Austin-East Won't Be Left Behind

By: Gordon Boyd
By: Gordon Boyd

Knoxville (WVLT) -- The feds call it “No Child Left Behind."

Essentially, it penalizes schools if their students fail to make the grade, either in achievement or improvement.

Some Knox County schools are getting their first taste of it next month and the remedies range from tweaking, to re-vamping.

“This program is amazing,” said Sara Cohen, an Austin-East High School dance teacher, “I believe very strongly in it.”

The Austin-East Dance Company has built its grace and precision on years of dedication and focus, but there are things that underlie their confidence in performance.

“I think they're very confused,” Cohen said. “I think it's a very confusing time right now and I don't blame the kids.

Tennessee and federal graders hold almost all Knox County elementary schools and most middle schools in good standing.

The high schools less so with Austin East, far out of step.

“They're looking very closely as far as what can we do to insure these youngsters will be as successful as they could and should be,” said Dr. Donna Wright, the associate superintendent of curriculum.

Bearden Middle is meeting most benchmarks, so administrators and faculty get lots of flexibility in re-structuring special education

But at Austin-East, restructuring could mean changing what's taught, when it's taught and even who's teaching it.

“Their jobs are not on the line,” said Dr. Wright, “but they might not be employed at Austin-East next year.”

“We won't have to address the tenure issue or the building-level issue,” said Sam Anderson of the Knox County School Board. “Teachers that are very productive will be rewarded and those that are not, will be found other opportunities.”

School Board members and administrators say students and teachers should think of it as commanding a tighter and more focused performance.

“Right now I would tell you that we have more of a cafeteria with a large menu,” said Dr. Wright. “The menu is going to be reduced because the focus must be on the academic piece.”

The teachers and faculty really believe in the students and you would be hard pressed to find anybody there who doesn’t want to be there.

Dance instructor Sara Cohen says she can't imagine Austin-East without dance.

Administrators say she won't have to because next year's courses are far from charted or choreographed.

But much is on the line.

“If the administrators cannot put together a school that gives all children the best opportunity to be successful in life, then we'll make changes at the administrative level,” Anderson said.

Administrators say the re-structured Austin-East High School could be part career academy part magnet school and part junior-college, depending on how the curriculum is defined.


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