Oak Ridge and Warren County are the Tennessee Finalists!

Alabama may reign as the National Champion in football, but there is stiff competition coming from Tennessee for the overall grand prize winner of the Tri-State Best K-12 Practices contest.  In the presence of 75+ Tennessee Directors of Schools and Superintendents, the two Tennessee Finalists were revealed at the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents (TOSS) Legislative and Learning Conference.  [The two Alabama finalists were revealed at the Alabama Association of School Board‘s (AASB) Winter Conference in December.  Click here for information on contest winners Eufaula City Schools and Muscle Shoals City Schools.  Louisiana finalists will be revealed later this spring.]

The winning entries — “Strategic Plan 2020” from Oak Ridge Schools and “STEM Education Program” from Warren County Schools – were selected as the “BEST of the Best Practices” submitted from a diverse and competitive field of high quality Tennessee school system entries.

In the 2nd year of this contest in Tennessee — sponsored by TOSS and LEAN Frog — these two EXCEPTIONAL entries were publicly recognized, and each received a $1,000 cash prize.  Both entries will compete against the contest finalists from Alabama (co-sponsored with the Alabama Association of School Boards/AASB) and from Louisiana (co-sponsored with the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents/LASS) for the Grand Prize of $4,000.  The Grand Prize winner will be recognized at a school board meeting so the local community can share in the school system’s recognition for positively impacting student achievement and promoting the effective and efficient use of public resources.

The Oak Ridge Schools’ “Strategic Plan 2020” was initiated by Superintendent Bruce Borchers in 2016 in cooperation with educators, administrators, and community members.  This insightful plan is designed to achieve five strategic goals: academic excellence, educator excellence, learning environment excellence, operational excellence, and stakeholder excellence.  Each strategic goal has a designated owner.  Each goal is monitored and measured with specific quantitative measures.  ORS uses a scorecard system to track each goal and their associated Key Performance Indicators.  As goals are met they are celebrated throughout the school system. Each goal report is shared with the Oak Ridge Board of Education and the community and new/revised goals and strategies for the next year’s improvements are created based upon analysis and input.   This collaborative Best Practice has promoted stakeholder engagement, transparency, and accountability as ORS prepares students for college, career, and life success.

from L-R: Byron Headrick, Holly Cross (ORS Supervisor of Career Readiness and Communications), Bruce Lay (ORS Executive Director of School Leadership), Sherri Headrick

Warren County Schools partnered with business and industry to develop a comprehensive STEM program centered around Mechatronics-a blend of electronics, mechanics, and computer/processor control technologies critical in manufactured products and the manufacturing process.  Working with local industry and the Tennessee Department of Education, WCS created a Mechatronics Pathway curriculum.  Program enhancements now include robotic stimulators in all schools and the “STEM on Wheels” lab that transports robotic equipment and 3-D printing to the schools.  This successful Best Practice has helped students develop system critical thinking skills, problem solving skills, and begins a career path in engineering and industrial manufacturing through the earning of the Level 1 Siemens Mechatronics Industry Certification.

From L to R: Byron Headrick, Bobby Cox (WCS Director of Schools), Sherri Headrick

This year’s Tennessee entries included a wide-range of Best Practices — from a mobile summer feeding program to blended educational opportunities in a suburban/rural area to identifying and helping students from disadvantaged backgrounds succeed in postsecondary education.  We thank all of those who took the time to enter the contest and we applaud all your efforts on behalf of the students in Tennessee public schools!

Stay tuned for detailed posts on each finalist from Alabama, Tennessee, and Louisiana.

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Alabama’s Best Barkley Bridge Elementary-Preparing Teachers and Students in STEM Learning

This is the final post in a six-part series recognizing the winners of the Tennessee’s Best and Alabama’s Best Contests.  Our previous post featured Tennessee’s Best Grand Prize winner Kingsport City Schools (TN), and the following runners up: Indian Valley Elementary (AL), Maury County (TN), Crestline Elementary (AL), and Lauderdale County (TN). Stay tuned for details about an exciting Best K-12 Contest expansion.


“In the 21st century, scientific and technological innovations have become increasingly important as we face the benefits and challenges of both globalization and a knowledge-based economy. To succeed in this new information-based and highly technological society, students need to develop their capabilities in STEM to levels much beyond what was considered acceptable in the past.”  National Science Foundation


Students learn with and from one another during Virtual STEM day at Barkley Bridge.

Students learn with and from one another during Virtual STEM day at Barkley Bridge.

Ensuring that all students have access to high-quality learning opportunities in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) subjects is a concern for many in education. Barkley Bridge Elementary School in Hartselle, Alabama recognizes that supporting both teachers and students in STEM is a game changer.  Barkley Bridge and their comprehensive K-4 STEM program  were recognized by Lean Frog and the Alabama Association of School Boards (AASB) as the Grand Prize Winner of the 3rd Annual Alabama’s Best Contest. Their entry showcases a sustainable approach to “STEM schooling” that is “preparing the little faces of today for a little of what they will face tomorrow.”

Barkley Bridge’s STEM Journey

In August of 2014, Susan Hayes (Barkley Bridge Elementary School’s principal at the time) met with several teacher leaders to discuss a perennial concern: “How do we reach the students we are missing when using traditional educational approaches”? 

The conversations that ensued left them seeking more information about STEM (Science; Technology; Engineering; Mathematics) schooling and the power of problem solving. As a result, the faculty identified five “goals” that they wanted to address in an interdisciplinary manner:

1.       Every Child will engage in STEM/Problem-Based Learning to increase capacity for thinking “outside the box”, to increase persistence and stamina in learning, and to boost resiliency after failure – since failure is a part of learning and life.

2.       Every child will find academic success.  Some find their success through traditional schooling; STEM school will open the doors to more Students.

3.       Every child will be introduced to STEM careers and leadership opportunities.

4.       Every child will develop character and soft skills as well as academic skills.

5.       Fourth grade “graduates” will be on the path to college and career readiness.

Barkley Bridge rightfully recognized that to prepare their students for STEM learning, they needed to prepare their teachers as well.  Teachers engaged STEM experts and prepared themselves by learning more about problem-based learning, higher order questioning, facilitating learning through a design model, and how to seamlessly integrate technology into day-to-day instruction.  Project Lead the Way’s (PLTW) products and approach were identified as the program that would best meet the needs of their students.  Lead teachers at the school piggy-backed on PLTW training at another school district and conducted turnaround training sessions at their school home. This turnaround training helped them achieve the buy-in of teachers throughout the school so everyone was on board by roll-out.  Each grade level offers PLTW models, AMSTI (Alabama, Math, Science, and Technology Initiative) modules, Mystery Science , Kodable coding, and more.

Barkley Bridge solicited and received corporate donations from several Morgan County businesses, including their Partner in Education, Sonoco.  Their Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) also raised community funds for the STEM initiative and as a by-product raised community awareness of the need for a strong STEM program.      

STEM in Action at Barkley Bridge

Barkley Bridge has seen both qualitative and quantitative benefits with the implementation of their comprehensive STEM program. 

1.       Involved parents: Parent volunteers created a “Putting Parents into the Equation” team.  The PPE volunteers work with students to build number sense and problem-solving skills. 

2.       Engaged community: Parents and community helped the school deliver STEM learning beyond the classroom through activities like Family STEM Night, Virtual STEM Day, and a Library Maker Space.

3.       Inspired students: Students, parents, and teachers have commented on the impact of this approach to learning:

a.       “I like sharing ideas and collaborating.  I understand it better and understand the steps better when I am doing and not just watching.”  –Sawyer Tapscott, Fourth Grader

b.       “I have seen my own kids think creatively in ways they have not before.  They no longer just build things, they transform them.”   –Janadah Sartin, PTO President

c.       “My husband works in the STEM industry.  I was showing him what we are doing with coding.  He just kept saying ‘Third graders are doing that?’  He was amazed.”                   –Teacher Wendy Goss

4.       Marked improvement in student Math and Science ACT Aspire scores:



Why we Like this Entry 

Barkley Bridge’s STEM program emphasizes the importance of planning and execution and achieving buy-in.  They identified goals for their STEM program at the onset, planned their work and worked their plan.  Their wide-ranging program involves the support of all stakeholders and helps ensure the sustainability of these best practices in STEM learning.

Susan Hayes (former principal at Barkley Bridge) and Vic Wilson (Supt, Hartselle City Schools) accept the $3000 cash grand prize for Barkley Bridge Elementary School.

Susan Hayes (former principal at Barkley Bridge) and Vic Wilson (Supt, Hartselle City Schools) accept the $3000 cash grand prize for Barkley Bridge Elementary School.


Congratulations Barkly Bridge Elementary School for your Grand-Prize winning entry.  We applaud your students for their growth in learning and in their achievements, the faculty for its commitment and innovation, and the community for its engagement and support.


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3rd Annual Alabama’s Best Contest Receives Inspiring Entries

As Alabama students begin their first full week of school in 2017, we would like to recognize the excellent work of those school systems who participated in the 3rd annual Alabama’s Best Contest.  We congratulate all those who entered the contest, our two runner-up winners, and our grand prize winner.  We hope that learning about these impressive examples of best practices will inspire others in 2017.



The Alabama Association of School Boards (AASB) and LEAN Frog were delighted to continue our tradition of recognizing the great work of Alabama public education with our 3rd Annual “Alabama’s Best” K-12 Practices Contest.  We received inspiring entries that covered the instructional and non-instructional spectrum. Departments such as Special Education, Career Tech, Student Services, Maintenance, Technology entered practices exhibiting strong pedagogical thought and exceptional creativity.  More importantly they showed the intense dedication of our Alabama teachers, educational administrators, and communities to both support and enhance the learning opportunities for our students.

Talladega City Schools students in the Precision Machine/Industrial Maintenance/Robotics Program created a prosthetic hand for a patient in Nepal

Talladega City Schools students in the Precision Machine/Industrial Maintenance/Robotics Program created a prosthetic hand for a patient in Nepal

Some examples of best practice entries included:

  • A robotics program that provides opportunities for students to learn precision machining and participate in community service projects
  • Data collection and analysis of counseling services to better target high needs areas, improve direct student intervention, and educate parents and community members on important issues such as anxiety and drug use
  • Replacement of inefficient metal halide lamps with LED lighting to save money and improve students’ ability to learn and perform
  • A “Garden to table” catering program that enables adolescents and young adults with significant cognitive disabilities to acquire functional, academic, and vocational skills.
Gadsden City Schools students in the "Beautiful Rainbow Catering Company and Garden" program lean about organic gardening.

Gadsden City Schools students in the “Beautiful Rainbow Catering Company and Garden” program lean about organic gardening.

With all the great entries, competition was tight.  We had several rounds of judging to identify the top three entries.

And the 3rd Annual Alabama’s Best winners are . . .

LEAN Frog recognized the winners of the contest at the AASB annual meeting in Birmingham.  The collaborative efforts of each winning best practice tied nicely with AASB’s theme “Together We Can Soar.”  The winning entries included:

  • an online academy featuring teacher-directed, student-led instructional videos
  • an Early Literacy Groups program highlighting teacher-paraprofessional collaboration
  • a comprehensive elementary school STEM program that spans all grade levels


Crestline Elementary School (Hartselle City Schools) and Indian Valley Elementary School (Sylacauga City Schools) were the two-runner up entries. They each received $1000.  Crestline Elementary’s entry, submitted by Instruction Partner Elisha Harris, features instructional videos as part of their Crestline Academy.  The videos allow parents to help their children academically with concepts that have been presented in the classroom.  Students and teachers created the videos to reinforce College and Career Ready standards/strategies for math and reading.  Crestline Academy ensures students have access to instructional support when school is not in session or when students are absent. Indian Valley Elementary’s entry, submitted by Principal Monte Abner, focuses on collaboration between certified teachers and paraprofessionals.  Their Early Literacy Groups (ELGs) deliver explicit reading instruction to students on their level.  The ELGs’ emphasis on phonemic and phonological awareness, comprehensions, writing, and vocabulary have led to 68% of students meeting or exceeding grade level expectations.   Additionally, 93% of kindergarten students are proficient in phonological awareness.

The grand prize winning entry from Barkley Bride Elementary School (Hartselle City Schools) received $3000. Barkley Bridge’s Best Practices in STEM, submitted by Principal Susan Hayes, documents their process for developing and maintaining a comprehensive STEM program for all grades at the school.  From developing goals at the outset that aligned with the district’s strategic plan to involving parents and community partners, Barkley Bridge developed a sustainable approach to “STEM schooling” that has achieved teacher buy-in and significant increases in student ACT Aspire Math scores.

We thank and congratulate all those schools and school systems who submitted entries to the 3rd Annual Alabama’s Best Contest.  You are all winners for the work you put in each day to improve the lives of students in Alabama’s public education system.

COMING THIS WEEK:  The start of a six-part series profiling each of the winners of the Alabama and Tennessee’s Best Contests!

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