Hamilton County Schools Introduces New Learning Communities

Thursday, May 3, 2018

In large school systems, a sense of community can often get lost in the hustle and bustle of the day-to-day operation of schools. During community listening sessions in the past year, parents and community members expressed that Chattanooga and Hamilton County may have lost some community spirit and identity. To address this concern, Superintendent Dr. Bryan Johnson introduced the concept of placing schools into learning communities across the system to drive more cooperation between schools and build stronger relationships with neighborhoods around the schools.

Hamilton County Schools announced Thursday the names of the new learning communities and a reorganization of academic support to serve the schools and the community better.  The learning communities will be known as North River, Rock Point, Missionary Ridge, and Harrison Bay. 

“These learning communities will foster a renewed spirit of cooperation between schools and will engage the community to benefit the children,” said Dr. Johnson. “The new learning communities will be the center of activity in the areas for parents and the business community and will refocus district support to maximize educational opportunities for children in our schools.” 

The North River Learning Community will include Allen Elementary, Big Ridge Elementary, Daisy Elementary, Dupont Elementary, Hixson Elementary, McConnell Elementary, Middle Valley Elementary, North Hamilton County Elementary, Soddy Elementary, Hixson Middle, Loftis Middle, Soddy-Daisy Middle, Hixson High, Sale Creek Middle/High, Sequoyah High, and Soddy-Daisy High. 

The Rock Point Learning Community incorporates Alpine Crest Elementary, Battle Elementary, Brown Academy, Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences Lower School, Lookout Mountain Elementary, Lookout Valley Elementary, Normal Park Lower School, Nolan Elementary, Red Bank Elementary, Rivermont Elementary, Thrasher Elementary, Normal Park Upper School, Red Bank Middle, Chattanooga High Center for Creative Arts, Chattanooga School for Arts and Sciences, Lookout Valley Middle/High, Red Bank High, and Signal Mountain Middle/High.  

The Missionary Ridge Learning Community will feature Apison Elementary, East Brainerd Elementary, East Ridge Elementary, East Side Elementary, Spring Creek Elementary, Westview Elementary, Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts, East Ridge Middle, Tyner Middle Academy, Collegiate High, East Hamilton Middle/High, East Ridge High, STEM School Chattanooga, and Tyner High Academy.  

The Harrison Bay Learning Community will include Harrison Elementary, Hillcrest Elementary, Lakeside Academy, Ooltewah Elementary, Bess T. Shepherd Elementary, Snow Hill Elementary, Wallace A. Smith Elementary, Wolftever Creek Elementary, Brown Middle, Hunter Middle, Ooltewah Middle, Central High, Hamilton County Adult High, and Ooltewah High. 

The new learning communities will join the already established Opportunity Zone which includes Barger Academy of Fine Arts, Calvin Donalson Environmental Science Academy, Clifton Hills Elementary, East Lake Elementary, Hardy Elementary, Orchard Knob Elementary, Woodmore Elementary, East Lake Middle Academy, Dalewood Middle, Orchard Knob Middle, Brainerd High, and The Howard School. 

The service structure of central office personnel supporting the new learning communities will also be restructured to provide better academic support and build a stronger relationship between schools.  Each learning community will have an executive director assigned to build a sense of community. 

Familiar faces Dr. Neelie Parker and Dr. Robert Sharpe will fill the roles for two of the learning communities. The other two community leaders are new to the Chattanooga area.  Dr. Larrie Reynolds comes to Hamilton County from Budd Lake, N.J. and Dr. John Tharp from Milwaukee, Wi. 

Dr. Parker will work with the North River Learning Community as a learning community executive director. Dr. Parker has served as director of elementary schools since 2015 for Hamilton County Schools. She was principal at Big Ridge Elementary for six years, and she spent seven years as principal of East Lake Elementary before leaving the school level to work with all elementary schools in the district. Dr. Parker also served as assistant principal at Calvin Donaldson Elementary and taught at East Brainerd Elementary in Hamilton County Schools. She is a graduate of UTC and earned her master’s and doctorate from Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville. 

Dr. Sharpe has been tapped to be the executive director of the Rock Point Learning Community. Dr. Sharpe is also a veteran of service to children in Hamilton County Schools having worked as operations director for secondary schools since 2016.  He was an assistant superintendent in the system, director of middle schools, and an area director for the district. Dr. Sharpe served as principal at Chattanooga Central High School for four years and was an assistant principal at Brainerd High School for five years.  He taught at Red Bank High School in Hamilton County, Richard Hardy Memorial School in Richard City Special District and Sexton Woods School in Dekalb County before coming to Hamilton County Schools.  Dr. Sharpe is a graduate of UTC where he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees.  He also holds a specialist degree from Lincoln Memorial and a doctorate from Trevecca Nazarene University. 

Dr. Reynolds will lead the Missionary Ridge Learning Community.  Dr. Reynolds is superintendent of schools for Mount Olive Township Public Schools in Budd Lake, N.J.  At Mount Olive, Dr. Reynolds ushered in an unprecedented era of financial investment.  New programs for students included a recording studio and a MakerSpace. Dr. Reynolds was also an adjunct professor at Montclair State University and Centenary University.  Before his work with Mount Olive Township, he worked as an educational consultant for the New Jersey Department of Education, served as superintendent for Pequannock Township, and assistant superintendent for San Angelo Independent School District in Texas.  He opened the first Edison School in the United States in Wichita, Kansas.  Dr. Reynolds was a principal in Kansas and Oklahoma.  He started his education career as a teacher in Kansas.  He was CEO and founder of Newton Learning.  Dr. Reynolds holds degrees from Southern Nazarene University, Trevecca College, Central State University and Oklahoma State University. 

Dr. Tharp will be the learning community executive director for the Harrison Bay Learning Community.  Dr. Tharp was executive director at Pathways Charter High School in Milwaukee, served as a faculty associate with the University of Phoenix and as an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee.  He was superintendent for Greendale School District in Greendale Wisconsin, assistant superintendent for Williamson County Schools in Franklin, Tennessee, a principal in the Greenville School District in South Carolina and an assistant principal in Durham Public Schools in North Carolina. Dr. Tharp started his career as a social studies teacher in North Carolina. He earned his undergraduate degree at Illinois Wesleyan University. Dr. Tharp has advanced degrees, including his doctorate, from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 

The system has also realigned director positions for teaching and learning under three Hamilton County academic leaders.  Karen Hollis will serve as elementary teaching and learning director, Chrissy Easterly will be the middle school teaching and learning director, and Jamie Parris the high school teaching and learning director.  

Ms. Hollis has worked with elementary schools as director of elementary operations with the district since 2011. She also served the community as principal of Ganns Middle Valley Elementary, assistant principal at Hardy Elementary and a classroom teacher at Howard Elementary. She was the 2011 Principal of the Year for Hamilton County Schools and the 2011 Tennessee Southeast Region Principal of the Year. Hollis earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and her master’s degree from Trevecca Nazarene University. 

Mr. Parris comes to the high school teaching and learning director position from his current post as director of secondary math and science. He has held that position since 2008 in Hamilton County. He has also served as a secondary district math coach, district math lead teacher and he taught at Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts. Before coming to Hamilton County, Mr. Parris was a math teacher in Tuscaloosa, Al. He participated in the development of a district K-12 mathematics instructional framework which has sparked similar work in districts across the country.  Mr. Parris helped design two urban teacher residency programs involving partnerships with multiple districts, universities, and foundations in teacher training. He has also served on multiple state leadership teams including an appointment to the Governor’s State Standards Review Team.  He is a graduate of the University of Alabama Birmingham and earned a master’s degree from Trevecca Nazarene University. 

Ms. Easterly joins the district teaching and learning team from her position as principal of Ooltewah Middle School.  She became the principal at Ooltewah in 2012 and has led the school to significant improvements. Her efforts at Ooltewah earned her a nomination for 2018 Principal of the Year for Hamilton County Schools. Ms. Easterly has been recognized statewide for her leadership and was asked to serve as a principal mentor in the Governor’s Academy of School Leadership.  Before being named principal at Ooltewah, she was an assistant principal at East Hamilton School, assistant principal at Ooltewah Middle, and an instructional coach at Ooltewah Middle. Ms. Easterly began her teaching career in 1996 and has taught third-grade, fifth-grade, and sixth-grade.  She has also worked as a Title 1 lab coordinator and a color guard instructor.  Ms. Easterly holds a Bachelor of Science degree from UTC and a master’s degree from Tennessee Tech.      

Hamilton County Schools also announces the addition of Dr. Kenneth Bradshaw as the new chief operations officer for the system. Dr. Bradshaw will fill the position vacated by long-time Hamilton County Schools educator Dr. Lee McDade, who will retire at the end of this school year. Dr. Bradshaw comes to Hamilton County Schools from Richmond County Schools in Augusta, Ga. where he has served as deputy superintendent since 2014. He was a regional superintendent, a coordinator for an assistant superintendent, a principal, an assistant principal, and teacher for Dekalb County Schools in Georgia.  Dr. Bradshaw is a veteran of the Army National Guard having served in Desert Shield and Desert Storm.  He was a field artillery commander and served our country for 14 years.  Dr. Bradshaw initiated and managed the development of a multi-million dollar partnership between Textron Specialized Vehicles and Richmond County Schools to establish EZ-Go, a program to improve the high school dropout rate in the school system.  He supervised a fleet of over 200 buses in Richmond County and led planning and implementation of a multi-million dollar facility improvement program through a one-cent sales tax for school improvement. In addition to current chief operation officer duties, Dr. Bradshaw will assume oversight of the technology department, after the departure of Don Hall, who has announced his decision to transition to other opportunities later this summer. Dr. Bradshaw is a graduate of Savannah State College, Brenau University, the University of West Georgia and, Argosy University, where he earned his doctorate. 

Another significant retirement resulting in a leadership change is the departure of decorated JROTC leader Colonel Thomas McConnell.  William T. Brooks, Lieutenant Colonel Retired and senior Army instructor at Central High School, has been selected to lead the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.  Citizenship. Leadership, character, and community service are the core tenets of high school JROTC, and Colonel Brooks is the perfect man to step into the role.  He has served at Central High since 2007, and before his time there was a professor of military science and program director at Grambling State University.  Colonel Brooks has held a variety of command and staff positions in the military posts including Fort Leavenworth, Ks.; Fort Polk, La.;  Fort Bragg, N.C.; and Camp Doha, Kuwait.  Chattanooga runs deep in the soul of Colonel Brooks as he is a graduate of Chattanooga High School and proudly claims Chattanooga as his home.  He earned a bachelor’s degree from Middle Tennessee State University, and a master’s from Central Michigan University.  Colonel Brooks is also a graduate of the Army Airborne and Air Assault School.  He has earned numerous military honors and was the 2015 recipient of the Margaret Hammack award for excellence in teaching. 

A native of Signal Mountain and product of Hamilton County Schools, Erin Kirby enters her new Hamilton role as the district induction specialist.  Ms. Kirby will be leading the district New Teacher Academy induction program to help new teachers get off to a great start in the classroom and retain talented teachers in our schools.  She will focus on mentoring and partnerships with universities to build on the system plan to recruit, retain and develop outstanding teacher talent.  Kirby was a literacy coach for the district working with Wolftever, Snow Hill, Wallace A. Smith, and Clifton Hills.  She spent six years as a classroom teacher working with first, third, and fourth-grade children.  Ms. Kirby earned her undergraduate degree from UTC and her master’s from Trevecca Nazarene University.  Ms. Kirby will support new teachers through their third year of teaching using evening professional development sessions, Google Hangout sharing, webinars, and half-day learning labs. 

“Exceptional talent drives improvement in schools to benefit the children we serve each day,” Dr. Johnson concluded. “These high-quality educational leaders will move the district forward to be the fastest improving school district in the state of Tennessee.”


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