By JEROD CLAPP
This is one in a series of Q&As with local schools superintendents.
Though financially solvent, Clarksville Community Schools still faces declining enrollment. But superintendent Kim Knott said that’s leveled off quite a bit over the years and new opportunities will hopefully stop the bleeding altogether.
With expanding 1:1 [computers for every student] and crossing some of the big hurdles with getting its New Tech facility off the ground, Knott said this year will mark a few milestones for her district.
How did you guys start off this year with the introduction of the balanced calendar?
The balanced calendar adjustment has been very smooth. We’re a full month into school and I think come Oct. 9, our teachers and students are going to enjoy the short break that they have.
We had a good start to the school year in that we had online registration this year, which really was a good thing for our parents and our students. It has been a little hectic because we had the vacancy at the elementary and we had to bring someone in. But as far as the students and the parents, it’s been a rather seamless transition for them.
When we have parent teacher conferences, which will be in October, then we’re also going to combine that with a meet and greet for our elementary principal so she’ll actually have the opportunity to talk with parents one-on-one as well.
You’ve had 1:1 in your middle school to some level, but how have you expanded it this year?
We’ve got Chromebooks completely at the middle school, which has been an extremely smooth transition. We were just pleasantly pleased with the process of handing out the Chromebooks, getting kids to log on to Angel and My Big Campus and Google Apps. We had some very creative processes for the teachers to get students to log on, so it’s gone unbelievably well at the middle school, and I’d say that’s partly because they’ve been doing that the longest in the corporation.
We’ve moved all the laptops from the middle school to the high school and then after the holidays, we’ll roll out 1:1 in our elementary.
We’re looking at two different platforms, possibly an iPad for the primaries and we don’t know if we’re going to do laptops or Chromebooks for the upper grades.
Are any of your students taking their devices home?
We’re not opting to spend money at this point in time on insurance so that the children can take the devices home. Insurance is quite costly when you look at the price. We wanted to have software capability, we wanted to have more capability for the kids to do certain kinds of projects. We wanted to use the Chromebooks for testing on ISTEP, which you can’t do without additional software.
We’ve opted not to do insurance and we’ve opted to put the money back into software that kids can use while they’re here in school.
How does it affect the learning environment by leaving the computers at school?
We haven’t seen any difference in the middle school and that’s our baseline. It’s all about the tool, how it’s used and the instruction. We saw that very clearly when teachers were logging onto Google and My Big Campus for the first time this year.
We had several teachers do PowerPoint presentations that were almost like a webinar that would take kids through the process. At one point in time, the kids had to give the teacher a signal as to where they were in the process. Once they saw that, there was no need for conversation.
It’s all about how the tool is used instructionally. If that tool is happening during the school day and it’s being done in a collaborative environment where teachers and students are collaborating, it’s not going to make a difference whether or not the tool is at home.
Now, when we get really good, they’re not going to need a laptop at home. All they’ll need is a mobile device. They’ll be able to access everything from school using their own device. Since the students can access everything as long as they have wifi or the Internet, they can go anywhere to access their work. They won’t need a laptop or be at home if we become a 1:1 community or environment.
How’s enrollment looking and what are you doing to bring in students?
We are down approximately 13 students from last year. We had a very small fifth grade class coming over this year but a very large eighth grade class going to the high school. We’re actually down some teachers at the middle school, but we’re not down teachers overall in the corporation because we had kids go to other grade levels in other buildings.
We have been, over the last 10 years, our enrollment has been declining. Now it’s not been declining as rapidly probably the last three years as it was five years prior to that. We’ve leveled off just a little bit in our decline.
We have not, as I’ve shared in the past, done any kind of formal marketing campaign. I believe and I contend that kids are coming because of word of mouth. That could be either from our own employees, other kids, from other parents, that could be from a variety of sources.
At some point, we will probably embark on some form of marketing campaign. Nikolette [Langdon, information media specialist] is in the process of contacting a couple of advertising agencies that have specific work with non-profit organizations. Clearly, with New Tech coming and our intent to expand that program all the way to the elementary, that will be something different for parents to look at. We have those kinds of plans in the next five years.
We have lots of successes we want to get out there. We’ve had the highest graduation rate of any corporation [in this area] for the last four years. Our high school has been an A school for two years in a row, we expect the rating barring any significant changes this year, to again be very high.
There are a lot of unbelievable things at our elementary with reading improvement and the percentage of kids reading at grade level according to IREAD. We’re at that 90 percent benchmark, which is critical for us and parents.
The one thing I can say is that when you walk into that elementary, or any of our buildings for that matter, you forget how the demographics have changed in Clarksville. It is not apparent, and I think that’s a huge testament to what our teachers and our principals are doing every day.
What needs to be done with New Tech by the end of this school year?
We have a lot to do. We have a great number of things to do. We start the interview process for the principal next week, so that’s one of the immediate tasks we must complete. Once that’s done, that individual will start the interview process for the staff. While that’s going on, we’ll disseminate information to our parents and students and embarking on parents and student meetings.
We will then start having early committals. Once we get those, all of those folks, students, staff, principals will be involved in the actual design process of that building. All of that’s going to happen prior to the holiday break. It’s going to be fast and furious.
In addition to that process, we’ve got the process of choosing the architects. They’re submitting their design-bid proposals. We’ll open those proposals on Oct. 11, present them to the board the following week and hopefully begin to award a design, come back to the board and open the prices.
How do you think that facility will affect your enrollment?
I don’t know. We’re hopeful, I’m going to tell you that. It’s clearly going to be a different kind of educational opportunity. I think it will appeal to parents and students. I think the first year is going to be our pilot year, so to speak. I think everybody’s going to kind of stand back and see how that first year goes. I think we’ll see much more interest the second year than the first year.
We’ve got some options on that third year when we want to expand it. We may add an eighth grade and an 11th grade. We may just want to stay with 11 and 12. We’ll have some options at that point in time based on the success of the first two years.
You’ve got a lot going on with existing capital projects, new projects and New Tech. How hard is it to juggle all of that?
It is probably the most intense last few months that I’ve experienced since I’ve gone into leadership, We have a lot on our plate, to say the least. You’ve got two legal projects that you can’t miss a timeline with, we’re juggling budget preparation in all of that in trying to see how we’re going to scaffold all these bonds into place so it has minimal or no impact on the taxpayers. Then, we’re trying to choose a staff so they can be a part of the process and market the project at the same time.
We’ve got a very full plate, and that’s just for the new projects. We’ve still got lots of things going on in the buildings. We are very busy, it’s very exciting to see where we are in comparison to where we’ve been.
I would much rather have it like this than going back to the days where we had no dollars and having to look at other options for our district. It’s very rewarding. There are days where I leave saying, “Wow, if you would have told me we would be doing all of this five years ago, I would have said there would have been no way.’
Where do you want to see your district by June?
By the end of this school year, we’re on the process of goal setting. I want to see our staff, teachers, principals, maintenance departments, transportation, technology, all using data from their areas to support improving student achievement in this district.
We’ve been using measurable goals and data very well in our buildings. We need to make it more meaningful and useful for our teachers. We’re expanding that concept to athletics, maintenance, food service, so the supporting departments will do a similar process that our buildings have been doing for three years.
We always need the practice of getting better at using data to make decisions, whether that’s how we improve our facilities, cleanliness, food selection, to make a better learning environment for our kids. That way, they can have the best facilities for their education. We’ve got a long way to go to make that meaningful and relevant. But using that classroom data will be a huge accomplishment for us. We’ve really in five years just transformed our school district.