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A Nation In Mourning

Local_news
County Schools Get Top Academic Growth Rate On State Report Card

The Tennessee Department of Education released a new state report card showing Greene County students had a high academic growth rate in the 2017-18 year.

The student academic growth measurement, one of six indicators available on the new report card, shows whether students are making progress from year to year. Greene County Schools achieved the highest level possible.

“Great highlights include growth scores — all 5s — and our attendance,” Director of Schools David McLain said Tuesday. “I am extremely proud of the hard work that our teachers and staff do each and every day.”

The report card also indicated how chronically out of school students were in the 2017-18 academic year. Students who miss at least 10 percent of school days, or about 18 days if enrolled the full year, are considered chronically absent.

Greene County Schools had an 8.4 percent chronic absentee rate, compared to the state, which had a 13.3 percent chronic absentee rate. Greene County’s rate decreased 2.1 percent since the previous academic year.

“Greene County’s ‘Chronically Out of School’ students saw a decrease of 2.1 percent from the previous year and 4.9 percent lower than the state average,” Interim K-8 Data Assessment and Evaluation Supervisor Jennifer Teague said. “Attendance has been an emphasis for some time in our district and it is indicated in the data.”

Teague added that with five Greene County schools being named as Reward Schools in the last academic year, it was no surprise that the data reflects what is happening in the classrooms.

“Most notable would be ‘Student Growth’ with a Level 5 — the — assigned to every category: English language arts, mathematics, science and social studies.

South Greene High School was the only county school that received a perfect score for student academic growth. Chuckey-Doak Middle School scored a 3.9 out of 4.0, McDonald Elementary School scored a 3.8, and Mosheim Elementary School scored a 3.7.

Four county schools scored a 3.6: Chuckey Elementary School, Ottway Elementary School, and North Greene and West Greene high schools. Chuckey-Doak High School scored a 3.2, and all other county schools scored below 3.

The newly available report card is intended to help families better understand school performance and support student success, a news release from the state says.

The updated design of the report card and information that is included in the tool, including the new rating system, is based on input the state department received as it developed a plan to transition to the new federal K-12 education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, and has several components that are unique to Tennessee.

“We want families to have easy access to information about their school’s performance and how it is meeting the needs of all students, and we want them to have that context on a variety of metrics that encompass success,” Commissioner Candice McQueen said in the release. “The report card provides parents and community members with an additional snapshot of information to understand how their school is performing, see successes, and know where to ask questions and get engaged.”

While the department has published a state report card for a number of years, the redesigned version includes several updates.

For the first time, the report card provides schools with ratings on indicators designated in “Tennessee Succeeds,” the state’s Every Student Succeeds Act plan. These indicators capture different aspects of school performance and include academic achievement, student academic growth, chronic absenteeism, progress on English language proficiency and graduation rate, the release says.

The rating system provides a score of 0.0 to 4.0 on each indicator, similar to a grade-point average, with 4.0 being the highest. Ratings are based either on how well the school is doing overall or how much it improved over the last year; the school receives the higher of the two.

The report card also includes a new measure called the Ready Graduate indicator that looks for students’ readiness for college and career to let families know how students are being prepared for life after graduation.

South and North Greene High Schools both received a 3.0 Ready Graduate score. Chuckey-Doak High School got a score of 2.0. West Greene High School received a rating of 1.4 for that indicator.

Ready Graduate indicates the percentage of students who graduate and earn at least a 21 on the ACT or 1060 on the SAT, demonstrating readiness for college and careers.

The report card is available at https://reportcard.tnk12.gov/.


Local_news
Trial For Kendra Tweed Set For May 2019

Erick Eugene Jones Jr. was sentenced last week to 50 years in prison in connection with the December 2014 deaths of Kynsleigh Easterly and Trinity Brooke Tweed, in addition to six more years for an unrelated offense.

Kendra Lashae Tweed, the mother of the little girls, had a May 13, 2019, Greene County Criminal Court trial date set Friday.

Tweed, 25, had a trial date set by Judge John F. Dugger Jr. She was charged in November 2015 with two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of aggravated child endangerment and two counts of aggravated child neglect in connection with the Dec. 17, 2014, deaths of 14-month-old Kynsleigh and 2-month-old Trinity.

The girls were found unresponsive on the morning of Dec. 17, 2014, in the North Hardin Street house they lived in with their mother, Jones and a 3-year-old daughter of Tweed’s who was staying with a relative that night and was not injured.

Testimony at Jones’ September Criminal Court jury trial revealed that the girls died of separation of their spinal cords from the bases of their brains. Their bodies were also covered with abrasions, cuts and bruises. Each suffered blunt force trauma injuries and their cause of death was ruled a homicide, trial testimony showed.

Prosecutors sought the death penalty for Jones, who was convicted of lesser counts of of facilitation of first-degree felony murder during the perpetration of aggravated child abuse of Kynsleigh Easterly, facilitation of first-degree felony murder during the perpetration of aggravated child neglect of Kynsleigh, facilitation of first-degree felony murder during the perpetration of aggravated child neglect of Kynsleigh, facilitation of first-degree felony murder during the perpetration of aggravated child abuse of Trinity Tweed and facilitation of first-degree felony murder during the perpetration of aggravated child neglect of Trinity.

The jury also found Jones guilty of facilitation or knowing aggravated assault of Kynsleigh, aggravated child neglect of Kynsleigh, facilitation or knowing aggravated assault of Trinity, and aggravated child neglect of Trinity.

Criminal facilitation generally refers to knowingly assisting another person in the commission of a crime.

The prosecution put on more than 20 witnesses at trial with the aim of convincing the jury that Jones, 25, was responsible for the girls’ deaths.

“It was always the state’s theory that he was the one who killed the children,” 3rd Judicial District Attorney General Dan E. Armstrong, lead prosecutor at trial, said after Jones was sentenced by Dugger.

Neither Jones or Tweed testified at Jones’ trial, although at least two statements Jones gave to investigators pointed to Tweed as the person responsible for the deaths of Kynsleigh and Trinity.

Jones gave at least five conflicting statements to investigators that initially implicated the father of one of the little girls. He alternately suggested that a skillet containing Pine-Sol he heated on the stove may have generated fumes that caused the girls’ deaths.

Jones is not the biological father of either victim. Trial testimony showed that Jones was under the influence of drugs when the girls died, and made no effort to call for help until after Tweed returned home on the morning of Dec. 17, 2014.

Tweed was a home health care aid who was looking after an elderly woman in Greeneville several miles away on the night of Dec. 16-17, 2014. Jones said in at least two statements given to police that he called Tweed and told her Kynsleigh had a seizure and she returned home during the night, became upset and violently shook both of the little girls.

Trial testimony showed Kynsleigh had no medical history of seizures.

T. Wood “Woody” Smith, Tweed’s lawyer, said last week after Jones’ sentencing that conflicting versions of events that night given to investigators undermined any credibility he may have had.

Tweed is not responsible for the deaths of her daughters, Smith said.

Tweed is charged with the offenses in connection with a Tennessee statute known as “Haley’s Law,” named after a Campbell County child who suffered serious injuries after enduring severe abuse by her father and stepmother. The law makes it a Class A Felony to abuse a child who is under the age of 9 in a way that leads to bodily injury.

Tweed’s mother and the grandmother of Kynsleigh and Trinity, Donna Greene, said last week after Jones was sentenced that she has no doubt he is the person responsible for the deaths of the children.

“Twenty-five years (for each child) does not cover the loss of my babies,” she said. “How is that justice?”

Kendra Tweed remains deeply affected by the loss of her children as she awaits her trial date, her mother said.

“She is losing her mind,” Greene said.

Jones maintained his innocence at trial. He has a motion hearing set for Jan. 25, 2019, for Dugger to hear arguments by defense lawyers for a new trial.

Tweed remains held on bond in the Greene County Detention Center. She also has three unrelated cocaine possession charges allegedly committed before her arrest in 2015 pending that are also scheduled for trial on May 13, 2019.

Armstrong said after sentencing that he respected the jury’s decision to convict Jones on the lesser facilitation of first-degree murder charge. At trial, prosecutors never wavered from their contention that Jones is the person responsible for the little girls’ deaths.

“Basically, (Dugger) gave him 25 years for each child at 85 percent (release eligibility) and ran those (convictions) consecutively,” Armstrong said.

Kendra Tweed raised the children in an environment where there was alleged drug use and drug sales, prosecutors said after her 2015 arrest.

Armstrong said after Tweed was charged in 2015 that while Jones was charged with murder in the girls’ deaths, she was never ruled out as a suspect.

“It just took a little longer to look at all that happened and develop the evidence,” Armstrong said. “She was always a person of interest in regards to the children’s death.”


Local_news
City Schools Perform Higher Than State Average

The Greeneville City Schools performed higher than the state average on six key indicators for student achievement in the 2017-18 academic year.

Those six performance indicators are the focus of the new, redesigned report card that was released Tuesday by the Tennessee Department of Education. Report cards for districts and individual schools were both released.

“We are very proud of the accomplishments of our students and educators,” said Greeneville Director of Schools Steve Starnes. “These results reflect the continued tradition of excellence that Greeneville City Schools has exhibited through the years. While GCS continues to rank as one of the top performing school districts in the state, we will continue to focus on student growth in all areas as we strive for continuous improvement.”

The new report card is intended to help families better understand school performance and support student success, according to a release from the State Department of Education.

The updated design of the report card and information that is provided, including a new rating system, is based on input the department received as it developed a plan to transition to the new federal K-12 education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, and has several components that are unique to Tennessee, the release said.

The six performance indicators reflect areas from the state’s plan to meet federal requirements. The report card included measures of academic achievement, student academic growth, chronic absenteeism, progress on English language proficiency by non-English speakers and graduation rate.

As a district, the Greeneville School System had 54.8 percent of its students last year scoring “on track” or “mastered” on annual state tests, almost 15 percentage points higher than the Tennessee average.

While the district and state report card measures are reflected primarily as percentages, individual school report cards reflect measurements for each of the indicators on a scale of 0 to 4, which four being the highest. According to Tennessee Education Commissioner Dr. Candice McQueen, a “2” is considered average. On the academic achievement indicator, four of the six schools have a score of “3” or higher.

Another indicator looks at how much students are growing from year to year academically. The Greeneville School System received a Level 5 rating in overall student growth, the highest ranking given, and a Level 5 in English language arts, math, science and social studies, according to the report card. On the school level, most of the schools had scores above “3” with Greeneville High School scoring a “4.”

While the state has previously released academic achievement and growth results for the last academic year, the report card features information about chronic absenteeism that had not been released in earlier reports.

Chronic absenteeism is defined by the state as a student who misses 10 percent or more of school days for any reason in a given year. This equates to 18 days or more from school and includes both excused and unexcused absences.

The school system had 6.1 percent of its students in 2017-18 defined as chronically absent, compared with 13.3 percent statewide.

This low rate can be attributed to the support that the system has from the community, General Sessions Judge Ken Bailey and the district’s attendance officer Renee Pickering in realizing the importance of regular school attendance, said Assistant Director of Schools For Instruction Dr. Suzanne Bryant.

“The community, Judge Bailey and Renee have helped the Greeneville City Schools to become one of the best systems in the state in regards to attendance,” she said.

The system’s out-of-school suspensions have dropped a half of a percentage point from the previous year to 2.5 percent. The statewide percentage is 5.4 percent. The district had no expulsions last year.

On the school level, all scored “2” or higher with the high school scoring a “4.”

New this year to the report card is the Ready Graduate indicator. While the indicator will include other factors in coming years, last year’s indicator reflects the percentage of graduates who scored a composite score of 21 or higher on the ACT.

Greeneville had 50.6 percent of its graduates scoring 21 or higher. The state average was 35.8 percent. GHS had a Ready Graduate score of 3.2.

Additional information provided by the state for this measure includes the percentage of graduates who had a concentration in career and technical education. The 19.7 percent for the system is a four percentage point increase from the previous year.

Graduation rate is another indicator on the report card. The Greeneville system’s graduation rate is 95.3 percent, six percentage points higher than the state average. GHS received a 3.7 score on the graduation rate indicator.

The dropout rate for the system is .4 percent, a 1.1 percent decrease over the previous two school years.

The percentage of students who pursue postsecondary education after they graduate from GHS is 74.3 percent with 72.1 percent either attending a community college or a four-year institution.

As a school system, Greeneville has 57.8 percent of its English language learners meeting the standards on the state’s assessment test, which is measured in the Progress on English Language Proficiency indicator. The state averaged 50.4 percent.

Only one school in the system had an individual rating, Tusculum View Elementary School, which had a 4.0 score. Tusculum View was the only school that had 10 or more English language students taking the assessment.


Kendra Lashae Tweed