Education conference to be held

By Abby Morris
Star Staff
amorris@starhq.com

   KINGSPORT -- Educators and parents across the Northeast Tennessee Region will get a chance to learn more about the national No Child Left Behind Act and how it affects them here on Thursday, just two days after President George W. Bush made a major announcement about the program from Capitol Hill.
   Assistant U.S. Department of Education Secretary, Carol D'Amico, will speak to leaders and citizens during an all-day workshop held at the Eastman Employee Center on Wilcox Drive. Issues surrounding the president's plan will be discussed.
   One portion of the No Child Left Behind Act requires that all states submit an accountability plan detailing the ways they will move forward to meet the goals of the program.
   "The law requires that all states submit an accountability plan to the Department of Education by January 2003. The law permits the department 120 days to review and approve those plans," U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige said Tuesday in an on-line question-and-answer conference on Tuesday afternoon.
   "Today (Tuesday) represents the 120th day. And today the President announced that every one of the 50 states as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have had their plans approved. We congratulate each of the chief state school officers for their hard work and commitment to making this a reality," Paige said.
   The No Child Left Behind Program provides direction for schools not only to improve performance through maintaining highly qualified educators but also to improve in other ways such as implementing better school safety.
   "In 2000, students ages 12 through 18 were victims of about 2 million crimes at school, including about 128,000 serious violent crimes (including rape, sexual assault, robbery and aggravated assault). That same year, about 29 percent of students in grades 9 through 12 reported that someone had offered, sold or given them an illegal drug on school property," a report by the U.S. Department of Education released earlier this month states. "While overall school crime rates have declined over the last few years, violence, gangs and drugs are still present, indicating that more work needs to be done."
   To help make learning easier for students by providing a safe atmosphere in which to learn, the program allows for the parents of children who have been the victims of a violent crime or whose children attend a school that has been deemed "persistently dangerous" to choose to send their child to another school.
   According to Paige, the main focus of the program, however, is to improve the quality of education afforded to children all across the nation. One way in which No Child Left Behind hopes to improve the quality of education is by requiring that school districts ensure that only "highly qualified" educators are hired. "In general, a highly qualified teacher is one with full certification, a bachelor's degree and demonstrated competence in subject knowledge and teaching," according to the report by the USDOE. In addition, schools which receive Title II funding through the program are required to make sure that all presently employed staff also meet those same requirements by the conclusion of the 2005-2006 school year.
   "The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 is a very complex law. It is a tough law. It requires a change in the way business is done in most states and schools. It has many challenging elements," Paige said Tuesday in the online session. "But the requirement that appears the most challenging is the highly qualified teacher element of the law. While all schools and school districts agree that having a highly qualified teacher be in every classroom is important, some face challenges in insuring that every Title I school has highly qualified teachers this year."
   During the course of the conference Thursday, those in attendance will also hear from area educators and business professionals about the many roles the community plays in the program and how the state and local school systems can comply with the No Child Left Behind program.
   Workshops will be presented on the importance of school-based mental health services, the skills gap in the Northeast Tennessee Region and the importance of childhood development.
   The conference is free and open to the public. Registration will begin at 7:30 a.m. with a keynote address beginning at 8:30. Events and workshops will continue throughout the day until 4 p.m. For more information, contact Lucretia Sanders at (423) 224-2070.