published Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

Chattanooga: More minorities moving to the suburbs

Audio clip

Richard Fry

Diversity has moved out to the suburbs.

During the last eight years, most Chattanooga-area suburban school districts and individual schools have seen a significant increase in minority students, reflecting a national trend.

From 2000 to 2008, Hamilton County saw increased enrollment of students from all ethnic backgrounds, except white, especially in suburban schools.

The biggest change was among Hispanics, records show. In 2000, there were 492 Hispanic students in suburban schools. By 2008 there were 1,634, almost the same as the 1,254 in urban schools.

At the same time, the numbers of black and white students in urban schools remained relatively the same, records show.

In Georgia, Whitfield County schools went from being 79 percent white to 60 percent white, while Cleveland, Tenn., schools went from 81 percent to 75 percent white from 2000 to 2008. During the same period, Whitfield doubled its number of Hispanic students, while Cleveland’s tripled.

In both systems, the number of black students remained the same over those eight years.

The student population of the country’s suburban public schools has increased by 3.4 million in the past 15 years, mostly due to the enrollment of new Hispanic, black and Asian students, according to an analysis by the Pew Hispanic Center.

“That reflects generally the shift of the population. Increasingly Americans live in suburban areas, that’s why (suburbs are) the growing sectors,” said Richard Fry, author of “The Rapid Growth and Changing Complexion of Suburban Public Schools.”

That trend is reflected in Chattanooga, too.

“The schools have changed as a result of the changing of the community,” said LaFrederick Thirkill, an assistant principal at Apison Elementary, a Hamilton County school.

In the Apison area, the change has been prompted in some part by jobs in the McKee Baking Co., which has a large Hispanic employee base, he said.

In Dalton, Ga., close to 50 percent of the population now is Hispanic, while in Hamilton County the Hispanic population increased 64 percent between 2000 to 2007.

“More affordable houses, creation of jobs and the perception that the quality of schooling tends to be, on average, of higher quality than in central school districts,” are some of the main reason the shift has occurred, Mr. Fry said.

For the purpose of the report, Mr. Fry used the school districts’ classifications of “city,” “suburban” or “rural” assigned by the U.S. Department of Education.

Hamilton County Schools is classified as a city district, while Whitfield County Schools and Cleveland Schools are suburban districts.

The Whitfield County School District consists primarily of two ethnic groups: Hispanic and white, said Eric Beavers, spokesman for the district.

“Over the past six years, there has been a slight decrease in the white student population, while the Hispanic population has increased proportionately,” he said in an e-mail.

Much of the increase, he said, likely is attributable to manufacturing jobs in the local carpet industry, which have a high percentage of Hispanic workers.

“Our system embraces all students,” he said. “They bring their unique experiences and culture to the table to enrich everyone’s education.”

Dr. Marvin Lott, director of Area I Schools for Hamilton County Schools, said the No Child Left Behind Law also has played a role in the shift of minority students to suburban schools.

“There were some schools that went on notice where students in those schools could change school if they wanted, and this caused some movement of minorities into some suburban schools,” he said.

Although, he added, since 1995 there hasn’t been a significant change.

about Perla Trevizo...

Perla Trevizo joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 2007 and covers immigration/diversity issues and higher education. She holds a master’s degree in newswire journalism from Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid, Spain, and a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Texas. In 2011 she participated in the Bringing Home the World international reporting fellowship program sponsored by the International Center for Journalists, producing a series on Guatemalan immigrants for which she ...

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