published Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

Lottery chooses Chattanooga magnet school students

Kelly Lowman pauses while turning the drum so school board Chairman Mike Evatt can pick a lottery ticket for spots at the Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences and the Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts.
Kelly Lowman pauses while turning the drum so school board Chairman Mike Evatt can pick a lottery ticket for spots at the Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences and the Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts.
Photo by John Rawlston.
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    Jonelle Olson watches as a lottery is held at the Hamilton County Department of Education on Monday evening for spots at the Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences and the Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts.
    Photo by John Rawlston /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

It looked a lot like your typical game of Bingo -- though perhaps less exciting.

Pulling small cards out of a metal bin, Hamilton County Schools officials held their first-ever live lottery to select students for the Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences and the Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts.

The lottery represents a huge change of course for the CSAS and CSLA admission process, which for years had parents camping in line for weeks to snag a spot in two of the school systems most-popular magnet schools.

The live lottery lasted nearly two-and-a-half hours as officials drew small cards, each numbered with a corresponding student. Several hundred names were chosen for each school in order to establish a complete waiting list for each school.

About 25 parents and a few students quietly watched the lottery in person at the school district's central office. Some sighed or mumbled as numbers were selected, while others were busy sending text messages with their news. Many more watched the live-streamed event online.

School district leaders thought the tradition of waiting outdoors for CSAS and CSLA had grown out of hand, especially given concerns that it might leave out some families who were unable to donate large amounts of time to waiting in line.

So a committee of parents and educators examined the issue and made a recommendation for a live lottery for increased access and transparency.

"The committee really wanted something physical," said Karla Riddle, director of innovative programs, who oversees magnet schools. "They were very adamant that this lottery had to be public."

Families hoping to gain admittance to either school had to attend four events before officially applying for the lottery.

If school leaders deem this new process successful, they may use it for all the county's magnet schools. Currently, those magnet students are selected through a computerized drawing.

Even with the new system, the odds of getting in to either CSAS or CSLA are low. Siblings of current students and children of faculty members are given first pick even before the lottery.

About 230 students are vying for about 60 seats at CSAS, while about 217 students are vying for about 40 seats at CSLA. The number of available seats will decrease as children of faculty and siblings are added.


Magnet schools exist to provide school choice to families. Each have different specialties, such as environmental studies or fine arts. Most magnets draw students from an established attendance zone and also take magnet students from across the county. Some schools, like Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences and Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts, have entirely magnet student populations, with no attendance zones.


Lottery results and a video replay of the lottery will be posted online today at

"It's not a real high chance," Riddle said. "But if you don't enter it, there's no chance."

And that's exactly the problem that Topher Kersting sees with the entire process. He was hoping to get his four-year-old daughter, currently zoned for Barger Academy of Fine Arts, into either CSLA or CSAS.

"It's a lot of hoops to jump through," he said. "And the number of parents wanting to get their kids in versus the number of spots seems way out of line. There's been too few slots for too many kids for years now."

Kersting's daughter drew one spot in the 80s and another higher than 100 -- too far from the top of the list that he has no expectation of admittance. He'll try again in the upcoming lottery for Normal Park Museum Magnet, also a popular magnet choice.

But if they don't secure a place there -- and he doesn't expect to -- Kersting said he'll look to enroll his daughter in private school.

He said he wonders why the success of CSLA and CSAS -- two of Hamilton County's highest-performing schools -- isn't being replicated elsewhere.

"If the system works at those two schools, why hasn't it been spun off to work at other places?" he said.

Riddle said much of that has to do with physical space. CSLA has only two kindergarten classes open each year and CSAS has three. There's is currently no other place to put a magnet program, she said, though she'd love it if she could.

"I could set up another school exactly like each of these and fill them up immediately," she said.

Regardless of what's asked of parents in the lottery process, Riddle expects the magnet process to remain competitive because of the success in those schools.

"People just want their children in a good school," she said.

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about Kevin Hardy...

Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...

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CBIKAS said...

What a farce. If there is going to be real honesty with the lottery system, it needs to be conducted by an outside third party, not the Central Office. We've already seen Karla Riddle's handiwork with Normal Park. This is just another sad attempt by the Central Office to continue handpicking certain students and railroading the others. The public deserves a totally honest, completely tranparent lottery that anyone can audit. We've seen enough of School Board members shoving their hands in the lottery process.

Charles Bikas

December 6, 2011 at 9:18 a.m.
justobserving said...

The only thing that will satisfy Charles is for Charles to hand pick the students.

December 6, 2011 at 9:44 a.m.
CBIKAS said...

Here we go again. I make a statement about honest allocation of public resources. And the Goon Squad launches into a personal attack. Keep barking mutts. You're going down. I have you now.

December 6, 2011 at 9:55 a.m.
Lr103 said...

The key to any successful school and the educational experience is not the how smart and educated the teachers and staff are, but their positive relationship with the students and parents. Notice, any successful school the parents, teachers and staff have a special bond. Where the staff, teachers either live in or near the their students and parents, are friends with or related to students and parents. Failing schools simply do not have that same repoire with students and parents. It's really simple and not at all complicated.

December 6, 2011 at 11:15 a.m.

Going down? What does this mean?

December 6, 2011 at 11:25 a.m.
justobserving said...

Charles, I suggest you look again. YOU are the one that started barking. I doubt that most people would look at the lottery that just occurred and immediately start crying foul. Take off your tin foil hat and let your brain get some air.

December 6, 2011 at 11:33 a.m.
CBIKAS said...

Justobserving, I would respond to your comment. But it would just fuel more nutty comments from you. I've been watching the lottey for years - literally. And I have gigabytes of evidence. "Just occurred"? Please.

chattsilencedogood, I wish I could tell you more. Unfortunately, that would ruin the surprise. Just keep watching the news. It'll all come out soon enough.

Charles :)

December 6, 2011 at 12:08 p.m.
volunteersone said...

I don't understand why we can't replicate these schools in some of the empty school buildings around town. It can't be because the buildings are in too bad if shape-CSAS and CSLA are both housed in ancient buildings. It can't be due to money because I know the D of E allots CSAS about what it costs one child to attend school at mccallie, Baylor or gps to run our school. It doesn't make sense why. You could fill two more Paidea schools easily. CSAS and CSLA are in the top five percent of schools in the entire state. Give us some real reasons why we can't replicate them, Ms. Riddle. Ann-Marie Fitzsimmons CSAS Parent and Volunteer

December 6, 2011 at 12:59 p.m.
Topher said...

Just a quick note: It was not my intent to say that Barger was unacceptable. We are planning to move to a neighborhood closer to downtown in the next couple of months (hence our desire to get into CSAS) and that school was unacceptable. We want to tour Barger before making a decision on whether to send our daughter there.

And volunteersone--I'd argue that we don't need to use empty buildings. Take a failing school, scrap it, and start a program there.

I'm sorry that my daughter won't be attending CSLA or CSAS, but from the beginning some of the attitudes bothered me. The Paideia maxim "the best education for the best being the best education for all" is completely hypocritical here, since it's really "the best education for the best being the best education for children with involved parents." If Paideia really works, we need to use it for the students whose parents aren't able or willing to be involved as well.

December 6, 2011 at 1:59 p.m.
justobserving said...

Look at me, look at me. I have all this evidence but I'm not telling. Jeez, Charles are you actually a grown-up or still in grammar school. The reason you won't share your information is because you know that you will be a laughing stock when people actually see your "evidence". Better to keep your mouth shut and let people think you're fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt. All doubt will be removed when Charles blows the lid on the evil lottery.

December 6, 2011 at 2 p.m.
CBIKAS said...

No. actually it's because there's a Federal Investigation. Why don't you make me keep my mouth shut - coward.

December 6, 2011 at 2:07 p.m.
justobserving said...

Charles, did you forget to take your meds today? Oh come on, don't get mad at me. I personally don't want you to keep your mouth shut. You bring so much entertainment to the debate. Besides, I suppose you need this venue to stroke your Napoleon complex. The floor is yours, stroke away.

December 6, 2011 at 2:33 p.m.
volunteersone said...

@Topher Either way, existing school or empty building, would be fine by me. My guess would be there would be push-back from some parents at an existing school to transition over, especially from parents not wanting to give 18 hours or those just plain afraid of change.

I do disagree with you statement about your interpretation of the Paideia statement though. You went to the meetings, so you know, that parent involvement is a big part of these schools.

We have parents who give the minimum 18 hours, we have parents and grandparents who give way over that. One reason it works is because we are able to get things done that other schools can't because there is such a huge focus on volunteering.

Another thing is, yes, having involved parents means a lot to a school's/a student's sucess.I've learned that, as a parent, I have a lot of work to do to make sure my kids succeed. Not all of them would do what they need to do to succeed of it weren't from my constant harping. And our teachers, because of our philosophy, harp on us, as parents, to do what we need to do to help our kids succeed.

I just think it's shameful that so many kids are turned away year after year.

December 6, 2011 at 2:36 p.m.

I would not send your child to Barger if I were you. Both of my children attended that school and it was fine when my daughter was there, but went down hill fast after they integrated the children from 21st century into it. They now have lots of problems with behavior and some small time gang related problems where they have actually had to restrict the uniform even more to exclude gang colors. The teachers are trying to do a good job with what they are given, but many of the parents just don't care.

December 6, 2011 at 3:26 p.m.
CBIKAS said...

That's right. Just keep hiding behind a pen name - coward. I got a couple of calls after your idiotic remarks. Basically, I was told not to waste my time with you. I have what I need to win now. And I don't need to waste my time on someone who has nothing better to offer than snide insults.

December 6, 2011 at 3:55 p.m.
LaughingBoy said...

Slapping a magnet school label on some of these schools and expecting changes, without practical solutions being implemented, is a losing battle.

December 6, 2011 at 3:55 p.m.
Lr103 said...

LaughingBoy said... Slapping a magnet school label on some of these schools and expecting changes, without practical solutions being implemented, is a losing battle.

I agree. That's basically what I've been saying all along. I've worked within many schools. It doesn't matter if the school is private, public, a Magnet school or classes are being held outside in a farm field. It all begins with the attitude and professionalism of the staff and teachers. From there it all goes either down or uphill. One of the most wonderful and enthusiastic math teachers I ever encountered only held a high diploma. Yet, her teaching skills were off the chart and her students admired and respected her. She had them practically eating out of the palm of her hand. She loved her students and they loved her. Discipline problems were rare to non-existing. When educational heads from central found out she only held a high school education she wasn't allowed to teach anymore. She started out as an involved parent helping out in the school, to substitute teaching. Then when they were lacking a math teacher, the school placed her in the position for what was suppose to be only temporary and short term.

I still stay the positive realationship between staff, parents and students define the success or failure of a school. It doesn't matter what name is placed on the heading, but what's actually taking place inside. If teachers and staff have a negative view of the students they teach and their parents, when the relationship and communication between parents, student, teachers and staff are fragmented, non-existing or has been destroyed, that school is bound to fail.

December 6, 2011 at 4:16 p.m.
justobserving said...

"I have what I need to win now." I just love listening to someone with an inferiority complex (or was it a Napoleon complex.) Oh well, it doesn't matter. The diatribe is about the same. It goes something like this. "I know I'm a nobody but I have to puff my chest out and talk big so that someone will respect me. If that doesn't work, create a fictitious, ominous event that only I know the details and warn everyone of my impending wrath." Do you work for a secret government agency, too? I can't speak for others but I am very impressed. Congratulations on getting your wife's permission to use the computer by the way. Keep up the good work.

December 6, 2011 at 4:17 p.m.
everybodychill said...

Could you elaborate on what you mean when you say "I have what I need to win now"? What comprises winning and what end does it serve?

December 6, 2011 at 4:18 p.m.
Meece said...

Charles, I was just thinking about you and thought you might be hanging out here. I was wondering if you've had a chance to look at the TDOE report card data? You've been claiming for some time now that NPMM "picks and chooses" children, and this is the reason for the success. As you may know, the TDOE report card includes scores for both overall achievement and value-added for each of the four subjects that are tested. Value-added is a measure of improvement in the children's scores from the previous year's test scores. It is used a measure of teacher's effectiveness - in essence, are the children progressing at a rate faster than you would expect because they simply knew more in the beginning. These data give some insight to the claims that you and others have made.

December 6, 2011 at 4:23 p.m.
Meece said...

To illustrate the interplay between achievement and value-added scores, consider the results for two elementary schools, Thrasher and Orchard Knob. Demographically, Thrasher enrolled 549 students, 93.8% white, 10.1% economically disadvantaged. In achievement, Thrasher scored A's in all four subjects (Math, Reading/Language, Social Studies, and Science). In value-added, on the other hand, Thrasher scored one A, two B's and one D. Orchard Knob enrolled 437 children, of whom 95.8% were African-American and over 95% were economically disadvantaged. In Achievement, the students at Orchard Knob averaged an F in every subject. But in value-added scores, the Orchard Knob students received three A's and a C. What we see are classic examples of the well-documented “Achievement Gap” between upper- and lower-income schools: children from the upper-income homes tend to score higher than the children form lower-income homes. Despite the more rapid growth in learning form the children in lower-income homes, they started out behind the children in the upper-income homes and still have not caught up. The children in the upper-income level homes, perhaps because they grew up in homes with more language stimulation and enrichment activities, out-perform the children from the lower-income homes, despite the fact that they are not progressing as rapidly in some subjects.

December 6, 2011 at 4:23 p.m.
Meece said...

So how did the children in Normal Park Museum Magnet School do? If the claims of “hand chosen” children were valid, we would expect a pattern more like Thrasher – high scores in achievement but lower scores in value-added. Normal Park Museum Magnet enrolled 757 children, who were 78% white and 29.5% economically disadvantaged. These children scored straight A's in achievement as well as straight A's in value-added. Moreover, NPMM was the ONLY school in Hamilton County to score straight A's in value-added. It should be no surprise that such a set of perfect scores are exceedingly rare. These results demonstrate that not only are the children at NPMM performing at an excellent level compared to their peers, they are also making more rapid advances. This evidence directly contradicts the claims that the success of NPMM reflects merely the sort of outcomes we could expect from the “achievement gap” - that the children perform well simply because they are from upper-income homes. Instead, these scores provide direct evidence of the hard work of the teachers, administrators, parents and community.

December 6, 2011 at 4:24 p.m.
CBIKAS said...


I wish I could. But we just need to let the Federal Investigation run its course. Once it has reached a conclusion I would more than happy to share my evidence with you. The goal is create accountability and fairness with the lottery system. A school board member asked me to pay a bribe to win the lottery in 2009. That's why there's a federal investigation now. So I hope you can see past these personal attacks against me and focus on the real issues.

All the best, Charles :)

December 6, 2011 at 4:26 p.m.
everybodychill said...

Thanks Charles. It will be interesting to see what happens. It was certainly brave of you to have contacted, I assume, the Federal authorities to report this school board member and their attempts at deception and entrapment. Such behavior is certainly well beyond the realm of an elected official such as a school board member to attempt.

December 6, 2011 at 4:34 p.m.
justobserving said...

Charles, let me just say this. IF what you said is true and not just part of your delusional world, I hope that person is prosecuted to the full extent possible. However, I fail to see how this justifies your repeated attacks against administrators, teachers, and parents of children at NPMM. It seems to me that you have applied the "One bad apple" stereotype. You and I both know that is grossly unfair to the people who put in so much work for not only NPMM but the other magnets as well.

December 6, 2011 at 4:48 p.m.
TopherKersting said...

I agree that one of the main strengths of CSAS/CSLA and the other magnet schools is the parental involvement, but I think that it may also be making other schools worse in the process.

Let's say, for example, that 30% of parents will volunteer at their schools. Given a hypothetical school district of 10 schools and 1,000 students, that means 300 students with involved parents. Without magnet schools and assuming involved parents don't remove their kids from the system and even distribution, this would give us 30 kids with involved parents per school. Now, take two schools and make them magnets that require parental involvement. These schools effectively remove 200 students with involved parents from the system, leaving each of the other eight schools with about 12. If these parents get discouraged, that number might drop further because they don't see the point of fighting a forest fire with a squirt gun.

As a result, I wonder if Paideia really works or if the success of the schools is simply due to the exclusion of students without strong family emphasis on education....

So yeah, I am a hypocrite. I don't like the system, but I understand that it is better for my daughter to be in a school with many involved parents rather than just a few. If I'm going to be stuck in a system of haves and have-nots, I'm making sure I'm with the haves, even if my overall desire is to reduce or eliminate the have-nots. In a perfect world, we'd expand the CSAS/CSLA approach to more schools and implement it as best we can in some schools where the family support is substandard. If it's as good as its backers say it is, we should see that in fairly short order.

December 6, 2011 at 9:30 p.m.
djw3q_mtsu_f11 said...

As a graduate of C.S.A.S., Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences, I totally understand the stress that goes into getting into that school. I automatically went there after I left C.S.L.A., Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts, in the eighth grade. My mother is a single parent and she did everything in her power to get me into C.S.L.A. I started there in the 3rd grade through 8th grade, and then I continued my education at C.S.A.S. from the 9th-12th grade. Both of those schools are a cut above the rest. I loved my experience at both schools. Teachers really cared and wanted you to succeed there and in life in general. I want my niece and nephew to go to these schools because of the great experiences that I had there. The education that I received was more advanced than the education that some of my friends received at different institutions. They instill in you a different way of thinking and you may not realize how fortunate you are when you’re there; however, as time went on I realized how blessed I was to have attended those establishments. I understand why it’s so competitive to get into those schools and I applaud the parents who are going to the extreme for their children to get in, it will all pay off in the end.

December 7, 2011 at 12:42 a.m.
Meece said...

Charles, the allegation that a school board member solicited a bribe to get your child in to NPMM is fascinating.

But it does not support the claims that NPMM administrators somehow "pick and choose" students.

Remember that the lottery is held by central administration. The NPMM staff and administration have no input in to it and no control over it.

Neither does the school board. The school board members have no control or input whatsoever into the lottery.

The only way that a school board member could have gotten your child into NPMM was to include your home in the school zone.

So, the bribe was being solicited to expand the zone to include your home.

I have not been one to believe the allegations that I have read and heard that the school board recently voted to include Hill City in the NPMM zone because of the resulting increase in property values, because the school board members were paid off.

Your allegation, though, does lend support to those rumors.

December 8, 2011 at 8:46 a.m.
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