published Thursday, March 11th, 2010

Scales mulls options for Howard


by Kelli Gauthier
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    Staff photo by Matt Fields-Johnson/Chattanooga Times Free Press Howard School of Academics and Technology is located on Market Street near Interstate 24.

The state likely will get involved at Howard School of Academics and Technology in one of four ways, and local administrators soon will present their top two choices.

A meeting scheduled for Tuesday was canceled because state education officials are preparing for the pitch they will make to the U.S. Department of Education later this month in their bid for federal Race to the Top money.

Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Jim Scales said he will tailor two options for state takeover of Howard. The options are laid out in the state’s application packet for Race to the Top, he said.

“We don’t have a lot of discretion as to what can take place,” he said.

Last week, state officials learned that Tennessee is one of 15 states and the District of Columbia chosen as finalists in Race to the Top, the national education reform competition. Tennessee officials will head to Washington later this month to make their case for why the state should win the $501 million requested.

If Tennessee wins, part of the money would go toward implementing programs at Howard and a dozen other persistently failing schools around the state through a proposed state-run “Achievement School District.”

The district will include nine schools from Memphis City Schools, two from Metro-Nashville, and one each from Hamilton and Knox counties, confirmed Amanda Anderson, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Education.

The four options for schools in the achievement district include moves such as converting them to public charter schools, replacing the principal, selecting new staff or closing the schools altogether.

The state already has stepped in to implement various personnel and policy changes at Howard based on the school’s inability to meet goals of the No Child Left Behind law. State education officials have said they want to tackle issues such as Howard’s 56.5 percent graduation rate.

Although Hamilton County is home to only one of the 13 schools targeted in the proposed statewide district, the plans for state involvement could include other schools here, Ms. Anderson said.

“Each school could have a different plan. It’s at the discretion of the commissioner,” she said.

Ms. Anderson emphasized that no decision has been made regarding Howard, and that state Education Commissioner Tim Webb could implement all or a portion of an option or any combination.

Dr. Scales has said previously that any plans to help Howard must involve the elementary and middle schools that feed into Howard.

Ms. Anderson also said that the final number in the Achievement School District could be more or less than the 13 schools the state presented to the U.S. Department of Education.

Planning for the Achievement School District would start at the beginning of next school year. The district itself, along with any changes it would bring to Howard, would be implemented in 2011-12, the state’s Race to the Top application says.

The only two options for Achievement School District schools that wouldn’t close Howard or turn it into a charter school would include replacing principal Paul Smith, according to the application.

When asked about that aspect of reconstitution, Dr. Scales said “we’re going to negotiate what we can do with that.”

Dr. Smith said he has not been included in meetings about Howard’s future, but that he hadn’t given much thought to whether state officials would replace him with a new leader.

“I serve my students at Howard. I really haven’t thought about that,” he said.

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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