Early in 2012, Tennessee was one of the first 10 states to be granted a waiver from No Child Left Behind.
The news came as no surprise to those following the monthslong application process—finalized with a bill signing by Gov. Bill Haslam in May— but it was one of many education stories whose effects had an impact on schools both across the state and in Hamilton County.
Locally, school officials began the year discussing a controversial plan to rezone areas of East Hamilton County and Ooltewah—a plan that affected hundreds of students and families. Despite hearing multiple complaints from parents of more than 500 students included in the plan, Hamilton County School Board members ultimately voted 5-3 to approve the plan.
In March, school officials began the task of renovating a 17,000-square-foot facility into a fully operating STEM school and selected a principal for the school in April. By August, the school opened with a class of 75.
In May, the Hamilton County Commission approved the school system's $330 million general operating budget.
In the realm of testing, Hamilton County schools showed improvements in all TCAP subject areas, falling in line with gains made at the state level. The gains were enough to remove Chattanooga's Howard School from state watch lists, an improvement that educators at the local level hoped to see continue in the future.
Six schools in Hamilton County achieved Reward status with the state—the highest level under a new state accountability system and good enough to make the schools eligible for $2 million in Race to the Top funds.
Tennessee's efforts to improve and reform education statewide were also heralded by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who said the state was setting the example for how to use federally backed Race to the Top Funds in order to further their goals across the state.
Despite an increase in the average ACT test score, Tennessee posted the second-lowest scores on the standardized test in the nation for the second straight year. But on the state report card, Hamilton County schools showed improvements in every subject area.
Delivering his annual "state of the schools" address, Smith said he anticipated that addressing growth would be a continuing theme for school officials in the coming years and added that he personally opposed the idea of the state offering school vouchers to students.
And closing out the year, Smith and board members discussed the possibility of upgrading the schools' wireless systems and equipping each of Hamilton County's 42,000 students with an iPad-like device.
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