Ethan Steinquest/Macon County Times Macon County High School math teachers Austin Craighead (at left) and Beverly Reid were presented with medals recognizing their work teaching algebra II on Aug. 21, after TNReady data was released showing the county's students had higher growth in the subject than any other school district in Tennessee.

Ethan Steinquest/Macon County Times

Macon County High School math teachers Austin Craighead (at left) and Beverly Reid were presented with medals recognizing their work teaching algebra II on Aug. 21, after TNReady data was released showing the county's students had higher growth in the subject than any other school district in Tennessee.

Macon County is the most improved district in the state in algebra II scores, climbing 15.4% over 2018.

The new data comes from the Tennessee Department of Education's (TDOE) 2019 TNReady results, which are intended to measure students' comprehension of various subjects.

"We're very excited about the results," Macon County High School Principal B.J. West said. "We've got some awesome teachers at MCHS, and algebra II in the year before was an area that needed some work."

West credited the growth to instructors Beverly Reid and Austin Craighead's ability to engage students in the material, which could otherwise be confusing or abstract.

"For example, (Reid) does a great job teaching with a top-down approach," West said. "She really works on helping kids apply the concepts to real-world problems, and it's almost about giving students an opportunity to create."

This year, the staff at MCHS aims to continue its success in algebra II, with Reid and Craighead joined by a third teacher (Rebecca White) because of the size of the sophomore class.

"You have to make sure you can get the material across no matter what kind of student you're working with," Reid, who has taught math for nearly 20 years, said. "I was a computer-science major who worked in app development and found in teaching that I could use those skills to help kids in the classroom. To me, the best part of the job is ... seeing those kids doing well in your room."

Craighead said that he focuses on building relationships with his students and making sure they have enough opportunities to practice new concepts.

"Miss Lori Carter at the junior high inspired me to become a teacher when I was in sixth grade," Craighead said, noting that math was one of his favorite subjects. "I'm a younger teacher, but I still see the students as my kids, and I have a responsibility to take care of them. I think it helps that I can have that kind of relationship with them but also take on a role like an older brother if I need to."

Along with continued progress in math, MCHS hopes to boost other academic scores over the course of the 2019-20 school year.

"Literacy continues to be an issue we have to attack and address schoolwide," West said of the school's other academic priorities. "We're pushing the ACT more than anything, because that's the only test that's going to mean anything after high school."

Student growth on the other side of the county also contributed to the district's high marks.

Red Boiling Springs High School Principal Don Jones sees the roots of that improvement stretching back to each student's freshman year.

"We're pleased with the scores for certain," Jones said. "We have excellent teachers, excellent prep for students coming out of Algebra I and geometry class. It's hard work, and we also put those classes in a block since algebra II is a required course for juniors."

According to Jones, RBS aims to extend that success to the junior-high level and balance stronger test scores with a desire to keep moving forward.

"There's always work to do in every subject regardless of test scores," Jones said. "For algebra II, we plan to keep doing what we're doing, because it's been working."

Tamara Kirts, the RBS algebra II instructor, brings more than 20 years of experience to her role and will continue working with this year's junior class.

"I feel proud and excited for these kids, that they've done well," Kirts said. "I appreciate the fact that they tried hard on these tests."

Kirts began her college career in a different major but soon found her calling as a math teacher.

"I try to give kids examples they can relate to a real life situation, even though that can be challenging with algebra II," Kirts said. "I also make sure to give them lots of practice, and I'm always available after class if they need help."