By Sally Absher

Belle Morris Elementary Celebrates 100 Years!

Last Thursday morning, Belle Morris Elementary School hosted a celebration commemorating the 100 years anniversary of its founding in 1915.  Dignitaries including Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, and City of Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero kicked off the celebration at 9 a.m.

The students performed a Maypole dance, which was a tradition Mrs. Belle Morris started when she founded the school. There were refreshments, tours of the school, and historical video footage. The celebration culminated with an open house for the public from 3:30 until 6 p.m.

Many alumni were in attendance, including the oldest living Knoxville alumni, Ruth Snelson. At nearly 100 years old, Ruth still lives independently and is full of energy and enthusiasm.  We also spoke with alumni Pat Lowry, who is the aunt of BOE member Patti Bounds. Patti’s great-grandfather, Joe Bise, was principal of Belle Morris in 1915. Historical Board of Education records indicate he earned $65 a month!

School librarian Martha Koho worked diligently to research historic documents and photographs. She helped set up a “museum” in the gym with a timeline of the school and yearbooks, scrapbooks, and other memorabilia dating back to the early days of the school.


Sweeping Literacy Initiatives Announced

The Tennessee Department of Education notes a “persistent and disturbing trend.” Math and science scores are steadily increasing, but reading scores are declining. This year 48.4 percent of students in grades 3-8 were “proficient” in reading, down from 49.5 percent in 2014 and a peak of 50.5 percent in 2013.

Grace Tatter over at reports, “Calling Tennessee’s stagnant reading scores a ‘true ethical and moral dilemma,’ Education Commissioner Candice McQueen is rolling out a pair of initiatives to boost students’ literacy skills, starting even before they enter school.”

But not by spending more time actually reading.

The first initiative, “Ready to Read,” focuses on children from infancy to second grade. The Department of Education will partner with other state agencies including children’s services, health, human services and mental health to ensure that children who enter Kindergarten in Tennessee are “primed to learn to read.”

Tatter adds, “The Department will work to create and implement higher standards for literacy in both public pre-K programs and private childcare centers, so more people are aware of what it means to be ready for kindergarten.”

While it may be true that “studies have found that children who are raised in literacy-rich environments, where parents speak in complex sentences and expose them to the written word, enter kindergarten knowing more words and are more ready to start reading,” we seem to have completely forgotten that children learn best through play!

We already have stressed out, burned out kids in first and second grade. Are we now going to do this to kindergarten  (or younger) kids?

There’s more for grade K-2 kids. The Department is “developing tools to help schools and teachers assess the literacy skills of students who are too young to take the state’s required reading exam, first administered in third grade.”

One tool will help kindergarten teachers understand the literacy skills of their students before they enter the classroom. The second tool is an “optional” standardized test which will measure the literacy skills of children in kindergarten through second grade.

McQueen told Chalkbeat that when she toured the state last spring, “it was striking the number of times I heard a teacher say, ‘I really need better information about how my students are performing before they get into third grade.’”

But David Dickinson, a professor at Vandy’s Peabody College of Education who specializes in early childhood literacy, echoes the cautions of many early childhood education and development experts when he says, “I haven’t seen any mass-administered tests in school districts that are effective in measuring those skills.”

The second initiative, called “Ready to be Ready,” focuses on better preparing students in grades 3-8 for the new state assessment, TNReady, which replaces the TCAP test this year. Ready to be Ready includes “strategies to help teachers prepare students for more complicated reading passages and questions that require strong comprehension skills to answer.”

McQueen plans to use literacy coaches across the state to model lessons for teachers and help them create lesson plans. Tennessee educators will get “additional training about how to teach reading, support from a growing fleet of literacy coaches, and insights from new standardized tests.”

Because somehow it’s always the teachers’ fault that Johnny can’t read. And spending more money on literacy coaches, focusing on test preparation and testing the kids more will help that?

You can’t make this stuff up.


Teach for America Coming to Knox County?

Teach for America Knoxville is currently soliciting applications on

Here we are, three weeks into the school year, with over 40 open certified positions listed on the KCS website, and qualified candidates reporting that they aren’t even being granted interviews.

TFA “cadets” are generally recent college graduates who undergo five weeks of “training” over the summer and are placed in low-income rural and urban school districts. They are paid the same full salary and benefits as regular certified teachers by the hiring district. In addition, the district pays TFA a fee – typically $5K per year – for each “cadet” hired.

Knox County can, and should do much better. Please urge your Board of Education members to keep TFA out of Knox County Schools.