CHATTANOOGA(WRCB) – Inhis first State of the Schools address, new Hamilton County Superintendent RickSmith seemed energized and optimistic, but he recognizes some major challengesare facing the school district, and he says he's ready to meet them head on.

Speaking to theHamilton County Council of PTAs, Superintendent Smith identified severalproblems in need of immediate attention.  At the top of his list, how tobring lower performing schools up to the level of schools in more affluentcommunities.

"We have anachievement gap in Hamilton County Schools, poor kids are here, non-poor kidsare here, and we know that," Smith said.

Smith pointed tohigher benchmarks set out by state and federal governments, proudly quotingrecent gains in local graduation rates. 

But the actual goalshave yet to be reached. "Graduation rates have improved. We think we cangraduate nine out of ten who attend our schools."

The overflowingschools in the eastern part of the county must soon have relief, according toSmith.  He says it's time to stop talking about new school constructionand actually do something. 

Until then, somestudents may have to switch to less crowded schools.

"We also know we haveto rezone, hopefully we'll do that very thoughtfully. We'll go through aprocess. We'll do it early," Smith said. "East Hamilton will have to be part ofthat equation. East Hamilton is opening its doors every morning with 2100students."

And the state's newteacher evaluation process has been creating a lot of talk.  Moreevaluations and tougher tenure requirements have some teachers worried. Smith says their concerns may be overblown.

"But good teachersdon't need to worry about that. If you're performing as a teacher, you don'tneed to worry about the fact that you need tenure to feel protected or feelrespected by profession," He added.

Smith says the schoolboard will begin discussing new construction at its meeting on October27. 

At the top of thelist are new schools for East Brainerd and Ooltewah Elementary, and a new K-12school for Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts, which could have a pricetag of $45 million.