published Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

Howard looks ahead

Audio clip

Chris Akridge

Glenn Perry came to teach at Howard School of Academics and Technology fresh out of college with wild ideas about being part of a miracle.

At the time, about eight years ago, the historic but deteriorating inner-city school was on the end of a slow slide to possible closure. Spray paint and penned profanities disfigured walls. Poor graduation rates, in some years as low as 25 percent, had persisted for decades.

In the classroom, Mr. Perry taught some students who had been held back for two or three years. He watched young teachers and principals come in, cut their teeth and move on.

  • photo
    Staff photo by Dan Henry/Chattanooga Times Free Press - Howard School of Academics upcoming sophomore classman Andi Anderson, left, helps freshman english teacher Kelly Streber, right, pack her books during the last day of school Monday afternoon.

Still, over the years, teachers like Mr. Perry saw change, too. There were small improvements. Graduation rates crept up. Math and reading proficiency improved. Howard insiders talked about a turnaround, but time ran out.

The state has branded the school a failure, identified as one of 13 troubled Tennessee schools to face intervention in the fall from Nashville and a possible takeover.

By the end of next week, state education officials will reveal their plans for Howard, which could include curriculum overhauls and the removal of as many as 50 percent of the teachers.

Mr. Perry and many others are afraid for their jobs and wish they had been given more time.

“I don’t think people outside this building can come in once a week and turn this school around,” he said. “There is no storybook ending. This isn’t a movie ... We are competing with failure here. We have a legacy of failure here.”


Howard’s principal Paul Smith, who came to Howard three years ago as a first-time principal, will remain in the school’s top post for another year as Howard transitions to the state’s Achievement School District.

Within the state-run district, set up in Tennessee’s federal Race to the Top application that has earned millions for education reform efforts, four options exist for the 13 schools: close them, turn them into charter schools, replace the principal or replace staff members.

Tennessee Commissioner of Education Tim Webb has not agreed to a Hamilton County proposal to raise Dr. Smith’s $77,000 salary by $25,000, but there are plans to increase his pay if the school reaches certain academic goals next year.

Amounts are yet to be determined, said Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Jim Scales..

Dr Scales has lobbied for the state to keep Howard’s leadership intact, especially since the school made academic gains in the last three years.

“Who are we going to find to come to Howard that is going to be in a better position to get this done?” he asked. “Dr. Smith has built bonds with the children, the community.”

While Howard officials are unsure what state involvement will reform about the school or who will stay to implement the reforms, they are happy about one thing — the money.

The school will get at least $650,000 a year in Race to the Top funding, pulled from a district-wide pool of $49 million and giving Howard money it hasn’t had to start programs, recruit teachers and upgrade equipment.

“I gladly welcome state money,” Dr. Smith said.


Students at Howard are just as nervous about what’s coming as the administrators.

Sixteen-year-old Tyson Vashaun Jones didn’t know what to expect when he came to Howard as a freshman. Like so many kids, he had heard it could be a rough-and-tumble place. Some ninth graders, as old as 17, had children of their own. Others were being raised by siblings. Like him, few had fathers around.

“People said nothing good was going on at Howard,” he said.

But he found good things.

Teachers joked with him, he said, and made him feel comfortable. When the school imposed a new dress code in 2008, Tyson learned to tie a tie for the first time. In English class last year, he started dreaming about being a creative writer. When he doubted himself, teachers told him not to.

“I bet if (the state) came and sat in a classroom, they would see Howard in a different light,” he said.

Bright spots exist and always have, students say. The question is how to transform the status quo: the academic lagging, the fights, the dropouts. Everyone has a different answer.


* In seven years, the school has not met federal benchmarks set by No Child Left Behind.

* Math proficiency increased from 52 percent in 2008 to 72 percent in 2009.

* English proficiency increased from 83 percent in 2008 to 94 percent in 2009.

* Graduation rates are 56.5 percent.

Source: Howard School of Academics and Technology

Teachers will say they have worked themselves to the bone to raise the school’s academic bar. They beg parents for involvement. They attend professional development training weekly. They drive students home from school, buy them supplies and give them rides to the grocery store when their parents can’t.

“People assume we aren’t working hard,” said Chris Akridge, a four-year teacher at Howard who resigned this year. “We have tried everything we can think of ... If (the state) knew how to turn Howard around, they should have told us a long time ago.”

And students say they shouldn’t be blamed, either.

Clayton Mason, a 10th grader at Howard whose family members have attended the school since 1926, said kids in the community grow up too fast, faced with the kind of heartbreak and decisions that can make school seem irrelevant.

“They expect us to live up to expectations of those that have been more fortunate,” said Clayton, who grew up in public housing. “Until you’ve been inside of Howard, you don’t know.”

Continue reading by following these links to related stories:

Article: House honors Howard High students of 1960s

Video: Rev. Jackson speaks fondly of Howard

Article: Scales offers alternatives for Howard's future

about Joan Garrett McClane...

Joan Garrett McClane has been a staff writer for the Times Free Press since August 2007. Before becoming a general assignment writer for the paper, she wrote about business, higher education and the court systems. She grew up the oldest of five sisters near Birmingham, Ala., and graduated with a master's and bachelor's degrees in journalism from the University of Alabama. Before landing her first full-time job as a reporter at the Times Free Press, ...

Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
akridgechris said...

Thank you Joan for visiting our school. It has been good to see the media actually visiting the school to see the great strides Howard has made in the last couple of years. I have received several phone calls asking about the nature of my resignation. The reason why I resigned is because I have the opportunity to attend Graduate School in the fall. That being said, it was a tough decision and I will miss working with the staff and serving the students at Howard. I wish all stakeholders of the Howard community great success in the future and hope to continue to support the great work that is going on there. Chris Akridge

May 26, 2010 at 11:50 a.m.
champ1 said...

It's interesting to me that this article (like most on this subject) addressed every potential problem with Howard but the real one: the parents. Parental expectations are THE difference between successful schools and places like Howard. Go ahead and throw more money at the institution...and watch it go nowhere. These kids tend live up to their parents low expectations for them just like successful kids tend live up to their parents high expectations for them. Yes there are exceptions to the rule, but for the most part this is just the way things go. It doesn't cost a thing to make sure that your child goes to bed on time, does his homework, and understands the lesson plan. I have a good friend that started teaching at an inner city school with excitement just last she's out. She has gone back to her former job. She has walked away from her career. Why? "It's hopeless...the parents don't care and you can't make them. The only time you can get them to show up is when you offer free food." Now that being said, I have a solution that I've never heard anyone suggest: If you are receiving government assistance and your child fails out of school, your benefits for that child should be cut by 50%. If your child excels, you get a 25% increase. Tie their grades to everything from welfare to income tax returns and watch those grades go through the roof! It's time to start requiring some effort from the parents. There is no excuse for this type of failure.

May 27, 2010 at 9:53 p.m.
nrector said...

What the above user doesn't seem to grasp, among many basic elements of race and class issues in this country, is the extent to which institutionalized racism and generational economic oppression have played into the reason why there is little parental support at a school like Howard. Unfortunately this is not merely the case in low socio economic areas, because as a long time public school teacher I can tell you that back to school night entertains a slim percentage of parents regardless of the site and even the most affluent parents take only a cursory interest in what is taught in their student's classes, regardless of the community. It is the level of affluence at home that defines the resources/social capital available to the student in question and therefore the extra obstacles they must overcome to succeed. The parents whose students attend "successful" schools got an uplifting and supportive education themselves from a properly resourced and funded school, went on to college, often payed for by their own college educated/entrepreneurial parents, ( i.e. access to generational wealth) and so have the time, education and resources to support their own children having had a positive educational experience themselves.

May 28, 2010 at 1:15 p.m.
nrector said...

Continued from above...What of the Howard students parents who were not allowed access to a quality education because they needed to drop out to work and support their family who were not allowed access to the resources that other more well off peers had? Can we honestly still believe that as a society we begin each child off at the same starting line? That is simply intellectually dishonest at best and immoral at worst. This is referred to as the cycle of poverty vs. the cycle of affluence, though I do like the above's reference to "income tax penalties for low grades",but oh wait, rich parents who make sure their child's school is fully funded already understand the lesson plan because they are more educated, don't work the graveyard or double shifts to survive because they went to college and fully understand the academic expectations placed on their children because they were given the support to achieve them themselves, unlike those parents living in poverty who send their children to the school closest to the segregated community they can afford to live in. Lastly, if all else fails, which parents do you think have the extra income to provide tutors, S.A.T. prep. advisers and are taking their children on trips to look at colleges, as is the family tradition? Parents of poor children do not care any less or work any harder, often quite the contrary, they are merely up against obstacles the "successful schools" only glance at in the newspaper and quickly forget. This is a marathon, not a sprint; requiring courage and determination. No wonder the straw example of the "good friend" who quit after her first year is so common. Like many, she expected to "have fun because she likes kids" no doubt. Well, these issues are National and have little to do with the children or their parents and more to do with a country that deliberately under funds education in order to provide an undereducated work force who will believe that a job at Burger King is the best they can do. Given this fact it is no wonder they drop out or do the least to get by. Wouldn't you?

May 28, 2010 at 1:16 p.m.
eeeeeeeli said...

Excellent comments nrector. If only the people who believe it is all the parents' fault and the people who believe that it is all the teachers' fault would get together and realize that its everyone's (and no one's?) fault and we all need to help each other!

May 28, 2010 at 2:04 p.m.
champ1 said...

nrector, I am black and I went to Howard when I was young. You are dealing in theory. I know what I'm talking about. These kids are smart and capable, but everything that happens when they leave that school yard says you can't make it. If they could live at school then yes, we'd be having a different discussion. Unfortunately, they don't. They live at home. Again, in 2010 there is no excuse for flunking out of school. You can go online at the public library and get the answers you need to pass a class. But that's not the cool thing to do. And there is nothing that you or I can do to change that. As a parent, I am saying that it is the parents responsibility to make clear to his child that failure is not an option.

Yes school can help, but it cannot take the place of a parent. I think that it's guys like you that keep this issue from ever getting resolved. You confuse it with the idea that there is a money problem, when, in reality, no other country spends on its kids what we do for education. Tennessee just got over 500 million dollars. If money is the issue, then we will certainly see great improvements right? But we won't. And you know that we won't. Because money isn't the issue. It's a lack of appreciation for the education process that starts at home. It's this idea that education is a right. But it shouldn't be a right. It should be a privilege. No one is saying that a poor child is going to do as well as an child born into privilege. But all you have to get is 70% to pass. These kids aren't even passing. Make yourselves feel better by excusing this sort of failure, but your "good vibrations" will never make this problem go away.

May 30, 2010 at 3:49 a.m.
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