Howard plots path to stronger future

Howard plots path to stronger future

August 19th, 2012 by Kevin Hardy in Local Regional News

Paul Smith, principal at the Howard School, finishes up a presentation for attendees at the Howard Summit on Saturday.

Photo by Alyson Wright /Times Free Press.


Here are five challenges to the community that came from Saturday's Howard Summit:

1. Create a K-12 community

2. Restore historic tech programs

3. Rebuild the Howard stadium as a Southside hub

4. Build the Talented Tenth program

5. Hook great teachers

Local leaders envision transforming the Howard School into a centerpiece of downtown that would better prepare students for college, but also for vocational and technical careers.

Instead of starting in ninth grade, administrators want children to enter Howard in kindergarten -- or even earlier -- and stay in school longer. This vision of a new approach at Chattanooga's oldest public school would need the support of local businesses and nonprofits.

Community leaders, parents and teachers, business leaders and politicians brainstormed ways to make that vision a reality at Saturday's Howard Summit, a follow-up to the premiere of "Build Me a World," a locally produced documentary about Howard. The documentary was meant to launch a public awareness campaign about Howard's issues and its potential for the future.

"There is a very serious energy in this room and in this community that we want to take capture. We want to see serious, concrete plans moving forward," said Drew Belz, co-producer of the film.

Principal Paul Smith said Howard will need more specialized programs to create an all-inclusive K-12 campus that better prepares students for life after school.

"We want to make sure we not only have facilities for kids but also that we have programming," he said.

Smith sees the addition of vocational programs like automotive technology, medical technology and construction as key to improving his school.

"We have to be able to diversify as this community is becoming more diverse as jobs come back to Chattanooga," he said.

Former Howard teacher Mason West said students feel unprepared when they reach Howard. With a K-12 approach, students would learn school culture once and expectations would be clear from the primary grades through graduation, making it less likely that students would stray off course, he said.

"I want the child from kindergarten through 12th grade to see what is relevant about the classes they're in," West said.

To implement a comprehensive philosophy of teaching that relies on presentations, modeling and projects, West said students and teachers would need more time in school.

"We don't think this can be done in 180 days," he said. "So the young people said, 'What if we went to school for 240 days?'"

Now that Howard's performance is improving, it may no longer qualify for certain state and federal funds designated for failing schools. For the first time in at least a decade, Howard's 2012 test scores and graduation rate put it in good standing with the state, according to results released last week.

West said that means leaders will need the help of local government, businesses and individuals to build up the school.

"The challenge is: If you build us a school, we'll build you a world," West said. "If you could give us your support, not just us, but everybody here could create this as a model for this county and this nation."