published Sunday, February 20th, 2011

School improvements follow NAACP complaint

  • photo
    Staff Photo by Allison Carter/Chattanooga Times Free Press - Maryo Beck, principal of Orchard Knob Middle School, talks about the ways in which a large space once heavily used for technology education can be repurposed for other uses.

Orchard Knob Middle School received a host of improvements, from renovated bathrooms to better classroom lighting and new lockers, after the NAACP filed a federal complaint last year alleging discrimination by the Hamilton County Department of Education.

The school got $756,426 worth of upgrades in the past two years, with most of the work done during the summer and fall break this year, said Gary Waters, assistant superintendent of auxiliary services for Hamilton County Schools.

Of those, only new air-conditioning in the gym and some other gym improvements were done before the NAACP's complaint was filed with the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights in May 2010, he said.

However, Waters said all schools are treated equitably and that the work at Orchard Knob was planned before the NAACP complaint was filed.

But George Ricks, a Hamilton County school board member whose District 4 includes Orchard Knob Middle, maintains that the NAACP complaint and complaints from parents have helped get things done at the school.

"The NAACP complaining, the parents complaining, has opened our eyes," Ricks said last week during a tour of Orchard Knob Middle. "We walked this building, looked at some things that needed to be done ... and so we went to work on it."

Valoria Armstrong, president of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said civil rights investigators called her in January. They planned to be in Chattanooga this month to visit various schools as a result of the group's complaint, Armstrong said.

The Office of Civil Rights would not confirm or deny that a visit is planned, but a spokesman acknowledged that the office received the NAACP's complaint and that the concerns raised are being investigated.

U.S. Department of Education spokesman Jim Bradshaw wrote an e-mail this month to the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He said the Office of Civil Rights is looking into whether the district subjected black students to different treatment by spending more money to improve a track at East Hamilton High School, a majority-white school, while neglecting repairs and improvements at Howard School of Academics and Technology, Orchard Knob Middle and Brainerd High, predominantly black schools.

Not the first complaint

The NAACP's May 10 complaint said, in part: "Whereas, the School Board has allowed superior facilities and offerings for many white neighborhood areas;

"Whereas, great expenditures have and continue to be made in suburban white areas;

"Whereas, Orchard Knob Middle has and continues to be neglected for improvement. ...

"Now, therefore, the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Branch of the NAACP calls for a full and immediate investigation of this system."

Joe Rowe, NAACP first vice president, said Orchard Knob "has a history of dilapidated facilities and inadequate school books."

Asked if inner-city schools are treated differently from suburban schools when it comes to funding repairs, Waters responded, "absolutely not."

"On the maintenance side, we take it school by school and try to make it as equal as we can," he said. "Obviously, every year it won't work out exactly to the penny because of various needs. But it's equalized based on the size of the building and then on capital improvements. Money is spent on a needs-based approach."

Ricks agreed that spending on the schools is equal.

"We spend just as much money in the inner-city schools as we do at other schools," Ricks said, adding, "The older schools have a lot of problems."

This is the NAACP's second complaint in recent years. A complaint filed in October 2002 resulted in an eight-month investigation. The Office of Civil Rights tried to determine whether predominantly black schools were shorted on resources and teachers, and whether zoning excluded blacks near East Ridge Elementary from attending that school.

The NAACP dropped the complaint in July 2003 after Howard School of Academics and Technology was renovated and given new computers and students at Brainerd High School's success academy improved their reading scores.

The Office of Civil Rights subsequently dropped its inquiry without a finding.

Laying the groundwork

The recent attention on Orchard Knob Middle has motivated action, but wheels were turning at least three years ago, Ricks said.

The late Debra Matthews, former District 4 school board representative, spoke at school board meetings about needed improvements at Orchard Knob, Ricks said. Matthews died in August 2008.

When Maryo Beck took over as principal that year, he invited community members, including Ricks, to walk through the school and give suggestions to make it better.

Students also made complaints, Beck said.

Keys broke off in some lockers; other lockers wouldn't open even after the lock turned; and boys complained about having no doors on stalls in the bathrooms. The lockers and bathrooms were fixed this school year.

"We just kept bringing attention to it," Beck said.

Recent work at Orchard Knob Middle includes the installation of handicapped-accessible bathrooms, new waterlines and lockers and brighter, more energy-efficient lights in classrooms, Beck said.

The gym got new lights last summer and its windows were covered for better insulation this school year, he said.

School officials also expect locker rooms with working showers during the spring. If so, it will be the first time the school has had operable showers in at least the three years that Beck has been principal.

"We're going to make sure our kids get what they need," Ricks said. "Information is not falling on deaf ears."

More work needed

The school still needs improvements, including auditorium curtains, gym bleachers and new classrooms created from the school's obsolete machine shop, Beck said. But even more urgent are the students' technology needs, he said.

"The biggest thing I'm looking for now that can help us academically, I want wireless throughout the building so you don't have to move from one classroom to the next for all kids to have access to a computer," he said. "With wireless throughout the building, we can set laptops up at students' desk."

He said telecommunication experts said the cost would be in the tens of thousands of dollars.

Beck and Ricks said they both welcome any recommendations that the Office of Civil Rights investigators may give for improvement.

"It's good for people to come in and check. They might see something we don't see," Ricks said.

Said Beck, "What we need to do is and what we have not done is to invite the NAACP and other groups in to see what has been done and to help us think about some things we need to do."

Contact Yolanda Putman at or 423-757-6431.


The NAACP's May 10, 2010, letter to the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights alleged:

* Racial bias in some school zoning, including Normal Park Museum Magnet School.

* That vocational offerings were transferred from Hamilton County's inner-city, mostly black schools, where most students would enter some trade after high school.

* That a $100,000 bond was issued in 1990 to make improvements at Brainerd High by 1995, but they were not fully carried out and that the mostly black school is not free of asbestos as stipulated.

about Yolanda Putman...

Yolanda Putman has been a reporter at the Times Free Press for 11 years. She covers housing and previously covered education and crime. Yolanda is a Chattanooga native who has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Alabama State University. She previously worked at the Lima (Ohio) News. She enjoys running, reading and writing and is the mother of one son, Tyreese. She has also ...

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NObama12 said...

So typical...How long before the new "improvements" are destroyed?

February 20, 2011 at 8:39 a.m.
fbledsoe said...

It is so hard for the folks to escape the vicious cycle of "victim-hood" created by the NAACP when they continue to stir their potent poisonous brew of racial hatred and discontent. The NAACP totally relies on creating these contrived "injustices" and exaggerating the illusion of prejudicial discrimination for its continued existence. It is a crying shame it can't become part of the solution instead of the problem. In order to actually help the community it professes to serve it should promote accepting responsibility for one's actions and the duties we owe to God, family, community, and country. Instead the NAACP is content to merely continue stirring the fires of racial hatred with no regard for the ultimate consequences. Shame!

February 20, 2011 at 10:31 a.m.
WingerTN said...

to both comments above... I was thinking the exact same thing.

What started out to be a great idea has turned into the National Association of Always Complaining People.

February 20, 2011 at 10:42 a.m.
zwickau said...

I disagree with all 3 insensitive and derogatory comments. However, I will say the people still don't get it. That's why the approach is all wrong.

February 20, 2011 at 8:06 p.m.
B_Truthful said...

America doesn't change. This is the same America your parents, grandparents and great-great grandparents struggle to coexist and fought for equality. The solution is to change approach. Instead of continuing to bang heads against brick walls, why not better utilize your resources? Use those funds and donations to build skills where your communities can become self sufficient and won't have to beg and belittle. You have the gift right there before you in your young people. Provide them with the skills and training so your schools and communities won't have to always be in a state of deterioration. Bring in the right people who know what they're doing to teach. Schools like Howard and Riverside were self-sustaining. In that the schools offered all the classes needed to keep the schools in god repair. If something needed fixing the students and their instructors took care of the repairs. The students were graded accordingingly.

Any federal dollars sent down have always been diverted to something other than what they were initially meant. The pretense was to help the poor communities and schools, but when the funds the monies are used for everything but.

February 20, 2011 at 8:45 p.m.
dude_abides said...

Leviticus 19:17-18 Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt. Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.

Leviticus 20:1-7 I hate racism in all it's forms and will smite those who go there.

February 20, 2011 at 9:32 p.m.
KNCinTN said...

Totally agree with you Winger.

February 20, 2011 at 9:38 p.m.
NObama12 said...

The only form of racism is the NAAPC...Reverse racism. They are a joke.....This is 2011.

February 20, 2011 at 10:05 p.m.
zwickau said...

2011, 1911, 1811. What does this being 2011 have to do with anything? I've witnessed more racial hatred, intolerance and bigotry against minorities in the 21ST century than was apparent in mid 20TH century America and prior. It seems all that was accomplished with the election of a black president in the white PEOPLES house are some individuals are using that as a cover to hide their intolerance and racial hatred of others behind.

No, I'm not a minority.

February 20, 2011 at 10:59 p.m.
SavartiTN said...

Has anyone ever gone to Ooltewah Middle or Ooltewah High School. Those are two of the worst run down schools that I have seen in a long time but I don't hear anyone trying to do anything about it. Oh, wait, they are in the suburbs. Silly me!

July 13, 2011 at 1:50 a.m.
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