Exporting Normal Park: Parents eye Red Bank High

Exporting Normal Park: Parents eye Red Bank High

April 22nd, 2012 by Kevin Hardy in News

Red Bank High School could get the Normal Park touch.

Talk has circulated for years about opening a Normal Park high school to continue the successful program that makes Normal Park the county's best-performing school.

But after shopping different post-eighth-grade options for their kids, many Normal Park Museum Magnet School parents now have set their sights on helping improve Red Bank High.

Much of Normal Park's success is credited to the money, energy and time that parents and local businesses pump into the school. And Red Bank High School Principal Gail Chuy said she's excited about seeing that kind of commitment at her school.

"That kind of energy energizes everybody else in the community," Chuy said. "We have great parents here already, and we welcome more great parents. I'd love for us to be part of that and them to be part of us."

Normal Park parents convened in the fall to explore what public school options existed beyond Normal Park's middle grades. Some parents said there wasn't an acceptable option for their children after the high-performing and sought-after Normal Park.

Parents tossed around ideas like opening a new downtown high school or creating a pipeline into the Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences. But those talks have evolved and many parents are now focusing on ways to help at Red Bank High.

Normal Park draws students from a geographic zone and brings in magnet students from across the county. Normal Park feeds its zoned students to Red Bank, though a sizable number go onto private schools or magnet high school programs.

Some Normal Park parents are working with Chuy on a committee the school formed to make improvements highlighted in an accreditation process. The committee includes parents from Red Bank, Normal Park and private schools, along with local business and school leaders.

The group so far has identified aesthetic issues and a public relations problem as key areas to address soon.

Red Bank is 60 years old. With a brand new Red Bank Middle School set to open in 2013 directly behind the high school, Chuy said it's time to spruce up the current campus. Plans are under way for fresh coats of paint and new landscaping.

There are about 780 students at Red Bank. With the 2008 opening of Signal Mountain Middle-High, Red Bank lost about 300 students, Chuy said, meaning there's still room there for an additional 300 or so students.

Red Bank is not a magnet school, but Chuy said as long as there's room, magnet students could come to Red Bank by applying for a hardship transfer from the school system.

Chuy believes that any poor public perception of her school comes from labels given by No Child Left Behind regulations. Or it could be because the school gets federal Title I money because of its high rate of student poverty.

About 64 percent of Red Bank students are identified as economically disadvantaged, compared with 30 percent at Normal Park.

Red Bank High was among 19 Hamilton County schools last year to make the state's high-priority list of schools that missed consecutive No Child Left Behind testing benchmarks. Normal Park is in good standing under NCLB. It was the only Hamilton County school to receive straight A's for student achievement and value-added scores, which measure students' year-to-year academic growth.

Normal Park parent Bill Payne said some parents had negative impressions of Red Bank but didn't actually know much about the high school. Payne said the group will work on changing that image by highlighting the good things happening there. With strong leadership and without some of the challenges of inner-city schools, Payne said Red Bank High is poised to improve.

"It just needs the community to come out and support it," he said. "It could be an outstanding school, but I think we sort of have to create the buzz."

That buzz has come easily for Normal Park, an award-winning school known for its academic success.

"It's a PR challenge in the way that Normal Park is not," Payne said. "Normal Park parents are falling all over each other to volunteer in a way that Red Bank parents are not."

Normal Park parents say they aren't trying to degrade Red Bank High or take over the school. And the principal there says their involvement isn't being perceived in that way.

"They are part of our community. They are part of our school family," Chuy said about the Normal Park parents.

The movement to improve Red Bank has even drawn support from those without children or those whose children attend private schools.

"It's a very diverse group. It's people wanting to make a difference and not from any obvious personal gain," said Jennifer McIntyre, whose kindergarten son is in private school.

She said she was drawn to the parent committee because she's interested in educational options in that area. Given the cost of preparatory schools, which can run upward of $20,000 per year, McIntyre said she's willing to work to make public schools better.

"To make our public education options better, I'm willing to roll up my sleeves and help," she said.

With hardworking parents strapped for time and the loss of Signal Mountain families, McIntyre said support has drained from Red Bank. But by getting buy-in from community members and parents, she said the school easily could get back on track.

"I think the school is in survival mode," she said. "It's been a great school and I think it has the opportunity to be the same or better in the future."