published Sunday, December 11th, 2011

Parents explore high school options for downtown and North Chattanooga

Is a new high school needed for North Chattanooga and downtown?

tThough her oldest child is only in second grade, Tracey Carisch already has her mind on high school.

She wonders what options will exist when her daughter leaves Normal Park Museum Magnet School after eighth grade. And she's not alone.

About 100 parents met last month to discuss concerns about their high school options. Primarily parents from Normal Park, along with some from Brown Academy and Battle Academy, they are wondering what comes next after their children leave those successful and sought-after magnet schools. Some even are pitching the idea of a new downtown high school.

"Maybe we're comfortable with the elementary schools we have, but what about our high school options?" Carisch said. "Parents have been concerned about high school."

While this amassing of parents is new, the discussion over what comes next for students in those magnet schools is years old.

"This conversation has gone on for several years. We get it all the time," said Karla Riddle, director of innovative programs for the Hamilton County Department of Education.

But these parents are doing more than just talking. They are moving forward with assessments of Red Bank High School -- into which the Normal Park zone feeds -- and what options exist for a new high school.

Red Bank High was among 19 Hamilton County schools this year to make the state's high-priority list of schools that missed No Child Left Behind testing benchmarks two years in a row.

Normal Park is in good standing, Principal Jill Levine said. It received straight A's for student achievement and value-added scores, which measure students year-to-year academic growth -- the only school in the district to do so.

Demographically, the schools look somewhat different, also. Normal Park is 78 percent white and 29.5 percent economically disadvantaged, according to the state report card. Red Bank is 64.6 percent white and 64.4 percent economically disadvantaged, records show.

If schools such as Red Bank need academic improvement, parents say, they want to help.

Bill Payne, also zoned for Normal Park, is working with a group to examine Red Bank High. His group will tour the school and meet with the principal in January.

With his oldest child in second grade at Normal Park, Payne wonders if his daughter will have a high school experience on par with her Normal Park education.

"It's not something you want to start thinking about when your kids are in eighth grade," he said.

More distant options parents are discussing include a new charter school or a new public school, either one serving as a Normal Park High School or a downtown-area high school.

But Carisch said that's not the immediate goal.

"Maybe someday this turns into an initiative to develop a downtown high school," she said. "But right now it's just parents looking at a bunch of different options."

Where to go?

Split into an upper and lower school, Normal Park provides prekindergarten through eighth-grade education to children living in its North Chattanooga zone and to magnet students from across the county.

Brown and Battle each have downtown-area zones and take in magnet students. But those schools go only to fifth grade, which means some parents' concerns are coming earlier than those at Normal Park.

Levine said most of her students go on to Red Bank High School, private school or the Center for Creative Arts, another Hamilton County magnet school.

A year at one of Chattanooga's more prestigious private schools can cost upward of $20,000.

Carisch said most parents involved in the discussions are interested in learning more about existing public school options such as Red Bank High. Some believe existing schools aren't of high-enough quality, she said, but they're beginning to rethink that perception.

"Right now, they're just making assumptions that, 'Oh, this isn't a reality for me,'" Carisch said. "What we all kind of walked away saying is that what we really have with our high schools is a little bit of a PR problem."

Parents aren't trying to put down other schools, Payne said.

"For a lot of people, private school is not an option," he said. "And they want to support the public schools."

Riddle, who oversees the magnet school program, said she ideally would like to see a new magnet middle/high school in the downtown or North Chattanooga area. Such a school could serve students from Battle, Brown and Normal Park.

"I would love to have a [grade] six through 12 school in the downtown area," she said. "I think we've got a growing need there. We've got a population that is invested in that area."

But that kind of undertaking might be years down the road.

The school district's three-phase facility plan includes $247 million in future building needs. A downtown high school isn't one of the proposed projects.

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 ...

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.
ldurham said...

Goodness no, that's ridiculous. Since the Signal Mountain school was built, there's plenty of room at Red Bank High. There's plenty of room at Howard High. Center for Creative Arts is nowhere near capacity. These three schools could easily handle the Normal Park future high schoolers. Of course many of them are only going to Normal Park (a "public" private school) to avoid paying Bright/St. Nicholas tuition. So they can use the money they're saving now to pay for a private high school, which is what most will probably do.

Let's call it like it is: there is little diversity at Normal Park now, and the minority children are mostly hand-picked, and the ones without supportive parents are weeded out. You can't do that at Red Bank or Howard, so many NP parents will reject those choices. Many of the "money families" will be off to Baylor, etc., and the Target crowd will check into the more affordable options like Notre Dame and Chattanooga Christian.

Of course another option would be to transfer miracle worker Jill Levine to be principal at Red Bank or Howard. She owns the secret formula that transformed Normal Park. Why not let her do her magic at a high school? Surely the dollars will follow, right?

Bottom line: Red Bank is a good school, and Howard is improving. But I doubt you'll see many Normal Park families end up at either of them. For all their talk about "making every school a great school," they'd rather put their children in a white-bread environment that is funded by wealthy families. End result, the rich get richer, and the very people who could help Red Bank and Howard stay far, far away.

So here's a challenge to the Normal Park faithful: send your child to Red Bank starting in 9th grade. Do what you've done at Normal Park: beautify, get your neighbors and business friends to rebuild, renovate and redo. Volunteer. Solicit donations. Teach unenlightened parents how to make this school great too. Insist on the best teachers. In other words, just keep doing what you're doing, only a few miles away. If you do this, we'll know you've been sincere about making every school great. But if you bail out and take the private school route, you will expose your hypocrisy.

December 11, 2011 at 8:12 a.m.
inquiringmind said...

Take a look at Northside High School in Atlanta. You can create a high academic-quality school even when the demographics might suggest it is a problem. The challenge is you have to have the support of the school board (not that Atlanta has one to brag about).

Idurham sounds a little prejudiced. With a school board more interested in hair styling and nails, and pandering to racism than in teaching quality of the schools, a parent is put in a position of gambling with one's children's future. I sent my child to one of those "white-bread" private schools with great hesitation and economic sacrifice that required me to sell my house to pay off the loans, but spent a lot of time making sure he understood running a grocery store and supporting your kid's beer parties isn't the moral life that some of his classmate's parents make it out to be.

December 11, 2011 at 8:32 a.m.
ldurham said...

Okay, inquiring mind: you've performed miracles at Normal Park "without the support of the school board." What's keeping you from doing the same thing at Red Bank?

December 11, 2011 at 8:42 a.m.
dcrane said...

Has K. Riddle or anyone in downtown or North Chattanooga considered that if a new CSLA K-12 school is built that CSAS will lose half of its high school population and a feeder school?

December 11, 2011 at 9:31 a.m.
educator2012 said...

There was a great downtown high school i.e. kirkman technical high school. A school in which many of my older relatives went to. This is quite interesting how we've come full circle in considering opening ANOTHER downtown high school. CSAS and CSLA should both be k-12 and have a school zone and a lottery process. Normal Park seems to hand pick their students. If all schools could do that, then they could all be schools of excellence. As a teacher myself I know that many of us all doing all we can and more to make these schools great. More parent involvement and community support is needed. Howard at one time was a stellar school and it is getting back to that. It takes parents, the school staff, community, and of course the students to make these schools successes. Normal Park has done it. Any other school can do it.

December 11, 2011 at 4:35 p.m.
CBIKAS said...

December 11, 2011 at 8:26 p.m.
Meece said...

ldurham, how do you explain the results from the Tennessee Department of Education Report Card that DIRECTLY contradict with hard evidence the insinuations that you are still trying to repeat?

What does "public" private school mean? That is nonsensical.

And why do you continue to forget all about Brown and Battle?

My children play little league in red bank, and I wouldn't have a problem sending them there, even though it is a different town from where we live, but the idea of a downtown magnet school fed by Brown, Battle and NPMM is an important one whose time has come.

December 11, 2011 at 8:53 p.m.
ldurham said...

Meece, I stand by every word I wrote. Facts are facts. Yes, Normal Park has a great report card. Let Red Bank Elementary's principal run off the "bad" teachers, discourage (or disallow) students whose parents can't/won't volunteer, then after the riff-raff has been weeded out, recruit wealthy parents from the finer neighborhoods, mall owners, medical practices and law firms, and pretty soon Red Bank Elementary would be on top of the world too.

In fact, as you often state, copy the Normal Park formula at EVERY school. But then no one answers the question: where do you put all the teachers and students you run off and turn away? If you do this at EVERY school....where do these cast-offs go?

December 11, 2011 at 10:38 p.m.
Meece said...

Ldurham, According to your view, some children simply can't learn.

If what you said was true, it might explain the straight A's in achievement at NPMM, but it can not explain the straight A's in value added.

How do you explain the value added?

You haven't written any facts, only your mistaken belief that only children from upper ses can do well.

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

ldurhan, also Red Bank High School is one of the possibilities being examined. There is a committee working with that purpose. Read the article above.

Having said that, it seems only a few weeks ago that voices were complaining that Red Bank was too far away for children in Hill City.

Brown and Battle do not have a feeder middle or high school. This isn't about your grudge against NPMM.

Also, Red Bank High School is a failing school. Under the NCLB act, children who are zoned for a failing school can attend a different school. So all of the children currently zoned for Red Bank High School could attend a different school - I'm not sure if these are the "cast-offs" you are referring to.

Finally, I think most would agree that if teachers are doing a failing job they should be "cast-off."

December 12, 2011 at 7:30 a.m.
ldurham said...

Meece, you're still having trouble with that basic question that always go unanswered, so let me try again. Yes, many of the students and/or teachers that were chased out of Normal Park a few years ago are now at Red Bank Elementary, Red Bank Middle, Howard, Rivermont and several other schools. None of these schools are able to require parental involvement and volunteerism. None of these schools are allowed to chase away "bad" teachers; instead, this is where many of them are dumped by Normal Park and other chosen schools. Now, most of these schools are "failing" according to some of the criteria in NCLB. So: if they could do like Normal Park did, and get rid of the students and teachers who are causing them to fail; where would you send them?

December 12, 2011 at 7:47 a.m.
ldurham said...

As for a feeder high school for Battle/Brown, Howard is just a few blocks away, with plenty of space. Not up to your standards? Transfer Jill Levine to be principal, or someone who can follow her recipe of getting parents to volunteer and make it a better school. That's all there is to it!

December 12, 2011 at 7:53 a.m.
Meece said...

ldurham I think that your basic premise is incorrect.

You keep saying that children were "chased out" or "gotten rid of" but I don't agree with you.

The implication is that some children are not capable of learning. And I don't agree with you.

Again, the value added scores demonstrate that this is not the case.

That evidence may not agree with your personal opinions.

In my opinion, if some teachers are not doing an adequate job, they should not be teaching.

You have made many posts on several threads complaining about teachers being fired at NPMM, and you seem to have a grudge against the NPMM administrators.

It almost seems like a personal issue for you.

But yes, I would like to see all schools in Hamilton County experience the same success as NPMM.

And I believe that they can.

And I agree with you that one component of that success is parent involvement.

If part of that involves letting poor teachers go, then they should be.

So your basic question "where would you send them?" is that all children are entitled to free public education, and all children are capable of learning. No one is "chasing out" children. Teachers, who are performing poorly should not be teaching.

Parents are often quick to blame teachers when children perform poorly, teachers are often quick to blame parents. Both are necessary and critical. They must be on the same team.

December 12, 2011 at 8:31 a.m.
ldurham said...

Meece, you're really having trouble answering that basic question aren't you?

I have no grudge against Normal Park. I too, wish every school had great teachers, great students and great test scores. Just stop trying to make Normal Park sound like some great miracle in education. It's not. We all know what happened. The business community got behind Normal Park to boost the North Shore. Good for them. Supts. Register and Scales, Jill Levine, Chip Baker and their deep-pocket friends, were all in on it.

Ask the teachers who formerly taught at Normal Park Elementary and Chattanooga Middle what happened. They're not shy. Most of them were experienced, black, or both. They had a different principal every year, no support from central office, no support from parents. They were set up to fail.

When the new magnet administration came in, they ensured that existing parents and teachers were not welcome. Parents were told that if they couldn't commit the hours (translation: if they had no transportation, or if they had multiple jobs) their children wouldn't be allowed to stay. The "bad" teachers were barely given the courtesy of a five-minute interview, knowing that all-new, hand-picked teachers were being brought in. Then came the money.

Again: this cannot be done at every public school. Some schools HAVE to accept all students, which usually leads to failing grades. And as much as you'd like to get rid of every "poor performing" teacher, that's impossible too. All you can do is shuffle them to another school; and if you're Normal Park, you're given permission to do that. Red Bank, Soddy, Rivermont, etc. cannot do that. Which is why the "bad" teachers end up at non-magnet schools.

In a perfect world, every school would have volunteering parents from wealthy families with time to decorate, renovate and raise funds. Right now that list includes a few private schools and Normal Park. If you figure out a way to add every public school to that list, please share.

December 12, 2011 at 9:33 a.m.
chattyjill said...

"What we all kind of walked away saying is that what we really have with our high schools is a little bit of a PR problem." From The Corporation the first step to gentrification is to declare the community school as failing. Then bring in police. Back in the 90's white folks in N Chatt wouldn't send their kids to Normal or Chatt Middle. They were declared "failing" - that allowed for the "transformation" - namely changing the zone from including E Chatt, Westside and Hill City (the po folks) to just including N Chatt east of N Market St over to Riverview and the Golf and Country club. The apts at the awkward Dallas/Fariview intersection are excluded from the zone still to this day.

Furthermore, it seems NPMM has a PR problem. On the same date as this article, the TFP printed a letter to the editor. The author tries to dispel NPMM's reputation for hand picking students. PR is the first step toward future changes. If NPMM wants a high school, they'll have to clean up their reputation of being discriminatory. However I would like to point out the TN Report Card also showed NPMM has declining % of minorities and economically disadvantaged children. Probably because the zone gentrified right after the po' neighborhoods were kicked out of the zone.

Personally, I believe magnet schools and charter schools are detrimental to the public school system. So let's say a Downtown/N chatt magnet-fed high school or charter school is built, where does that leave the non-magnet downtown residents? Oh yeah, if they can't attend NPMM they get pushed out to Red Bank HS and Howard HS - true public schools where all children are welcome regardless of their parent's ability to volunteer. The parents concerned about high school options need to be working for the betterment of the whole county-wide school system rather than just the magnet schools that serve their limited interest.

Here is an idea: magnet schools require parent hours and many parent hours, especially at NPMM, go toward fundraising activities. So basically magnet schools have access to free labor for income-generating activities. Public schools can't require parental hours. Any time public (non-magnet) school employees or PTA spend on fund raisers comes either on the tax-payers dime or on their personal time. So let's say any money raised by schools that require parental work hours should be shared with the county system 50/50. 50% stays with the magnet school of origin and the other 50% goes into the school system's budget or to a partnered non-magnet public school. That way the magnet school's ability to fundraise using required parent hours would benefit the whole school system and all children.

Your children are unique special flowers - just like every other child in this world. Magnets and charters and STEM schools are faddish money funnels that are privatizing our public school systems.

December 12, 2011 at 9:52 a.m.
ldurham said...

chattyjill: well done. And your idea of 50/50 fund-raising is awesome. It makes sense. But the magnet moms & dads will never let it happen....because of their "limited interest." If they are truly concerned about ALL schools, as they say: they will put up. If not, they should stop the propaganda.

December 12, 2011 at 11:16 a.m.
chattyjill said...

Don't underestimate Magnet moms & dads. People will always surprise you. Limited interest basically boils down to doing what is best for MY kids. Is that a crime? No. But in my opinion, it is limited interest. It highlights how far we have come from caring for our fellow humans. It highlights the undercurrents of all the 'isims. MY child deserves this, MY family has this situation, MY family comes first. That is not a crime but when quality public education is a limited commodity that attitude brings out the elbows and somebody will climb to the top of the dog-pile and others will be in the dog-pile.

This is so far removed from the value of LOVE FOR CHILDREN. When parents are competing for what they believe to be theirs, they are denying to others the same resource. The only solution is to make ALL schools great for ALL children, regardless of parents. Adults are flawed, children are innocent. What is being done to treat ALL children fairly? You can't hold the sins of the parents over the heads of the children.

There are hundreds of millions of dollars, billions even, out there for education. We all pay taxes. There is not a lack of resources for school, just a lack of priorities. Addressing where our priorities are is essential to addressing the educational divide that exists in this country and in Hamilton County. Are our priorities with the children, or are some involved parents and board members begrudging the under-involved parents for the sake of securing what they believe to be entitled to?

December 12, 2011 at 2:24 p.m.
prairiedog said...

Get a part-time job on the weekend and save the money to send the kid to one of the local high-quality schools such as Baylor, McCallie and GPS.

It's not rocket science. 50 saturdays per year for six years ought to bring in at least $30,000 by the time high school is an issue.

December 16, 2011 at 9:23 a.m.
teacher19 said...

The Normal Park Museum Magnet works because the parents and other community members CARE enough to do what it takes. One of the previous bloggers mentioned that some of the poorer parents cannot volunteer due to working various jobs and not having transportation. Then how to they get to work or do anything? The rift is cultural, not economic. Normal Park draws kids from a pretty diverse group, and they are not generally bluebloods. That crowd tends to send their kids to other schools, such as Bright School. 5 days or less is a rather miniscule amount to ask parents to volunteer, considering the importance of their children! Some of the bloggers give a lot of credit to the "miracle worker" Principal Levine (which may have been sarcastic; I could not tell) but she would be the first to say that it is PARENTS FIRST, then quality teachers (it sounds like some deadwood was eliminated from the schools, but usually some good teachers get caught in such a pogrom, unfortunately) who administrators LET TEACH! Last, Normal Park does not "pick" their students but must allow all those zoned to attend. The out-of-district magnet students are not "picked" but selected by lottery- all it takes is MOTIVATED PARENTS. Hopefully, the parents who recently fought for and won attendance (the Hill City ones and others) will join with existing parents to continue the excellence. All of us in the education community have been stunned and thrilled by the success of Normal Park. We wish that parents in other areas would have the same fervor to help their children. The more parents who come to the school to volunteer, the better. You don't have to have any special skills or education- just show up to let the kids know you care about what goes on in the school!

December 19, 2011 at 11:04 p.m.
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