Staff Photo by Allison Kwesell
New Hamilton County High School graduates, Darius Maxwell, 19, left, and Mary Elizabeth White, 21, second from left, cheer after being announced graduates as the class of 2008 at the Bayside Baptist Church in Harrison, Tenn.
Despite Hamilton County High School’s success in graduating nearly 700 would-be dropouts since 2004, officials say it’s unlikely they will open a second adult high school soon.
County schools administrators last year planned to work with the Chattanooga Housing Authority to open a similar facility downtown, but budget cuts took the school off the table. The school system does not offer transportation to the current adult high school in Harrison, which is far from the public bus lines many students would need to get there.
“I think this school is extremely important to Hamilton County, but to be completely effective, there needs to be more than one,” said principal Gary Kuehn, who took over leadership of the adult high school this year. “We know budgets are tight right now, but we hope in the near future to add another one.”
But Schools Chief Financial Officer Tommy Kranz says it doesn’t look likely this year.
If the Hamilton County Board of Education votes to consolidate schools to help balance the $20.2 million projected deficit, one option would be to open an adult high school in one of the closed schools, Mr. Kranz said.
It’s a long shot, though, he says. Mr. Kranz hasn’t “run the numbers yet,” so he said it’s possible the school would be too expensive for the district to operate.
So for now, Mr. Kuehn will have to wade through the school’s waiting list to try to reach as many students as possible.
Founding principal Bill Warren, who retired at the end of last school year, intentionally kept the school small — no more than 200 students — so he would know each student personally.
Students say the strategy works.
“I honestly feel that the chance the school gave me ... if it weren’t for the adult high school, I wouldn’t have graduated,” said Kevin Harris, 19.
The flexible schedule made up of three-hour classes and four-week mini-quarters, plus a high level of personal accountability, kept recent graduate Briosha Hughes engaged in high school for the first time, she said.
“I had a whole other mind-frame at the adult high school,” she said. “I had to get my grown woman on.”
Students at the school have a unique perspective on the importance of high school, they say, since many of them previously dropped out and tried to make it in life without a diploma.
After Mr. Harris dropped out of Central High School last year, the only job he could get was at a fast-food restaurant, he said.
“You are very limited in the jobs you can get, and fast food is the worst ever. I said, ‘$6.50 for a mediocre job? No. I might as well graduate and make a decent living,’” he said.
“The best thing to do is to stay in school and get it done the first try. Then you don’t have to worry about being another statistic,” he said. “Just buckle down and get it done.”
Kelli Gauthier covers K-12 education in Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She started at the paper as an intern in 2006, crisscrossing the region writing feature stories from Pikeville, Tenn., to Lafayette, Ga. She also covered crime and courts before taking over the education beat in 2007. A native of Frederick, Md., Kelli came south to attend Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism. Before newspapers, ...