Roy Exum: Johnson: ‘I Am A 1”

Thursday, September 14, 2017 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

I have purposefully not said anything more than “good morning” to Bryan Johnson, the new Superintendent, since he arrived in August because there is a long list of folks eager to ring his line, but after he read my story on Wednesday (“Why Signal Wants Out”), he was the one who was eager to talk. “I believe you need to ‘own’ who you are,” he said to me when we bumped into one another, “so, yes, I am a ‘number one.’ I'm not going to cry about it or whine – but I’m going to do something about it.”

Thus started a 30-minute conversation. It wasn’t confrontational, not in the least, but brilliantly revealing to me that, boy oh boy, I believe we’ve got a winner in charge of our schools. Yesterday I wrote about the just-released Tennessee Value-Added Assessment Scores, where every school is graded on a 1-to-5 scale with”1” being the worst. Of the 78 schools in Hamilton County, 30 are “1” and another 11 are “2.”

What came as a shock to me is Signal Mountain Middle/High School, regarded on my personal scale as the best public high school in the county, is a “1,” along with Nolan Elementary, also in the very same community that is seriously considering opening its own school district. Thrasher Elementary, less than a 5-minute ride from Nolan is a “5.” That is mystifying to me.

Johnson sat for 10 minutes trying to explain the TVAAS methodology to me. He could have spent an hour and it would have made no difference. Each school is graded on School Literacy, School Numeracy, School Literacy & Numeracy, Science and Social Studies. These results are not averaged for the Composite Score and, if a school does poorly in one area, it also pulls the other results down.

I have no idea how it works but, as I told the ‘Super,’ obviously it measures something and 30 of our schools are in the bottom hole on the stump. “I already know the answer,” he agreed, “we are poor in social studies, math and science. When you find out how to ‘crack the nut,’ you can fix it.

“I came from Clarksville where I had eight high schools. Last night I found out all eight were “5.” The reason is we fixed it about four years ago and this is the third straight year each one has been a “5.” What you need to know about three years in a row is ‘Winning breeds winning.’ Everybody likes to win. Nobody like to be a “1.” Right now I look at myself as a “1” and I am going to work like the dickens to get us out from where we are.

“I sent an email to our principals last night, telling them we work too hard not to be successful. I’ve got what I feel is a great ‘transition’ team in place. Every principal we have is giving us input but you know what we are missing? Winning. We need to win. We are going to win. Just you watch…”

With that Johnson pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and shared the screen with me. “This has already been emailed to you this morning but here’s what you can see and understand about Signal Mountain Middle/High School …

* * *

2016-2017 ACHIEVEMENT (EOC) DATA COMPARISON

Note: The percentages you will see are those students considered, ‘On Track’ or ‘Mastered’ This once was termed ‘Proficient’ or ‘Advanced.’)

ALGEBRA I – Signal Mtn. 12.97 percent (State average 14 percent.)

ALGEBRA II – Signal Mtn. 33.3 percent (State average 23.4 percent.)

GEOMETRY – Signal Mtn. 52.42 percent (State average 24 percent.)

MATH (TOTAL) – Signal Mtn. 35 percent (State average 21 percent.)

ENGLISH I – Signal Mtn. 70 percent (State average 27.4. percent)

ENGLISH II – Signal Mtn. 67 percent (State average 28 percent)

ENGLISH III – Signal Mtn. 54 percent (State average 27.3 percent)

ENGLISH (TOTAL) – Signal Mtn. 65 percent (State average 30.7 percent)

BIOLOGY – Signal Mtn. 95 percent (State average 56.5 percent)

CHEMISTRY – Signal Mtn. 50.6 percent (State average 39.7 percent)

SCIENCE (TOTAL) – Signal Mtn. 74 percent (State average 30.5 percent)

US HISTORY --- Signal Mtn. 44 percent (State average 29.9)

* * *

In other words, Signal Mountain teachers and students doubled the state average in six of the 12 categories and easily outraced it in five others. This I can understand. This is the Signal Mountain that I know. So how can this school be a “1”? With achievement data like this, who cares about the TVAAS? And, another thing: when we note student achievement, never overlook teacher achievement in your applause.

Let me tell you one other thing I know: When our new Superintendent says he now “owns” being a “1,” Bryan Johnson won’t be for long.

* * *

AN EMAIL ABOUT SIGNAL MOUNTAIN'S TWO ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS

“You have read some of my wisdom or call it something else but the argument that two schools, stone's throw from one another, should be the same after all the books are the same, teachers are o.k. and the curriculum same. Sounds so simple but yet so very complicated.

“I will give you a simple equation to ponder... Let's have a horse race. One of the horse owners prides himself because his horse is well fed; lighted and warm stall and has someone that brushes, bathes and tells him he is well loved. The other horse, similar size but completely different in those three areas of both horse and human need.

“My work was largely with the inner city black child and family. Sometimes, horrible to relate, but the child that is hungry cannot learn; the child that is cold cannot learn; the child that is not talked to; loved and nurtured cannot learn and curriculum is baseless … because the school cannot, will not, provide those most essential human needs.

“But... and will say again, BUT, the school, centralized should be; could be the poor parent's best friend. If you do get a chance, someday have lunch with some inner city teachers and listen carefully to what they say about the children they work with.

“Even the child's teacher perpetuates the myth of being poor"
-- A Reader

royexum@aol.com


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