In 2003, the Howard school community missed an opportunity to alter the school's negative image when members urged officials to renovate the school rather than replace it, a Hamilton County commissioner says.
"They put all those kids in that great, big, old, dungeon school," said Hamilton County Commissioner Curtis Adams, who suggested building a new school seven years ago. "They definitely missed a great opportunity to revolutionize the thinking of Howard, to put a new, bright outlook there."
Howard School of Academics and Technology has come under scrutiny lately after the Tennessee Department of Education labeled it a "persistently failing" high school and included it in a state-run "Achievement School District" in hopes of turning it around.
Despite double-digit academic gains in math and English last year, Howard still is subject to increased state involvement because the gains weren't high enough and the school has only a 56.5 percent graduation rate.
But Howard alumna state Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga, who was on the County Commission in 2003 and voted for the school's renovation, said she stands by her support of Howard. The school itself does not need to be rebranded, she said.
"I don't understand why people would question our loyalty," she said. "We supporters of Howard are pleased with the progress that has been made over the past two years and will work diligently in assisting this 'shrine of our devotion' to exceed standards."
Changes need to take place at Howard, she said, but a new building would not have changed anything.
"We are not attached to a building," Rep. Favors said. "Howard school, along with hundreds of schools throughout this nation, is lagging behind because our public education system has failed to deal effectively with challenges related to increased knowledge, advanced technology and rapid change."
In early 2003, the County Commission voted 5-3 to renovate Howard, built in 1954. The total cost of the project, which was finished in 2005, was $18.2 million. School officials at the time estimated a brand-new building would have cost about $18.9 million.
Then in 2009, the school system spent more than $1 million to fix a leaky roof at Howard. The roof had not been replaced in the renovation because there was no money in the budget, officials said.
Hamilton County Board of Education member George Ricks, who also supported Howard's renovation rather than rebuilding, said the issue at the time was available land. Renovation supporters feared there was no adequate plot of land near the current school site to build a new facility, Mr. Ricks said.
"I advocated for Howard to stay where it is, and I see nothing wrong with that decision," he said.
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