At the Phoenix School, choices, not circumstances determine a student’s future.

Linda Dunaway, the new pathway coach, is working to help students make choices for their life after high school.

“Many of our students are not aware of the opportunities available to them, and they don’t know where to begin to find a job or a training program,” Dunaway said. “I hope to help each student develop a goal for his or her future, and to develop a plan for reaching that goal.”

“The kids are responding wonderfully,” Dunaway said.

Dunaway’s position is made possible through a District Priority School Improvement Grant from the Tennessee Department of Education. The $150,000, three-year grant helps the school provide personnel, programs and supplies to meet its goal. The grant has no local funding requirement. 

Dunaway is a veteran teacher with 34 years’ experience. She helps students identify possible career paths and develop a plan for after high school. 

Principal Stefanie Barnes said, “Many students may not have someone to push them and ask, ‘What are you going to do after high school? Her job is to help them develop a goal for themselves and to reach that goal.”

Dunaway uses the Naviance software program the school purchased with grant funds to help students inventory their interests and explore opportunities at colleges or trade schools. She’s currently working with students on entrance exams and ACT preparation. She has several students planning to attend Tennessee College of Applied Technology at Crossville.

She also takes students on field trips to local businesses and companies where they learn about local workforce needs.

“We want to get them out and show them the options that our community has to offer them,” Barnes said.

When the school learned about the grant opportunity, Barnes said she and her staff began asking what the grant could do to benefit the students. They knew they wanted to offer the pathway coach to help make that connection between high school and the rest of their lives, and they also hired a full-time coordinator for its Response to Intervention program. This program helps students with specific academic skills they may struggle with.

But they also wanted to see what programs their students were interested in.

“They wanted automotive,” Barnes said.

The students transformed their vocational shop to serve agriculture, welding and automotive classes.

“They do maintenance and light repair classes on campus,” she said. 

The new program had helped bring a student back to school to finish his high school diploma, Barnes said. 

“That’s what we’re about,” Barnes said. “He wasn’t coming back. Now he’s back and wants to graduate.”

 

Academic Hurdles

 

The Phoenix School serves students at risk of not graduating on time. It serves about 70 students in grades 10-12, and students must apply to attend Phoenix. The faculty and staff provide personalized instruction and a family-type school atmosphere.

“It’s all based on need,” Barnes previously told the Chronicle. “Is it because of mental health or anxiety issues in larger schools? Are they at risk of failing and not graduating?”

Phoenix is an independent school with its own school number. This helps the school find unique resources, but it also poses a challenge for state academic reporting. Many of the students face academic hurdles. Data shows many of the students have moved from school to school or repeated grades in the past. Many struggle with reading a literacy. 

The state designated the school a Comprehensive Support and Intervention School in 2017-’18. 

In the most recent test data, the school had no students scoring as “on track” or “mastered” in Algebra I or II, and 4.8% scored “on track” or “mastered” in geometry. In English, the school scores 0 on English I end-of-course tests and 5% on English II.

The state’s growth scores look at the academic growth students have from year to year, measured on a 5-point scale. A score of 3 means students grew the expected amount. Phoenix scored an overall 1 in academic growth. It scored 2 in literacy, 2 in numeracy, 1 in literacy and numeracy and 1 in social studies. 

The school saw a reduction in chronic absenteeism last year, with 57.1% students missing 18 or more days during the school year, down from 66.7% the year before. 

The state assigned the school an overall determination score of 1.8 — satisfactory. This score looks at academic achievement, growth, absenteeism and graduates considered college or career ready. 

Director of Schools Janet Graham said, “They’re working hard every single day. I think that’s evident when you see the chronic absenteeism.”

 

Transition Academy

 

The Phoenix School also serves other student populations, with programs for children as young as 18 months in need of special education intervention services; alternative school programs for middle and high school students; the special day school for children with emotional disturbances; and the transition academy.

The transition academy helps students who completed a special education diploma in Cumberland County learn life skills for independent living. 

Teacher George Kington turns the community into a learning lab, with students developing job skills or practicing how to make purchases. 

“My biggest job is to get students a job and a place to live when they exit my program,” Kington said. 

He works with Vocational Rehabilitation and adult services organizations to assist students.

Kington has led the program for six years, with 14 students completing the academy. Of those, 13 graduates are working in the community in supportive or full-time employment.

“Our job is to increase the quality of life for these folks,” he said. 

He was excited to announce a new job training site for students in the food service department of Cumberland County High School.

Graham said, “They were there the next day. Those kids are so happy to be there and to contribute.”

Graham said plans were in the works to construct a new classroom for the Transition Academy that would provide an apartment-like classroom, allowing students to practice homemaking skills like cooking and laundry, as well. 

Funding was included in the 2019-’20 school budget for the project, which would also free up a classroom on the Phoenix campus for additional classes.

Heather Mullinix is editor of the Crossville Chronicle. She covers schools and education in Cumberland County. She may be reached at hmullinix@crossville-chronicle.com.

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