published Monday, June 16th, 2014

Hamilton County's fourth charter school will open this fall in midst of public housing

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    Brian Rentzsch stands in front of the old James A. Henry School. Rentzsch will be the school leader of The Consortium of Law and Business Chattanooga Charter School. The school is scheduled to open this fall on the Westside.
    Photo by Tim Barber.
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Does Chattanooga need another charter school?

OUR CHARTER SCHOOLS

The New Consortium of Law and Business charter school will be the fourth charter school in Hamilton County.

The others are:

Chattanooga Charter School of Excellence: Opened 2011-2012. Grades K-4. Focus: Liberal arts curriculum, including foreign languages and fine arts

Girls Leadership Academy: Opened 2009-2010. Grades 6 - 12. Focus: STEM (science, technology, engineering and math)

Ivy Academy: Opened 2009-2010. Grades 9 -12. Focus: Environmental

ABOUT THE SCHOOL

Here are some details concerning the New Consortium of Law and Business Chattanooga Charter School:

Grades: This fall the school will include only sixth and seventh grades. The school plans to add one grade a year and eventually have grades 6 - 12.

Class size: About 15 students per teacher

Admission: All students are accepted regardless of test scores or grades.

Unique features: Students will work on Chrome laptops that they will take home every night.

More information: Call Rentzsch at 423-598-1172 or email him at brentzsch@newconsortium.com.

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    The James A. Henry Building will be the site of the county's fourth charter school.
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A charter school plans to open in the Westside this fall where less than half the residents graduate high school, crime is higher than the national average and household income averages less than $10,000 a year.

"We're here to give students another option to get on the right track," said Brian Rentzsch, school leader of the New Consortium of Law and Business Chattanooga Charter School.

The school, covering the middle and high school grades, expects to open in the old James A. Henry Family Resource Center with about 70 students. It offers students in that area an alternative to Howard School, for which they are zoned.

"We're going to show them that success after high school isn't just for other people," said Rentzsch. "It is obtainable for them."

The New Consortium of Law and Business Chattanooga is Hamilton County's fourth charter school. It is unique in that it sits in the center of eight government-subsidized housing sites, putting it in immediate proximity of the children and families it hopes to reach.

That's by design.

"We picked that area because as we grew we wanted to help the community around us," said Rentzsch. "We knew we could be a big part of the community in helping those families."

The school has signed a lease for the building with the Chattanooga Housing Authority. CHA Executive Director Betsy McCright said schools can become the center of the community, educating children during the day and becoming a community meeting place at night.

"We hope that their presence will help stabilize the neighborhood," said McCright.

However, a sister school in Memphis has been under scrutiny for poor standardized test scores.

In the 2012-13 school year, the state report card for the New Consortium of Law and Business in Memphis showed that nearly 86 percent of its students in grades 6 through 8 scored below grade level in math and nearly 79 percent scored below grade level in reading. The report card shows just 13 students total enrolled in those three grades.

Dr. Lee McDade, assistant superintendent of the Hamilton County Department of Education, said officials here will be watching to make sure the Chattanooga school fulfills its obligations.

"We want a safe environment for our students to start with, and we want to make sure that they're being academically challenged," said McDade. "If they do open and don't meet those requirements, we would certainly move to close them as quickly as we could."

It took three tries for the school to receive approval to open in Hamilton County.

School board members said the first proposal submitted in November 2011 needed adjustments. The second submission the following month got the approval by the majority of board members attending the meeting, but the vote was 4-2 and the consortium needed five votes. The Hamilton County Board of Education approved the formation of the school Sept. 19, 2013.

The sister school in Memphis is among three Shelby County charter schools whose scores rank in the bottom 5 percent and could be considered for sanctions, according to Shelby County Schools. The low-performing schools also include the Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering.

Both were founded by Tommie A. Henderson, who also will be executive director of the business and law school in Chattanooga. Henderson could not be reached for comment.

But Rentzsch said the Memphis students' scores on standardized tests are improving.

"The schools draw students from some of the higher-poverty areas, and that plays a factor when the scores start out," said Rentzsch. "But we think that getting students in the program, we can get them on track as they work toward graduating high school."

Poverty is the most dominant factor in determining the outcome of a person's education, outranking race and geography, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

Every child under age 18 who lives in the Westside lives in poverty, according to the 2012 Chattanooga Gang Assessment.

Rentzch said he is not discouraged by the statistics. Within the next couple of weeks he hopes to finalize plans for enrolling students and meet with parents who have rising sixth- and seventh-graders about their children attending the consortium.

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at yputman@timesfreepress.com or call 423-757-6431.

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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