published Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

Howard hits graduation target


by Kelli Gauthier
  • photo
    Staff Photo by Danielle Moore/Chattanooga Times Free Press Dewayne Johnson celebrates after receiving his diploma from Howard High School Saturday at the McKenzie Arena.

For the first time since a school’s graduation rate was used to measure success, Howard School of Academics and Technology has met its goal.

Based on the number of Howard seniors who graduated in May, preliminary figures show the school’s graduation rate is now at 67.4 percent, up from 56.5 percent the previous year.

“We went from one in four graduating (in 2005) to three in four graduating. You can’t ask for better than that in six years,” said Howard principal Paul Smith. “While we’re not satisfied until we’re at 100, we’re happy with the progress.”

The preliminary figures also show that Hamilton County’s overall graduation rate jumped from 70.9 percent in 2009 to 78.3 percent in 2010.

As a school continually flagged for state oversight, and one with one of the county’s lowest graduation rates, Howard has been under the community microscope for years.

When the federal No Child Left Behind Act took effect in 2002, high schools across the nation were given graduation rate targets to reach each year, with the goal of graduating 90 percent of their students by 2014. When a school fails to meet those targets — as Howard has for eight years — they do not meet what education officials call “Adequate Yearly Progress.”

This year Howard’s graduation rate had to reach 65.5 percent, so administrators said they feel comfortable that their estimate of 67.4 percent, a number they consider conservative, has hit the mark.

Despite the success, Hamilton County schools administrators already know Howard will not make AYP when more detailed results are released this fall, because doing so is based on the graduation rate from 2009. Howard now has a chance to make AYP in 2011.

“Basically this sets the stage for them to keep up their academics and make AYP in 2011,” said school system spokeswoman Danielle Clark.

GRADUATION RATE

* 2005: 24.6 percent

* 2006: 38 percent

* 2007: 47.4 percent

* 2008: 50.9 percent

* 2009 56.5 percent

* 2010: 67.4 percent*

Source: Hamilton County Schools

* Preliminary

SUSPENSIONS

* 2008: 898

* 2009: 589

* 2010: 254

EXPULSIONS

* 2008: 81

* 2009: 84

* 2010: 18

At last week’s Hamilton County Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Jim Scales released the information on Howard and no other school. Howard must make sufficient academic and graduation-related progress this year, or it will be included in a state-run Achievement School District, paid for with money Tennessee won in the federal Race to the Top competition.

The academic progress could be difficult to make, Scales said, given that Tennessee’s public school students took harder tests this last year, and preliminary results show scores across the state have decreased.

“We don’t know exactly what the scores are going to be for the high school under the new (state) standards, but ... this should tell the state we’re headed in the right direction,” he said.

how they did it

Students at the high school agree. They say in the last four years, the culture has changed at Howard, and they like what they see.

“It feels like the teachers really want to be here,” said senior Terence King, 17. “If students find someone who is willing to help them, it gives them motivation to help them learn.”

And motivation to stick it through until graduation.

“I think Dr. Paul is raising his expectations. He wants us to be the change in the community,” sophomore Jeshayla King said of her principal.

Back in 2005, Howard’s graduation rate was a dismal 24.6 percent. Senior school counselor Hilary Smith said that in many cases, students just didn’t receive the individualized attention they needed.

“I think Howard was ignored for years. Sometimes it’s as simple as noticing if a kid doesn’t come to school,” she said.

Many of the students at Howard have Smith’s cell phone number. There are students she picks up for school every day, and ones she tracks down in their neighborhood when they don’t show up to class. She works all summer long offering credit recovery and even has driven a student to Nashville to hunt for apartments before their freshman year of college.

While she’s happy about the progress Howard’s made on its graduation rate, she doesn’t want to get too caught up on the numbers that she loses track of individual students.

“I want to know that I got every kid through and didn’t let anyone slip through the cracks,” she said. “It’s not just about graduation, it’s about college. We’re not here just changing Howard, we’re changing the community.”

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

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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rosebud said...

What a great piece of fiction. I'm surprised to see a reporter's name attached to this, since it was obviously written by Danielle Clark.

"Howard hits target"? In what, computer thefts? I guess that's part of the school's open-door policy.

Would you care to tell us where "Dr. Paul" Smith got his doctoral degree? Well of course not, that might involve actual journalism.

When Howard was so incredibly bad, as you say in 2005, who was the principal? And why was that fact left out? Since the TFP is not interested in doing any real reporting, I'll help you out. It was Elaine Swafford. Even though Howard was (according to your puff piece) so bad under her leadership, she was promoted to Area Superintendent by Dr. Jim Scales. A reward for her accomplishments at Howard?

Why do so many teachers request transfers out of Howard, year after year? You could investigate the numbers...but the school district would say "not many," and you would publish it as fact. An actual investigation would be too much trouble, I suppose.

Why are so many Howard-zoned students taking a bus up the mountain to Signal Mtn. High this year? Why would they possibly want to flee from a school that has "hit the target?"

It's disappointing to see that even under new "leadership" the TFP is still just a public relations tool for the PEF and its inept superintendent.

August 24, 2010 at 8:27 a.m.
Penguin said...

In regards to the negative comments about Howard --

I am a teacher returning for a second term at Howard, and I wouldn't want to go anywhere else. Our unique population has struggles like anyone else, but we are doing GREAT!!!

FYI - Dr. Smith won the Educator of Year Award... But I'm sure his education is fake, right?

August 24, 2010 at 9:27 a.m.
xsiveporsche said...

Peguin, Maybe I am wrong but if you are a teacher at Howard why are you not in school today? My question would be did they lower the standard or materials to help get a higher graduation ratio. An article a few days ago list Tennessee as one of the worst education systems in the country. Why? Is it because of our ignorance that we have a lower standard for graduation. No child left behind is a joke. In order to get this the standard are dropped for the lazy students so they can graduate and this hurts the students who really are trying to get a good education. It is a fact some people are not as smart as others. Why should the smart students suffer for the ignorence or laziness of others.

August 24, 2010 at 10 a.m.
Penguin said...

Well, actually I am in school. I had many students that were over-joyed to read a positive article about Howard, and we were simply disappointed to read the comments. There are a lot of students here working hard! :)

But yes, we do take the same tests, and believe it or not, scores are rising! We are excited, and it hurts to see the negativity.

August 24, 2010 at 10:05 a.m.
xsiveporsche said...

Penguin, If that is true good for you and for Howard. But shouldn't you be working instead of on here. Half Joking! Being the son of a Military Contractor I grew up in Europe and went to British schools and it has always bothered me how far behind our education system is. When I came back to the states in 10th grade I was so far ahead of the schools I was bored and they could do nothing to help. I ended up dropping out and getting my GED, the old K tests. From there to college. Even in College I was far ahead of the rest of my classes. It is sad for me to see some students with amazing potential held back because others are lazy and not willing to try but just get by. Not all families can send there kids to private schools and I really do not think private is much better. Just because you have the money does not mean they are any smarter. And yes Penguin I am a graduate. I Graduated from William and Mary in Virginia and no my father did not pay for it. I did as it was my choice.

August 24, 2010 at 10:16 a.m.
Penguin said...

Lol... Well my students are working on computers, and we felt it necessary to defend our school!!!

I am glad that you graduated, and we are trying to do the same thing you are!!! Graduate productive citizens such as yourself! :)

August 24, 2010 at 10:20 a.m.
rosebud said...

Penguin, it's good you're back for a 2nd term. Too bad so many others stay a year (or a few months, or just a few days) and transfer to other schools, or leave the profession entirely, due to their experience at Howard.

As for the dramatic drop in suspensions and expulsions, most honest principals in Hamilton County will tell you: they've been ordered to stop expelling and suspending so many students, because it looks bad on their reports to the state. This is no secret, it's been openly discussed in school board meetings. They also don't report every fight, like they used to do. When the star Howard basketball player choked his girlfriend, "Dr. Smith" went to court to defend him, basically calling his School Resource Officer a liar.

Despite this, many good principals still suspend students when they break rules. What must a student do to get suspended at Howard?

There are several great principals who had to spend years earning their doctoral degrees at schools like Vanderbilt and UTK. The term "Doctor" really means something to them. What about the Howard principal?

It's good to see Howard make some much-needed improvements, which are long overdue. But to imply that it has met its goals and solved all its problems is typical TFP soft, PR-fed reporting.

August 24, 2010 at 10:36 a.m.
xsiveporsche said...

Penguin, I just noticed something in here that I had missed previously. Graduation went from 25% in 2005 to 67% in 2010. In 5 years up 42%? That is fantastic. I think alot of the problems with our education system is that kids don't enjoy school. My father was a workaholic and I decided at a young age I was going to enjoy life. It does not take a lot of money to be able to live well and enjoy life. The most important thing is to have fun at whatever you are doing. Find a job you like so you want to go to work. My degree was in arcitechual engineering and I hated working in an office. I put myself thru school as a Carpenter. I have tried many different avenues and always came back to building things. I love to build and look back at the end of the day and say I did that. I design what I build and it gives me a sense of satisfaction to know it will still be here in 10 years. It also gives me the freedom to really enjoy life. I am 51 and worked hard for what I have but I have played hard to. tell your students that an education is the most important hting they can do with their lifes. With that it opens up so many doors even if they choose not to enter those doors. In the past 30 years I have always worked for myself. There have been real hard times, like living in my car for a year but I have always had fun doing it. Always find the good in every situation and always see the good in every body. I like divisity in my life and that is what keeps it interseting. Judge people by themselves and not what they have. My friends range from Doctor, Lawyers business owners, store clerks and contruction worker. Everyone has a worth and I feel honored to cal these people my friends. I hope your students will learn from you and your obvious commitment to them. Tell them all good luck from me.

August 24, 2010 at 10:38 a.m.
xsiveporsche said...

Rosebud, Is it possible looking at the expulsion numbers for 08 and 09 making 165 combined that they got rid of most of the trouble makers.

August 24, 2010 at 10:47 a.m.
Penguin said...

Thank you all so much!!! We know that we are always faced with opposition, and it's hard for the great students we have here!!!!

You're right about a lot of stuff - I don't disagree, but we (my class and myself), know that it's getting so much better! There are so so SO many unique things that go on here on daily basis. It's very hard because the problems here are the MINORITY and the MAJORITY are doing awesome!!!!

We want the public to see THAT positive stuff, and it always feels like we are in a negative light!

Thank you Chattanooga Times Free Press for portraying us in good light! We are definitely going the right direction, and we want that to come to light! Thank you for your wishes of good luck! I will pass that on! They are excited to be here, and we are excited to have them!

August 24, 2010 at 10:47 a.m.
rosebud said...

I'm not opposed to Howard at all. I wish its teachers and students nothing but the best. I am opposed, however to lazy journalism. This article will certainly go on every bulletin board at the school, and understandably so.

But don't be surprised when the school again fails to make AYP, despite Howard "meeting its target." And don't be surprised when a new superintendent takes over who will demand honest, accurate enforcement and reporting of fights, suspensions and expulsions. Don't be surprised when enrollment records show dozens of students have left Howard to attend a higher-performing school. Don't be surprised if there's more teacher turnover, as has happened every year. And don't be surprised when more taxpayer-funded computers are stolen from Howard. It happens every few months.

I will be surprised, though if any of these upcoming events will be reported with a front-page headline and color photo in the TFP. The PR department of the school district, and the PEF wouldn't approve of that.

I salute every hard-working teacher and student at Howard. But you should all support getting the full story out to the public. All of Howard's problems haven't been magically solved overnight, and it will take much, much more work to make that happen, despite what the spin-masters say.

August 24, 2010 at 11:21 a.m.
telephone said...

I was overjoyed to read this article. I am so proud of the students at Howard. It's wonderful to wake up to Dwayne's smiling face. He is an amazing young man and he spends his time helping the young kids in the community. It is so rare to hear such good news in the paper and I commend the TFP for printing such an inspiring article.

Kudos to Paul Smith for having what it takes to make a real difference.

August 24, 2010 at 12:11 p.m.
hambone said...

A large fleet of buses can have a big effect on the graduation rate at one school. I would like to see the graduation rate for the entire system for the same years.

August 24, 2010 at 12:52 p.m.
FM_33 said...

It's good to see young people making it to graduation and moving on in life instead of becoming dope dealers and thugs in the street.

August 24, 2010 at 4:30 p.m.
chioK_V said...

It's unfortunate that individuals such as rosebud have become so accustomed to hearing only bad news about Howard that when there's something positive to report, they remain in attack and bash mode.

Howard, is no different than any other school, be it private or some school in some affluent community. Unfortunately and true, Howard educators and other black schools around town have themselves to blame. For some time now, they were suspending their students for any and every situation, no matter how minor. Then they made sure it was reported to the media. Some students were sent home becaujse their skirt him didn't quite meet the length when measure to their knee. One year, they were sending students home because they wore the wrong color shirt on another color shirt day. These and other situations created a lot of stress and uncertainty for the students that actually spilled over and led to a lot of the volatile outburst that evolved into actual violance and fights breaking out. Place any one or more adults under similar situations on the job and I can guarantee you'll create a hostile work atmosphere where arguments, fights and even worse will break out.

Now for years, when students in primarily minority and black minority schools had to dumb down their students in order to receive federal dollars, dumbing down the students is exactly what happened. Which has led to the high dropout rate, babies making babies, violence in the schools and in the communities. Now, the game is you can't get the money unless you show the students are learning. Which that's the way it should have been all along.

Finally, if the child doesn't get it in the primary, elementary grades, they are going to be lost in middle and high school. They will never catch upl. Unfortunately, that's where the problems originated. The students were purposely dumbed down in the primary grades, making learning in the higher grades near impossible.

If a child doesnt have a good, positive learning experience in the earlier grades, where they are most open to learning any and everything, they won't be able to learn and retain information in the higher grades. That's why it's important to introduce children to subjects, even music and foreign languages in the earlier grades. That's why even in some of the poorest African and European nations, children as young as 7 and 8 years of age speak several languages simply because they were introduced to those languages on most a daily basis in their countries, where several dialects are spoken just from block to the other.

America's children, especially the poor and minority poor, have been sorely short changed in the educational system. Now everyone's trying to play catch up. Hopefully, it isn't too late.

August 24, 2010 at 5:25 p.m.
hambone said...

Can we see the graduation rate for the entire school system for the same years?

August 24, 2010 at 5:36 p.m.
PerryGlenn said...

No success is without nuance. However, calling the teachers and administrators at Howard dishonest is inappropriate and insulting to everyone who cares for the Howard community.

If we are concerned for the education, welfare and preparedness of Howard's students, then perhaps we should stop putting them down online and find ways to get involved in their lives. I'm sure Howard would welcome tutors and event volunteers from the community.

Rosebud, if you are so put-off by soft journalism, then why are your even reading the TFP?

August 24, 2010 at 11:12 p.m.
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