Tenn. School Board Dissastified with Status Quo

By Glenn Cook

The leadership of Tennessee’s Hamblen County School District is experienced and stable. Collectively, the seven-member board has served more than 110 years, and the superintendent has been in place for more than a decade.

But that stability and experience doesn’t mean the district’s leadership team is satisfied with the status quo --  far from it, in fact. Given the economic challenges and ongoing population changes this 9,750-student district is facing, forward thinking and assertive leadership are necessary constants in managing Hamblen’s 18 schools.

“We realized we could get on board and ride together into the future, or get run over by it,” says Chairman Joe Gibson Jr. “We just try to embrace what’s out there and not give excuses about why we can’t do something. We focus on how we can.”

Located in Northeastern Tennessee, Hamblen County has moved away from the furniture industry that once was its trademark and is trying to draw more high-tech companies to boost its economy. At the same time, the district’s number of students on free and reduced-price lunch has grown by 14 percent over the past decade, and the percentage of English Language Learners (ELLs) has risen from 1 percent to 10 percent.

Hamblen County ranks 122nd among the state’s 136 districts in terms of per-pupil spending, a challenge as Tennessee pilots the implementation of the Common Core standards. But by aggressively pursuing grants, emphasizing the use of technology, and increasing the rigor of the high school curriculum, the district has found ways to meet student needs.

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