CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) - Despite the best efforts of previous teachers and administrators, Orchard Knob Middle is a school with a reputation:  a history of low test scores and high discipline referrals.  Changing the school's image is near the top of the to-do list for first-year principal Crystal Sorrells.

"That's where the work is," she says. "We have to change the perception in the community, and that starts with out staff.   She's getting that opportunity with mostly new faces. County school administrators recruited a staff on enthusiastic teachers, many of them young and eager.  First-year science teacher Ethan Evans grew up on Signal Mountain, and admits that some of his acquaintances are surprised he's chosen to teach at Orchard Knob.

"It's because they haven't been here, people who aren't familiar with it just go by what they've heard, "Evans said.  "This is where I need to be. I love it here."  Evans participated in the Teach Here program last year as a resident at Tyner Academy working with a mentor teacher, and is now on his own.

Evans employs various methods aimed at keeping his students attention.  He "breaks the ice" with a beach ball that students pass around.  When each student catches the ball, he or she answers a question about themselves.  Evans says he can relate to multi-tasking middle schoolers. "I can't get up there and lecture them for an hour.  I mean, I could, but you wouldn't want me to.  We expect a lot out of them, and they should expect a lot out of us too.  I can be crazier than they are.  They can't out-crazy me, so they start to listen to me."

Principal Sorrells is a 1994 graduate of nearby Brainerd High School (and was a Channel 3 Senior of the Week).  She feels like she knows the families of Orchard Knob, and is encouraging her teachers to fill in the gaps for their students, when families fall short.  "It's a big part of our jobs," she says.  "Believe me, no one here is going to work from 7:15 until 2:15.  We start much earlier, and we're on the job helping these kids in some way, much later.  It's what we have to do." 

She is one of six new principals in Hamilton County who just completed the Leadership Academy program, which paired them with mentors from the business community.  She says the experience helped her with skills including team-building and time management.

Among her first tasks is improving the school's attendance rates, and she tells parents if their children don't show up for school, they can expect a knock on the door.  "We have to be courageous enough to do that," she said.  "We drive by their homes every day.  We want them to  know if their child isn't in school today, he is missed."

She's asking for the community's patience.  "We won't turn this school around overnight, but if we all work together, everyone here can reach their potential.  That's my goal, and I will work hard to get there."