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Harwell addresses DAR, explains learning gaps

By ZOË HAGGARD - zhaggard@t-g.com
Posted 3/29/22

Bedford County Schools Assistant Superintendent Tim Harwell delivered a school update to Shelby Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) Wednesday.  

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Harwell addresses DAR, explains learning gaps


Bedford County Schools Assistant Superintendent Tim Harwell delivered a school update to Shelby Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) Wednesday.  

Formerly an 8th grade social studies teacher at Harris Middle School, Harwell described how he used to teach the Revolutionary War Battle of Bunker Hill (or the Battle of Breeds Hill) to his students.  

“I am a history guy, and one of my favorite periods to teach was the American Revolution,” he said.  

Harwell said to make history engaging for his young students, he would take them outside to do a mock battle. The students were split into the British and the Patriots as they scattered across a small hillside near the school.  

Harwell said it gave a good visualization for the battle’s most famous line “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes.” And the students remembered the lesson.  

“One of the coolest things that happens as an educator...when a student gets back to you at some point, and they say ‘thank you’ and can remember a particular lesson. And that’s happened,” Harwell said.  

Harwell emphasized that education has changed drastically since the pandemic. “COVID dominated our world in education.”  

Some of the biggest changes for BCS that came from the shutdown include buying every student a laptop for increased online learning as well as moving graduation ceremonies outside for the first time ever—which BCS plans to continue.  

Harwell said they have more prepared for the 2021 school year. However, the learning gaps, especially in math, have resulted.  

Primarily, these learning gaps came from extended periods of students missing school, Harwell explained. Students in the vicinity of another student positive with COVID-19 became “close contacts,” and were required to leave school for two weeks and go virtual.  

“Is that conducive to education? It’s not,” said Harwell. “The results from our state testing last year—across the state— our proficiency levels in all subject areas that are tested went down, in some cases drastically down.”  

Some students with high anxiety do learn better virtually, according to Harwell. However, he said he is a firm believer in student-to-student interaction and consistency.  

BCS used federal ESSER funds (totaling $24.5 million for the County) to provide more tutors in the districts, to purchase 9,000 laptops, and to build a new wing at Community High School. The money will “run out” in 2024.  

“Our objective is to try to fill in those learning gaps as much as we can while we have this time and money,” Harwell said. “And we’re beginning to see those gaps close, but there’s still a long way to go.”  

They are also working on gearing certain students toward summer school, targeting the students who “need it the most,” according to Harwell. Usually, these are students who fall below the 25th percentile in their Benchmark reading scores, Harwell explained.  

As a result of these learning gaps, a new funding formula, which will be “student-based,” in the state is being debated.  

“That means that, if I were a Hispanic student, ESL student, I would get more money. If I were a special-ed student, I would get more money, because I’m going to need more support than the average student. If I come from a low socioeconomic home, I’m going to get more money.”  

Harwell said it is determined at the beginning of the year which students are in the “low socioeconomic range” through a form they fill out that details their family’s income.  

Harwell said Bedford has a lot of students that fall under those three categories. Therefore, if the new formula is passed in mid-April, Bedford would receive $11 million more in additional funding year after year, according to Harwell.  

“Not all systems are going to benefit from it, and some of those superintendents are screaming pretty loud. So, it’s going to be interesting to see what happens,” he said.  

“We’re a big county geographically...We’re a small county when it comes to revenue, and our school system suffers as a result of that,” Harwell said. “But we’re prioritizing our needs and getting [the budget] to where it’s supporting our students.”