School starts this week and Hamilton County school officials say this year will take a more personalized approach to educating students.

“We put a lot of emphasis, especially at the start of the year, on personalizing the school,” Superintendent Justin Robertson said in a phone interview. “So we know we need to continue our academic progress, but we also know that over the past two years, kids need to feel valued and have a sense of belonging.”

Robertson said that means pushing educators to get to know their students and families on a deeper level and encouraging students to build relationships with each other.

“There are strategies within the (district’s) framework on the personalization side that ensure students feel connected to each other, feel connected to their teachers, and feel connected to the community,” said Robertson.

The framework, adopted by the Board of Education in June, includes social, emotional and academic development, which integrates all three aspects of learning into a student’s education to support holistic child development.

The district has defined three focus areas: student-to-student, student-to-educator, and student-to-school community. Schools will choose one to two priorities in each focus area. Examples of these priorities include student belonging and connection, student voice, and parent/family engagement.

“We’ve had a hard time for the past two years getting parents into buildings, whether it’s because of COVID or because of some things we weren’t doing proactively enough,” Robertson said. “And so what parents should expect is that there are opportunities for them to interact with staff, to be in the building and more volunteer opportunities.”

SCHOOL SECURITY

Following the May 24 mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, the board voted to invest $950,000 to put a school security guard in every school. The Hamilton County Commission later approved an additional $1 million for the effort.

The school filled 28 of the 29 newly funded security guard positions on Friday, spokesman Steve Doremus said by email. The majority will be on duty from the first day of school on Wednesday, and all will start by August 15.

A school security officer can carry a weapon, detain suspects and use force. However, they are not authorized to make arrests.

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Back to school

TEACHER BURNOUT

As the district is about to start the year from a staffing perspective, many teachers — in Hamilton County and nationally — are still suffering from burnout due to the pandemic. . Robertson said all Hamilton County school employees have access to mental health and counseling services if they choose to use them.

Another aspect of reducing burnout is allowing teachers to have a voice, Robertson said.

“We also heard…that they don’t feel like they’re participating enough, especially when it comes to the school climate,” he said. “And, so, we’re looking to get more regular cycles of input not only from teachers, but also from parents.”

COVID-19 PANDEMIC

With the emergence of the omicron BA.5 subvariant, COVID-19 cases are increasing again. The district offers a separate virtual school, in which about 400 children are enrolled, Robertson said.

“We will continue to track and monitor data as we always have,” Robertson said. “We don’t have a reopening plan like we’ve had for the past two years. What we have is a health plan which is posted on our website.”

The Health Plan is a comprehensive guide to mitigating exposure to COVID-19. It also outlines the options parents have in the event their child contracts COVID-19 or comes into close contact with an infected student.

Hamilton County schools do not have a mask policy in place, allowing parents to choose whether their child will wear a mask at school.

“If we get to a place in individual schools where staff becomes an issue or a high number of children are infected, we have the option at the state level to submit a waiver for schools to go to learning. virtual,” Robertson said.

NEW LAWS

Republican lawmakers in Tennessee passed a variety of new laws that will affect K-12 public schools this year. Most of these laws came into force on July 1. They understand :

— Transgender student-athletes: A new law prohibits transgender students from participating in sports because of their gender identity. The bill penalizes schools that do not comply with the law by withholding public funds. Hamilton County Schools passed a new athletics policy in late July that defines a student’s gender as their sex at birth.

– Persistent Staffing Shortages: To address nationwide staffing shortages, a new bill removes barriers preventing retired members of the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System from being rehired as teachers or substitutes without the total loss of their benefits. Before July 1, retired teachers could only return to work for a maximum of 120 days. Now they can be employed full-time and continue to receive 70% of their retirement allowance.

— Obscene Content on Computers: The new law requires Internet service providers who contract with schools to comply with state law prohibiting pornography and obscene content on school computers. If they don’t comply, it allows school districts to withhold payments and terminate the contract. The law also requires districts to develop a way for parents to report technology failure and submit an annual report to the National Board of Education on the successes and failures of the chosen technology.

– A new 10-point scoring system: Tennessee currently uses a seven-point scoring system, but will switch to a 10-point system once school begins. This means that for a student to receive an “A” grade in the old system, they had to score a percentage point between 93 and 100. Now, to receive an “A”, he must score between 90 and 100 percentage points.

– Abortion Advocacy Ban: Current Tennessee law prohibits school districts from using the services of individuals or organizations to help teach family life if that individual or organization endorses student promiscuity or anything other than abstinence. The new bill expands this prohibition to include individuals or organizations that perform, induce or support abortion.

— Expand human trafficking training: Every school employee will now be required to complete training every three years on detecting, responding to, and responding to child trafficking.

— New teacher evaluation criteria: Under the new law, student performance will be a more prominent element in teacher evaluation scores. It reduces the teacher observation component of the assessment from 50% to 40% and increases the student achievement component from 15% to 25%.

Contact Carmen Nesbitt at [email protected] or 423-757-6327. Follow her on Twitter @carmen_nesbitt.