Hamilton County: Transfers double out of low-performing schools

Hamilton County: Transfers double out of low-performing schools

September 7th, 2011 by Kevin Hardy in News

A file photo of the sign for Brainerd High School on North Moore Road. Brainerd lost 118 students to Ooltewah High School and 12 to Sale Creek as more Hamilton County students are transferring out of low-performing schools.

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NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND TRANSFERS

Elementary Schools

Clifton Hills Elementary: 7 to Alpine Crest Elementary, 2 to Falling Water Elementary

Calvin Donaldson Elementary: 10 to Lookout Mountain Elementary, 6 to Lookout Valley Elementary

Eastside Elementary: 15 to Soddy Elementary, 13 to Allen Elementary

Hillcrest Elementary: 13 to Snowhill Elementary

Orchard Knob Elementary: 2 to Allen Elementary, 2 to Daisy Elementary

Rivermont Elementary: 1 to Falling Water Elementary, 1 to Soddy Elementary

Woodmore Elementary: 40 to Ooltewah Elementary, 7 to Snowhill Elementary

Middle Schools

Dalewood Middle: 22 to Loftis Middle, 3 to Soddy-Daisy Middle

East Lake Academy: 8 to Brown Middle, 13 to East Hamilton Middle/High

East Ridge Middle: 7 to Ooltewah Middle, 14 to Signal Mountain Middle/High

Lookout Valley Middle: 1 to East Hamilton Middle/High

Orchard Knob Middle: 57 to Hunter Middle, 21 to Ooltewah Middle

Tyner Middle Academy: 4 to Hixson Middle, 1 to Red Bank Middle

High Schools

Brainerd High: 118 to Ooltewah High, 12 to Sale Creek High

Howard School of Academics and Technology: 12 to Sale Creek High, 47 to Signal Mountain Middle/High

Red Bank High: 10 to Hixson High, 4 to Sale Creek High

Soddy-Daisy High: 1 to Hixson High

The number of Hamilton County students transferring out of low-performing schools has more than doubled over last year.

Records provided by the Hamilton County Department of Education show that 474 students chose to transfer out of 17 "high-priority" schools, which failed to meet performance benchmarks, into better-performing ones this spring. Principals say losing kids to other schools is never positive, though many students often return to their original schools.

Children who attend the lowest-performing schools -- measured by state tests -- are given the option of transferring under the No Child Left Behind Act. Last year 198 students elected to take an NCLB transfer, and only 27 made a change in 2009.

While Hamilton County's numbers are rising, they're nowhere close to the number of students eligible for transfers. The 17 schools identified as high priority represent thousands of transfer-eligible students.

Some of the biggest departures occurred this year at:

* Brainerd High, where 118 students left for Ooltewah High, with 12 more now going to Sale Creek.

* Orchard Knob Middle, where 57 students left for Hunter Middle, while 21 headed for Ooltewah Middle.

* Woodmore Elementary, which lost 40 students to Ooltewah Elementary, while seven others moved to Snowhill Elementary.

But some schools lost only a few students each, including:

* Rivermont Elementary, which lost one student to Falling Water Elementary and another to Soddy Elementary.

* Clifton Hills Elementary, which lost seven students to Apline Crest Elementary, and another two to Falling Water.

* Soddy-Daisy High School, where one student left for Hixson High School.

A school is considered high-priority if does not make "adequate yearly progress" in any one category for two years in a row. Schools on the high-priority list must make AYP two years in a row to return to good standing.

Transferring student can't go to just any school; the low-performing schools are matched with other schools that will accept its transfers.

Transporting transfers

It's those smaller numbers of transfers that can create a logistical nightmare for the school system, said Ben Coulter, transportation supervisor for the Hamilton County Department of Education.

The district combines bus routes instead of transporting only one or two kids at a time.

But because some of the school pairings are so far apart, transferring students can end up sitting on a bus for several hours a day, Coulter said. State law requires that bus routes be no longer than an hour and a half each way. Some of the transfer routes are close to that.

"One that goes to Sale Creek is getting close to an hour and a half," he said. "But it's only got 11 kids on it, so we can't justify another bus."

Because transfer transportation is paid for by federal money, the school system can't use any of its 15 designated transfer buses for any other purpose, unless it coughs up its own cash, Coulter said.

"We don't touch them unless we absolutely have to," he said.

Lucile Phillips, director of federal programs for Hamilton County Schools, said the school system expects to spend about $830,000 this year to transport transfer students across the county.

Not all transfer

FAST FACT

Across the state, 57,254 students were eligible for school transfers in 2008-09, though only 2,465 -- only about 4 percent -- actually transferred. In the same year, 154,615 of the nation's 672,101 students, or about 23 percent, elected to transfer.

Source: U.S. Department of Education

Nearly 19 percent of students at Orchard Knob Middle -- 78 in all -- transferred this year, leaving the school with a total enrollment of 337. But new Principal Crystal Sorrells said more than 40 other students who were approved for transfers decided instead to stay at Orchard Knob. It's a hopeful sign that some are willing to give her turnaround efforts a shot, she said.

"We've gotten several back," Sorrells said. "From what they have heard in the neighborhood and what they have heard in the media, they are willing to give me a chance."

Still, she realizes that the school has had a perception problem for years.

"I hope those numbers will change," she said. "But regardless of the reality, perception is real for people."

Paul Smith can relate.

Executive principal at the Howard School of Academics and Technology, Smith said he's in the midst of a public relations campaign to help people learn about the improvement Howard has made in recent years.

"Howard today is not the same as it was five years ago," he said.

There, too, many of the transfers eventually come back to Howard, Smith said. He said most of the kids who chose to leave were freshmen, meaning they never gave the school a chance. The school lost 59 students to Sale Creek High and Signal Mountain Middle/High School this year.

"It's not that they're put off by Howard," he said. "They just choose to not ever come to Howard."

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