News of a potential state "takeover" at Howard School of Academics and Technology has left much of the school's staff and supporters in the dark, they say.
Because no decisions have been made about the extent to which the state Department of Education will intervene in what it's calling a "persistently failing school," teachers, parents, students and community members are left wondering.
"I think there's a lot of confusion," said Howard parent Kevin Robinson.
Mr. Robinson said he wishes school system administrators had briefed parents and community members on Howard's future rather than letting them read about it in the media.
Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Jim Scales said administrators plan to hold an assembly once state officials complete their plan.
Although even he doesn't know the details of Howard's future, Dr. Scales said he will request that principal Paul Smith be allowed to stay.
"We have documented progress under him, so it makes no sense to come in and take the principal out," he said. "He'll be going into his fourth year, and we're not going to find anyone out there who knows the community better than Paul Smith. That person doesn't exist."
Along with a dozen other schools across the state, Howard has been identified for inclusion in an "Achievement School District," which means the state will have expanded authority in those schools.
Dr. Scales is waiting to meet with Tennessee Education Commissioner Tim Webb to negotiate which of four options will be applied to Howard. Those options are:
n "Turnaround," in which a new principal selects staff, creates financial incentives and adopts a new instruction program;
n Reopening as a charter school;
n Closing down;
n "Transformation," in which a new principal uses the state's revamped evaluation system to keep effective teachers, works with a nonprofit partner and implements more rigorous courses.
Dr. Smith said his faculty and students are anxious to hear what will happen to Howard, but he simply is waiting for final word from the state.
"The fate of this school is in the hands of the state department," he said.
Howard curriculum coordinator Glenn Perry said that, for those students and teachers who are aware of what's going on, the news has an impact on morale.
"We've been 'on notice' before, but with the new legislation, the old storyline is a little different now. It is all the more imminent," he said. "As teachers, we sometimes have to ignore what's going on in the background and keep doing our best for (students). I don't consider that I work at a failing school."
Howard junior Keontae Bush said he thinks school officials don't want students to know all the details of what's going on, but he still hears teachers talking quietly about it.
But fellow junior LaToesha Green said she thinks that, for the most part, her classmates have picked up on Howard's situation.
"I just hope they don't shut the school down, that's all I hope," she said. "I love Dr. Smith."
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