City schools work to meet standards

By Julie Fann
STAR STAFF
jfann@starhq.com

  
Over the next five years, the Elizabethton City School System will be implementing new standards as a result of the "No Child Left Behind" act passed by the Bush administration last year. New regulations went into effect at the beginning of the 2002 academic year.
   The act requires all teachers and teacher's aides be "highly qualified" by 2006. However, how that is accomplished is somewhat unclear and varies according to the type of school and the teacher.
   For example, teacher's aides hired at Title I schools (schools with more students who live at or below the poverty level), must, by 2006, have two years of college education because students who attend those schools are considered at higher risk. Eastside and Harold McCormick are considered Title I schools.
   "It's not a problem right now. The problem is with the employees we already have who are excellent employees, but who may not have two years of college education. What we must do, which is very unclear to the public, is give those employees a test that we design ourselves," said Judy Blevins, Superintendent of Elizabethton City Schools.
   Blevins said school board members agreed to administer the GED competency exam to those employees as well as new-hires.
   "Those we interview will be informed that when the state or federal government comes out with their own exam for our employees, they will be required to pass that exam as well," she said. "But we feel that if they can pass our test, they will be able to pass another test."
   For full-time teachers, there has been some unofficial guidance from the federal government, like suggesting teachers have degrees in subjects they teach, or pass a test on the topic. Most Tennessee teachers already meet those standards, and elementary school teachers will be exempt, but middle school teachers will have a tougher time, said Debbie Gilliam, director of teacher quality and special programs at the state Department of Education.
   Middle school teachers don't get certified in particular subjects, so are less likely to have to meet the requirement.
   "Our teachers now have five years to become certified in the area they're teaching in, or the federal government has given an option that they may just be able to take a test in that area, such as the Praxis exam for science teachers," Blevins said.
   From now on, Blevins cannot hire a new middle or high school teacher unless they are certified to teach in their area.
   Blevins said she isn't concerned older teachers may quit due to the new regulations.
   "Our teachers feel confident that they have the time needed and that we will help them get the certification they need," she said.