Area schools look for collaboration to help funding woes

Sometimes there is hope in knowing you are not alone. The three public school districts in Blount County have been combing budgets and keeping a close eye on expenditures in anticipation of impending budget deficits, according to a press release from Maryville City Schools.

The release cites statewide concerns, including projects and programs being halted in Chattanooga, Nashville and other areas across the state. Also cited were the recent decisions by Maryville City to halt further excavation work on the new school on Sevierville Road and the delay of expansion work at Maryville High School. In Alcoa, the preliminary planning for building a new high school has been postponed.

According to the release, as Alcoa and Maryville school administrators have worked with planners to define both space and programming needs for future high schools, they have been in conversation with other school districts about lots of creative designs and innovative programs. Since both high school projects are now on hold, the release says administrators are using this time to explore some ideas that are working well for school districts in other parts of the country.

“This period of exploration is allowing us to really think outside the box,” said Mike Winstead, assistant director of schools for Maryville. “While we may not move on these ideas immediately or ever, this open approach to identifying best-practices will allow us to make better short-term and long-term decisions for current and future students in this community.”

One example given that has also caught the eye of the Alcoa system is the trend toward embracing high school curriculum plans that focus specifically on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (referred to as STEM). An organization based in Knox County called VOLS4STEM was recently formed to act as a clearinghouse to link science and engineering professionals with students and educators. Many of the schools on the Top 100 schools in the country use STEM as a major part of their curriculum, said the press release.

“With the new technology park planned locally and in response to our business partners and the latest research, STEM is high on our “must consider” list” said Tom Shamblin, Alcoa director of schools.

Collaboration is also coming into play for schools that all face budget crisis.

“As local school districts work together to research best practices, respond to growth, and manage dwindling budgets we are very open to having conversations that support creativity, innovation and collaboration,” said Stephanie Thompson, Maryville director of schools. “For example, one of the goals we are reviewing as part of our strategic planning process includes offering more college credit-bearing courses at the high school, including Advanced Placement (AP) and dual-credit. Alcoa has the same goal. Why wouldn’t we consider collaborating with higher education and each other on a possible solution?”

According to John Campbell, director of administrative services for Alcoa Schools, “We should be exploring lots of funding options such as private funding or private/public partnerships. We owe it to this community to be both creative and fiscally responsible; we shouldn’t allow our traditional alignment or individual identities to keep us from finding solutions that work for this community and serve our shared mission.”

“Wonderful things can result from simple conversations and new, innovative ideas” said Thompson. “We are really getting good at brainstorming. And the more we do, the more creative we get. Our ability to sustain the level of excellence our stakeholders expect, while leading the organization through this time of economic crisis, will require creativity, support and collaboration from all our partners.”

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