Back in 2009, when approval was awarded to the Ivy Academy after several years of applications and rigorous activity, the thought that Tennessee's first and only environmental charter school would find accolades just a few years later likely was not yet a notion.
The Smithsonian Institute has named Ivy Academy,one of Hamilton County's three public charter schools, as a regional partner in a project to record trees indigenous to the North Chickamauga Creek Gorge. The project will serve as a resource for scientists all over the world accessing Smithsonian research.
Ivy Academy is an almost three-year-old charter school led by founder Marie Daly and director Angie Markum on a 40-acre campus wedged between old Highway 27 in Soddy-Daisy and Mowbray Mountain. The adjacent landmass of 7,000 acres is owned by the state and serves as an extension of nature's canvas to these students.
Tennessee's General Assembly first approved, very cautiously, public charter schools in 2002 with restrictions on growth maintained through a cap. After public demand and a change in the majority and leadership of the legislature, Tennessee now is home to 48 schools that, while funded just as other traditional public schools on a per-pupil basis, have the freedom to individualize curriculum, school year calendars, hours of session and classroom approaches.
Charter school operating funds are a mix of state and local dollars totaling $8,100 per pupil in Nashville, $7,500 in Memphis and $7,100 in Chattanooga, according to the Tennessee Charter Schools Association.
Charter school legislation in 2011 designated the admissions to these public schools as open enrollment. That applies to all three of Hamilton County's tuition-free charter schools: Ivy Academy, the Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy, and Chattanooga Charter School of Excellence.
As Tennessee lawmakers and educator work to offer both excellence and choice, the Chattanooga area enjoys options for parents and students. Area businesses will benefit from an educated and skilled workforce. And partners, such as the Smithsonian Institute, will benefit from associations made to extend their reach.