The Hamilton County Board of Education could vote on Thursday to close three local schools if Superintendent Jim Scales amends the board agenda today.
Staff Photo by Gillian Bolsover Twenty-first Century Academy parents Kimberly Colen, front, and Nadine Fortson listen as Hamilton County schools superintendent Jim Scales speaks at the school Tuesday. The Hamilton County Board of Education may vote Thursday on whether to close the school in the Fall.
Board members already plan to decide the future of McBrien Elementary on Thursday, and Dr. Scales said he may decide to add 21st Century Academy and Howard Middle to that list, both schools that have been recommended for closure.
In what has become a familiar scene, Dr. Scales took on 21st Century Academy’s PTA Tuesday and defended his reasons for suggesting closing the school on Cherryton Drive in Brainerd.
The number of 21st Century students scoring advanced in some standardized test subjects is significantly lower than the district as a whole, Dr. Scales said. And the small student body, especially the 150-student high school, is expensive to operate.
“It’s a tremendous outpouring of capital funds to run this school, and we need to have higher achievement,” he said.
But the small size, many parents said, is exactly why they chose to send their children to the magnet school, which has no attendance zone.
Crystal Kyles’ 10-year-old son, Chris, has cataracts and, as a result of several medical conditions, is short for his age and often unsteady on his feet.
Ms. Kyles said 21st Century staff members have worked with her third-grade son since he came to the school in kindergarten, and she worries that other schools may not be able to accommodate his special needs.
“He was born with a developmental disability, but he doesn’t have that any more. He’s made progress at this school,” she said. “Here there’s no staring, there’s no taunting.”
Reading from the front of the auditorium a handwritten letter to Dr. Scales, Chris asked, “Why would you want to close our school down when all of the teachers and staff members, they really try?”
Other parents expressed concerns about where their children would go to school if 21st Century was closed. Most said they would not consider sending their children to the schools they are zoned for, including Woodmore Elementary and Brainerd High, and some thought it was unfair that they would have to go through a lottery process if they wanted their children to attend popular magnet schools such as Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences and Normal Park Museum Magnet.
If the board were to vote to close the school, elementary students could attend Barger Academy, and middle and high school students could attend Tyner Middle and Tyner Academy, Dr. Scales said. That way the students would be assured of attending another magnet program.
Although Juana Wilson-Roberts’ son Clinton will graduate this year from 21st Century, she was concerned that the board would vote to close the school this late in the year.
“Give parents a chance to plan for it. It’s really not fair to throw them in this situation,” said Ms. Wilson-Roberts, who also teaches fine arts at Barger.
Even though Dr. Scales did not fully commit to adding the 21st Century closure to Thursday’s school board agenda, board Chairman Kenny Smith said it was time to act.
“You’re going to know Thursday night what is going to happen. We are not going to drag this out,” he said, adding that he still was unsure of how he would vote.
Near the end of the meeting, Dr. Scales told the crowd of roughly 100 people that he appreciated their passion, and he knew that the topic was uncomfortable.
“This is not a pleasant experience for any of us, especially me,” he said. “I go home at night and toss and turn, probably more than most.”
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, ...