Big changes in store for Sevier students

More emphasis on technology, new school opening, K kids go longer
Aug. 16, 2013 @ 12:37 PM

This is going to be a year of some of the most dramatic changes ever in the Sevier County school system. From 2,700 new computers to the opening of a new school and expanded hours for kindergarten students, the system awaits Friday’s opening with a lot of anticipation.

“It’s wonderful to welcome students and families back to school,” Debra Cline, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said. “It’s one of the greatest pleasures of working here. Our community wants to do what’s right and what’s best for the kids. That attitude permeates the community.”

Example: Faced with the need for more than $4 million to buy hundreds of computers to increase the role of technology in the classroom, the County Commission came through with the money.

A number of the 2,700 computers will create 90 labs throughout the system, Cline said, and will be used for testing students in grades 3-11. The computers will be used for testing in reading, language arts and math.

“Our students will see a greater use of technology on a daily basis,” she said. They won’t be used to play on, she insisted, but as a learning tool. The computers are not being bought at one time, but will be purchased and placed in the schools throughout the year.

The Sevier system will continue implementing the so-called Common Core standard of teaching, with emphasis on basic courses.

The state has adopted Common Core along with most other states so students can be more accurately measured academically.

Students in grades K-6 will be getting new reading textbooks, and middle school students will have new language books.

“Children are excited to be issued new reading books,” she said.”These are a little different from what we’ve had in the past. They are more oriented toward the Common Core. They are content-based, with not as much fiction but more a relationship to the tech side. Students will see more integration of social studies and science and language arts with a little different twist.”

Teachers will have access to lots more resource materials, Cline said, with more digital resources for students. The new textbooks, for example, come with a lot of digital resources to supplement the learning. The new books will be available both in hard-copy and digitally so students can access the books at home with a tablet or computer.

While Sevier County students are not issued tablets, there are a number of mobile laptop labs available in some schools, she said.

New math books are scheduled to arrive in the spring — they also will more closely align with the Common Core.

That’s a lot of use of computers and tech-related materials, Cline acknowledged.

“It’s the great change in technology I’ve ever seen,” she said. “I am so appreciative of the openness and understanding of the County Commission to our needs. Their support for education means the world to our students, who will have the opportunity to engage as 21st century leaders with this technology.”

The system is moving toward electronic lesson planning which will allow more interaction among teachers, allowing them to collaborate and plan much better.

It’s all meant to make students expand their level of thinking and problem solving, Cline said.

“We are looking closely at how we can expand the concept of writing in a meaningful way,” she said. “We want to engage kids in problem solving and interaction into more complex tests in writing, more real-world experiences.”

Kindergarten students will now be in school as long as their big brothers and sisters instead of attending for fewer hours. It’s what they need, Cline said, and allows teachers more time to teach additional lessons.

Enrollment is expected to be around 14,500, Cline said, which keeps the system the 10th largest in Tennessee. The new Northview Academy will affect enrollments, especially at Sevier County High, but final figures won’t be known until several days after classes resume on Friday.

The new school houses grades 7-9 this year, with an additional grade added each year after this.

The former Northview Middle School now houses Northview Intermediate, and the primary school has moved into the intermediate building. Two intermediate grades now are at Northview Academy. Many students who would have attended SCHS as ninth-graders now go to Northview, which eases enrollment at overcrowded Sevier County High.

The population shift is a positive thing,” she said. “It appears to be working as we had hoped.”

Cline has completed 38 years in the school system.

“In a school system you have ways to positively touch the lives of thousands of kids. What other place or job could have that great an opportunity to try to make sure kids get that boost to the next step of success?”