published Sunday, April 11th, 2010

Scales offers alternatives for Howard's future


by Kelli Gauthier
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    Staff Photo by Matt Fields-Johnson/Chattanooga Times Free Press Howard Center for Academics and Technology is located on Market Street South of Interstate 24.

Schools Superintendent Jim Scales wants to give the principal of Howard high school a $25,000 pay raise next year as part of his plan to turn around the school.

The plan he sent to state officials in March also includes getting rid of no more than 50 percent of the school's teachers and giving $10,000 yearly stipends for four years to new hires and those who are rehired.

Salary incentives are key to helping Howard School of Academics and Technology continue to improve, Dr. Scales said.

"We finally have someone at that school who is providing the leadership to move that school forward," he said of principal Paul Smith.

Dr. Smith, who has been principal since the 2008 school year, will earn about $77,000 this year, according to 2010 budget documents.

Howard is one 13 schools, identified as failing by the state that will operate next year under greater state oversight, a step included in Tennessee's successful Race to the Top application for about $500 million in federal money to improve education. The 13 schools will be part of Tennessee's new Achievement School District, and superintendents were given four options for their schools: Close them, turn them into charter schools, or replace staff and principal through transformation or turnaround.

Dr. Scales didn't like the transformation or turnaround models because they included removing the principal.

"I'm dead set against that. We've made too much progress for that to happen," he said.

State test scores showed math achievement increased from 51 percent to 72 percent and reading scores rose from 83 percent to 94 percent for all students last year.

PLAN A, PLAN B

In a March 11 letter to Tennessee Commissioner of Education Tim Webb, Dr. Scales offered two options to ensure continued improvement at Howard. Plan "A," which Dr. Scales is advocating, would use Race to the Top money to:

* Keep Dr. Smith as principal and give him a raise

* Add $10,000 in annual stipends for staff for four years

* Offer department chairmen in math, English/language arts, science, social studies and guidance up to $20,000 a year for four years

* Allow Howard to use a pilot teacher evaluation model under development

* Add an "AdvancePath" program to boost graduation rates

After three pages of details outlined in Plan A, Plan B is all of one paragraph. Dr. Scales wrote that Plan B would include getting rid of Dr. Smith and finding a more experienced principal.

"Now, we don't have a lot of choice, but what I was told was, 'Come up with a plan,'" he said. "Plan 'A' is fleshed out. I believe it will work there at the school."

Amanda Anderson, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education, said Tennessee officials will meet with U.S. Department of Education administrators this week to determine the actual amount Tennessee has won from the Race to the Top competition.

After the budget is determined, Dr. Webb will decide what to do with schools in the Achievement School District, including Howard, she said.

About $49 million of the state's prize money will be spent on schools in the Achievement School District, Ms. Anderson said.

While his future at Howard remains uncertain, Dr. Smith said he has seen only "snippets" of the plans for the school.

"The fate of the school has never been in my hands," he said. "I will be (involved in the planning), I'm sure, if the state decides to leave me in place. But the direction to take the school, that's not my call."

He has a vote of confidence from ninth-grader Andi Anderson, who said keeping Dr. Smith in place is positive.

But getting rid of some of the teachers might be problematic, she said.

"All the teachers I've met and who teach me are just as good as any other teachers at any other schools I've been to, if not better," she said. "Not one teacher I've met so far needs to go. They help make up Howard. They're not the problem."

Most of Howard's problems are caused by "kids who run their mouths," the 15-year-old said.

"All the violence and the drama would stop and it would be much better," she said. "(Students) calling each other names, writing bad things about them on Facebook. It isn't really nothing until someone takes it wrong."

Follow Kelli Gauthier on Twitter at twitter.com/gauthierkelli.

WHAT'S NEXT

Tennessee education Commissioner Tim Webb will meet this week with officials from the U.S. Department of Education to determine Tennessee's final Race to the Top budget, which will be about $500 million. After that, Dr. Webb will start making plans for each of the schools in the state's Achievement School District, including Howard School of Academics and Technology.

Continue reading by following these links to related stories:

Article: Loaded gun found after Howard high school fight

Article: School board approves new hires at Howard

Article: Howard renovation approved

about Kelli Gauthier...

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, ...

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