By Sally Absher

One cool summer evening last week, two community meetings were held on opposite sides of town to gather public input on the Draft KCS 2020 Strategic Plan. One was a meeting hosted by District 5 BOE Representative Karen Carson at West Valley Middle School.

The other was a meeting hosted by Students, Parents, and Educators Across Knox County (SPEAK) at the Unite Building on North Broadway.

As reported in the July 7 edition of the Focus, numerous interviews, insight meetings, feedback sessions, chatterboxes, surveys, and retreats took place over a ten month period, albeit mostly with elected officials, senior staff, and community leaders.

On June 26, a draft plan was finally produced. The first reading of the plan was approved on July 2. The board will vote to accept the plan on Wednesday, August 6.

This allowed the citizens of Knox County just over 30 days to locate, download, read, and comment on 49 pages of what Carson generously called a “bit wordy” document.

On July 15, 2014, SPEAK facilitated a meeting of parents, teachers, representatives of various community organizations, and other individuals to review the draft of the 2020 Strategic Plan.

According to the SPEAK press release, “Participants at this meeting discussed the plan and co-wrote a set of revisions, which SPEAK recommends the KCS Board of Education incorporate into the strategic plan before final approval.”

According to Dave Gorman, SPEAK co-president, “As concerned parents, students, and teachers of Knox County Schools we have a moral and ethical duty to speak up about the direction of our public school system by proposing significant changes to the KCS Strategic Plan.”

The detailed recommendations suggested by SPEAK are available at and on the SPEAK Facebook page. Among the key issues and recommendations are the following:

• High standards for learning must be appropriate for a student’s developmental level

• High-stakes standardized testing must be decreased

• Teachers must have flexibility and support for continuing education and high-quality professional development

• All children should have access to a variety of classes, including arts, sciences, social studies, and other electives.

• Technology investments must be better supported and funded over their lifetimes

• Building needs, classroom supplies, and instructional tools should be prioritized over the proposed creation of additional administrative positions.

• The community schools model should be expanded to strengthen neighborhood schools

• Teachers and parents must be included as active decision-makers in district policies.

Meanwhile, over in West Knoxville, Karen Carson met with about two dozen parents, teachers, and KCS administrators and Central Office Executive Team members. She recited the three goals of the plan: to focus on every student; invest in our people; and partner with our stakeholders.

She lauded the usefulness of the current (2009-2013) Five Year Plan, saying, “Once it was approved, I returned to it frequently.” She said, “if there is not a dream of an endpoint in a doable amount of time, things still happen and you get things done, but nowhere near what you can get done if you set some goals.”

She highlighted some of the accomplishments that came out of the last Five Year plan, form Middle School honors classes and early literacy programs, to the changes in teacher evaluations, APEX bonuses (merit pay in addition to salary step increases).

Carson outlined some of the concepts included in the draft plan, including the Diploma +2 program, personalized learning, schedules, etc. She clarified that if the Board passes a strategic plan it does not mean that they pass everything in the plan.

State Rep. Gloria Johnson, who attended both meetings, gives a good analysis. She wrote on Facebook, “Tonight I attended 2 meetings to discuss the KCS 2020 Plan. The first was attended by a handful of teachers and parents and Dr.McIntyre and his administrative staff. The plan was presented to the group and they allowed parents and teachers to offer input to the completed plan.”

“At the second meeting I came in late, parents, teachers and community members were sitting in 3 large groups. Each group was assigned a goal from the plan and were tasked to design a framework to develop the plan so it was student, teacher, and community friendly. This was the 2nd or third collaborative meeting of this group. Everyone offered their thoughts and ideas to make sure the plan benefitted all students.”

“Guess which plan I liked best? Both groups want the best for students, but it was nice to actually watch the how’s and why’s, as the second group worked through the details of their plan talking about the kids they knew as they worked.”

The BOE will discuss the 2020 Strategic Plan at its work session on Monday, August 4, at 5:00 p.m. at the Andrew Johnson Building, and is scheduled to vote on the second reading of the draft at its regular meeting on Wednesday, August 6, at 5:00 p.m. at the City-County Building.

SPEAK urges the Board to postpone the vote on the second reading in order to allow the recommendations of concerned citizens to be heard and incorporated into the Strategic Plan.   All interested community members are encouraged to sign up for the public forum at either of these meetings to share their views.