The TOSS Superintendent Spotlight for June 2019 is Dr. Bryan Johnson, who is finishing up his second year as Director of Schools in Hamilton County.
Dr. Johnson shared some of the exciting things happening in Hamilton County Schools. Their vision is that every student graduates with the opportunity to pursue multiple pathways in life - “Future Ready.” Future Ready 2023, their strategic plan, launched in 2019 outline goals and strategies to fulfill this vision. Future Ready Institutes, the Opportunity Zone, Office of Innovation and School Choice, STEM and arts education are some of the strategies further implemented this year to offer a high quality educational experience to all students. In addition, the district, for the first time, invited 30 community leaders for an intimate look inside their public schools through Leadership HCS, a new 6- month community outreach initiative for leaders seeking a better understanding of the 21st century public school system.
Future Ready Institutes began in August 2018, as smaller learning communities within each high school to provide students with a unique learning environment through the lens of various career-themes. The institutes align what students are learning in all subjects around the specific career theme fostering meaningful connections. This effort towards rethinking the way they deliver high school curriculum started with 20 Future Ready Institutes in 13 high schools, and expanded to 27 in the 2019-2020 school year. Future Ready Preps were also launched this year in middle schools to begin exploration of college and career readiness earlier.
Committed educators, passionate students and strong business and industry partnerships have been key to their early success. Business partnerships have resulted in better alignment of addressing talent pipeline needs of the future, higher student engagement, an increase of 900 students taking Early Postsecondary Opportunities (EPSOs) and more than $2 million of private investments into their Institutes.
Hamilton County Schools has strong support from the business community and includes branded business partners such as Unum, Erlanger Health, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, EPB, See Rock City and Bryan College. They continue to field interest, welcome and cultivate both branded and non-branded partners. STEM efforts in Hamilton County Schools have positioned their district as a national leader in digital fabrication with 17 digital fabrication labs in their schools. In the labs, students are engaged in activities such as: designing and 3D printing orthopedic devices for people and pets with special needs, conducting research on the viability of autonomous electric vehicles and taking salvaged parts from a computer to build a robot. Success for the future means preparing graduates with relevant tools and meaningful opportunities.
The more recently launched Office of Innovation and Choice will help accelerate the district’s focus on great quality school experiences for all students and expanded choice options for parents to make better informed decisions in their student’s educational planning.
My favorite part of my job is spending time in schools with students, teachers, and school leaders. In this role, it is important to not be consumed by the various challenges each day presents. It’s always refreshing to step into classrooms and engage with students around what they are learning and see their academic growth. Spending time in the classroom with young learners and listening to how their teachers are reaching them with the knowledge they will need to succeed at the next grade level or after graduation reminds me of why public education is so important and why we engage in this challenging work every day.
Every student and teacher has a story to share that reminds me of the importance of our work. Gabe Armstrong, a 2019 graduate of Soddy Daisy High with a full-ride scholarship to Georgia Tech and fellow graduate Jake DiChiacchio, who has a full-ride scholarship to Brown University, offered personal testaments to the value of AP classes and dual enrollment in a formal PowerPoint presentation given to their school administration encouraging more availability for future students. Kadijah Tinker, a 2019 graduate of Lookout Valley High, found her place in the band and now wants to return to Hamilton County Schools one day to teach music and help others to find their place in a band program. Zavier Chavez, a 2019 graduate of Chattanooga High School Center for Creative Arts and a 2019 Presidential Scholar, is on his way to Harvard University with dreams of one day being a lawyer. Marie Holland, a recent graduate of Sequoyah High, who was unsure of her path to success found her place as one of the few female students in the school’s Welding Program. Marie excelled and had a job waiting for her the week after graduation at a local manufacturer with excellent career prospects ahead. These stories of student pursuing their own paths to success inspire me every day.
The amazing teachers and leaders in Hamilton County Schools also inspire me. Jinlin Baker, a special education teacher, engages in her labor of love with students each day seeking to discover a new way to help her class communicate, learn, and grow. Dr. Le Andrea Ware, principal of the year for Hamilton County Schools, returned to her alma mater last year to lead Howard High with her vision of HOPE (Helping Others Pursue Excellence) and her passion for children and Howard that earned her this district honor. In addition, Andrea Dyer, an ESOL teacher in the district, who not only teaches students from Guatemala, but also travels to the country frequently to understand their families and where her students come from so that she can better address the student’s educational needs in her class is empowering.
There are so many more stories that I don’t have space to share, but each one recharges me and keeps me focused on providing a great educational experience for all students in our district.
FUN FACT: Dr. Johnson is a self-proclaimed sports enthusiast. He’s a huge fan of Notre Dame football (Go Irish!). He’s also set a personal goal of visiting every Major League Baseball (MLB) stadium.