'Change Is Hard,'
Stroud Says Of
Starting This Year
BY SARAH GREGORY
Educators in the Greeneville City School System spent Wednesday morning in an Opening of Schools Celebration in advance of the first day of the 2013-14 school year on Tuesday.
The event at the Niswonger Performing Arts Center featured an address from Director of Schools Dr. Linda Stroud, in which she talked briefly about education reform measures underway in Tennessee.
Stroud was given a lively standing ovation before and after her remarks, and teachers in the audience frequently applauded in agreement throughout the message.
"Welcome back. I know you feel like you've never left. You have worked so hard through the summer," Stroud said to the crowd.
Greeneville teachers, like their peers across the state, have participated in numerous recent training sessions regarding implementation of Common Core State Standards.
The standards, which are set expectations of what children should know at the completion of each grade level, are among a number of reform measures in the state.
"Education reform is happening in Tennessee," Stroud said.
"I think it's extremely important that you hear from me, as your leader, exactly where I stand on these issues. We don't need to dodge it. We need to talk about it," she said.
CHANGE IS HAPPENING
Stroud gave an overview of reform measures undertaken by the state in the last three years.
Those changes, she said, relate to tenure, collective bargaining, Common Core State Standards, PARCC (Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) assessments, teacher evaluations, pay, licensing, and merit pay.
"Some of these things, we probably just need to agree to disagree on, because every one of us is allowed to have our own opinion," Stroud said.
"I'm not going to stand up here this morning and be disrespectful to anything going on in our state, because a lot of it is good -- good work, good for kids," she said.
"I honor your work in Common Core. It is good for our kids, and you are doing amazing work in raising the expectations," Stroud said.
She added, however, that the PARCC assessments are of more concern to her.
Those exams, if implemented as planned in the 2014-15 school year, would test students on the Common Core standards.
The tests will be administered via computer, and are much more rigorous than typical, multiple-choice standardized tests.
"I'm not sure if PARCC is even going to be ready" for its planned implementation in the 2014-15 school year, she said. "I'm not sure really if Tennessee is going to be ready" for the exams, she continued.
"States are starting to pull out of PARCC. Others are developing their own exams," she noted.
"I can say that I am very concerned about things that are being hooked to this test, such as teacher evaluations, teacher pay, and teacher licensing," Stroud said.
Teacher licensing being tied to the PARCC assessments, she said, particularly concerns her.
"That one says that a teacher can lose your professional license for two consecutive years solely on test scores," she said.
"A professional license is a big thing. We're not talking about malpractice. We're talking about test scores."
Paying teachers based on those test scores, Stroud added, is also of great concern to her.
"Merit pay -- paying teachers based on test scores. I have a problem with that," she said.
The reason, Stroud explained, is that, as educators, teachers "are not building widgets on an assembly line."
Such a pay system, Stroud said, could create an environment that would spark competition among educators.
"We're public servants, and we work together. What makes our district so special is that work -- we open our classroom doors, we gather together, we collaborate, we share, we help one another," she said.
"Adding competition to that in educating children, I don't believe, is the right way to do that," she said.
'BE THE NOISE'
Stroud charged the group with a new direction, which was to "be the noise for kids."
The phrase "be the noise" was inspired by a sticker given to Stroud during a training session last year that said "ignore the noise" concerning education reform, she said.
"I'm not going to be disrespectful at all," she said, "but change is hard. And there's a time when you have to be focused on change and move forward with it regardless of what the detractors say," she said.
"But, Greeneville City Schools, I have a different message for us. My message is to 'be the noise for kids,'" Stroud said.
"When we know there are things going on in our profession that are not the best for students and teachers," she said, that is the time when educators must "be the noise" on their behalf.
"We do have a voice. We are not victims. We will be respectful. We will be professional. But we will be the noise for kids," she said.
"I encourage you to be informed and make your own opinions. Disagree with me. That's fine," she said. "We all need to be informed professionals about the issues."
OTHER SPEAKERS, UPDATES
In addition to the director's message, teachers also heard updates from administrators concerning finances, technology, and instruction.
Allison Adams, executive director of the Greeneville City Schools Education Foundation, gave brief remarks about foundation initiatives, such as grants, that assist educators in the classroom.
New employees were recognized, and a number of door prizes were awarded.
The morning started with refreshments and brief welcoming comments from Board of Education Chairman Craig Ogle and Town of Greeneville Mayor W.T. Daniels.