reports.
Washington County was at 69.1 percent for math according to 2015-2016 TCAP scores—the last year of data available due to the testing mishap last spring. Meanwhile, 55 percent of K-8 students are reading on grade level by third grade. Halliburton said the school system has enacted a goal of increasing this number by a minimum of 2 percent.
“We’ve got to focus our attention on the technologies the teachers need to do this,” Halliburton said, “and then the subscriptions once we have the technology in place that will better equip our teachers to do this. We have talented teachers that can do this.”
A portion of this plan to incorporate more technology into Washington County Schools is already in motion; audio enhancement for all K-5 classrooms—excluding the round portion of Jonesborough Elementary School—will be installed over spring break, Halliburton said.
“Hopefully we’ll start seeing gains from the technology that we have in place,” school board member Todd Ganger said during the meeting. “These kids are wanting to learn, so hopefully we’ll see those gains and it will be a trickle down effect.”
Halliburton’s goals didn’t stop at elementary education however; Washington County’s Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System is used to track the academic progress of students in a district.
However, TVAAS does not include grades 4-8 due to testing errors. Washington County was at level 5 for math for the 2015-2016 school year. Level 5 indicates that a district is exceeding expected growth. However, the school system was at level 1 for literacy which indicates that the district is making less than the expected growth.
Meanwhile, graduation rates for Washington county are at 90.2 percent which is four percent lower than that of Sullivan County. Halliburton said she aims to increase the graduation rate to 94 percent.
To do this, Halliburton intends to continue incorporating Asbury Optional High School, Midway school and the Tennessee Virtual Academy as an option in order to up the percentage of high school graduates in Washington County.
She also said the virtual academy has grown from five students to 12 since her time here. Changing the name from Washington County Virtual Academy to Tennessee Virtual Academy has also helped up enrollment, Halliburton said.
“I think the way that you increase your graduation goal is you have as many alternative programs out there as you possibly can,” Halliburton said. “I’ve shared with you all that my brother was a high school drop out. If he had had a program like Asbury, Midway, or maybe even an online program he may have earned a high school diploma. Those kids are pretty dear to my heart.”
To reach these academic goals, the director of schools also spoke on accountability for all members of the county from parents to Halliburton herself.
“It’s accountability for all. It’s accountability for parents, it’s accountability for the superintendent, it’s accountability for teachers,” Halliburton said.
“It’s hard for commissioners to stand up there and say, ‘We’re going to hold parents accountable.’ But that’s exactly what they need to do. It’s hard for school board members as elected officials to say, ‘We’re going to hold teachers accountable,” but that’s exactly what you’re going to need to do. For us to be number one, that’s what we must do.”