Many people, services and agencies already touch the life of a gang member. But a new position created by Chattanooga's Gang Task Force seeks to bring all those resources together.
Brainerd High School soon will receive a full-time outreach worker dedicated to curbing the spread of gangs by working with a small group of troubled teens. The $30,000 position, funded by the task force, will help connect at-risk kids to social services, educational programs, mental health providers and other community resources. The local concept for an outreach worker will replicate a model cast by the National Youth Gang Center.
"That person is pretty much a key player in the success of this thing," said Gang Task Force Coordinator Boyd Patterson.
Task force leaders hope to hire an outreach coordinator to work in all five of the county's iZone schools, which are cited by the state for performing in the bottom 5 percent of Tennessee schools. That, despite the adamant position by Hamilton County's superintendent that gang activity largely stays out of schools.
"The kids have decided that school is for school," Rick Smith said at a school board retreat this month. "We're not being confronted by these sorts of things at school."
In creating the 2012 Comprehensive Gang Assessment, researchers surveyed more than 5,000 students in 13 Hamilton County schools. Some students reported feeling unsafe in their neighborhoods and schools. School employees reported witnessing gang activity in bathrooms, hallways and the cafeteria.
And because of how much time students spend in the schoolhouse, the task force has centered many of its gang-curbing recommendations on schools.
The new position will be charged with creating a so-called intervention team, which will include law enforcement officers, mental health workers and school leaders, among other service providers. The new employee will manage a maximum caseload of 25 students. Most of the targeted students will already have had involvement with the criminal justice system, said Destiny Richardson, education and literacy coordinator for the task force.
The new outreach coordinator will work mostly at Brainerd, but will try to make sure students are getting appropriate services and care at home and in the community.
"It's going to be total support for the young person," Richardson said.
The task force is starting at Brainerd because of its immense challenges -- both disciplinary and academically -- and the principal's goals of turning its progress around for the better, said Fred Houser, the task force's outreach coordinator.
Brainerd Principal Uras Agee did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Houser said that many of the service providers brought together through the new position are already playing a role in schools. But this new approach should make sure they're all working to the same end.
"What the intervention team does is to bring those together as a collective, systematic way so the right hand will know what the left hand is doing," he said.