Hamilton County's public school administrators are closing schools they no longer can afford to operate, but several local officials insist now is the perfect time to open a new one.
City Judge Russell Bean plans to address the Chattanooga City Council today to try to get its members to support the idea of a vocational high school near the city's center.
"They build these other schools for academia," Judge Bean said. "I'm talking about one centralized school. I think it's absolutely the perfect time."
Sequoyah High School, formerly a vocational-only school, still offers the county's greatest selection of career and technical classes, but its location in Soddy-Daisy is too far for many students to travel, Judge Bean said.
The judge, who used to teach at the city's former vocational school, Kirkman Technical High School, said recent talk about possibly merging Soddy-Daisy and Sequoyah high schools presented an opportunity to talk again publicly about vocational education.
A merging of Soddy-Daisy and Sequoyah, which are located less than one mile from each other, would water down the career and technical focus at Sequoyah, the judge said.
Hamilton County Board of Education Chairman Kenny Smith, long a supporter of vocational education, also plans to attend today's City Council meeting in support of Judge Bean's resolution. Although he also has brought up the need for a separate career and technical high school, he said he wanted to make sure it wouldn't hurt the program Sequoyah already operates.
"I'm always going to promote career and technical, even in hard times," he said, alluding to the Hamilton County Schools' budget deficit that officials are in the process of whittling down from an original estimate of $20 million.
A brand-new career and technical high school would cost about $20 million, the judge estimated, and City Councilman Jack Benson said he believed some of the undesignated federal stimulus money could be used for the project.
Mr. Benson said the school system needs to re-examine the concept of its career academies because often too few students enroll in specific courses to justify the cost of offering them. It would make more sense to consolidate them into one school in the middle of the city, he said.
Both Judge Bean and Mr. Smith have suggested that the school system buy a plot of land next to Chattanooga State Technical Community College on Amnicola Highway to use for the proposed school.
Matt Kinzalow, a freshman at Sequoyah, said he appreciates the unique classes his school offers and thinks more students should have the opportunity to take them.
"I think it'd be good for downtown," he said. "A lot of people can't drive up here to go to Sequoyah."
Although Sequoyah's focus shifted from being a vocational school to a comprehensive high school in 2005, Judge Bean said he still sees a need for a school that trains students to enter specific careers rather than to attend college.
"In court I see so many kids who have gotten discouraged in high school," he said. "They don't have the mindset for foreign language or for Shakespeare. They can build a car or a house, but they get discouraged with the present curriculum and they drop out."