Wanted: a change agent for all of Hamilton County's educational thinking.
We're not talking just about a new schools superintendent who can think in future tense for a school system stuck in the 1970s.
And we're not talking only about a school board shocked into an uncomfortable panic by a high school team hazing-turned-aggravated-rape incident.
We're also not talking just about the ostriches on the Hamilton County Commission who want their names over school doors and ballfield gates but put their heads in the sand when it's time to raise taxes for books, computers, art teachers and early childhood education.
Nor are we talking just about the myriad of public and private education advocacy groups and foundations in town that, year after year, offer first one, and then another, education report or blueprint or initiative.
A few citizens have already tried talking "change-agent" stuff with each of these groups. Some tried the concept, some didn't.
But that's the thing: What we have been talking about - even occasionally trying - in each of these education silos isn't working. It hasn't worked for a long time. Actually, it has probably never worked.
We as a community have tried a little bit of everything. Everything, that is, except working together. Working together to provide enough leadership and enough capital - both mental and financial - to actually spark change.
Now time has run out, and we are reaping the weedy seeds of the fallow fields we failed to cultivate.
We have out-of-control school children who are bored to distraction with tired teaching they can't understand. We know that 60 percent of our third-graders do not read on grade level, and if they can't read textbooks they stop learning altogether in the later grades.
We have schools filled with students (nearly 43,780 in our 79 schools) who, as a county group, tested below the state average in nine of 10 TCAP categories by as many as 16.7 percentage points.
And here in the Gig City, with plenty of new manufacturing jobs including those at a state-of-the-art auto assembly plant, Hamilton County employers say they have 15,000 unfilled jobs because they can't find educationally qualified applicants.
Read that again: " they can't find educationally qualified applicants." Why? Because our kids can't read well enough, can't do math well enough, don't understand science concepts well enough to transfer basic learning to the workplace.
What part of "what we're doing isn't working" do we not understand?
Which word in "failed schools" can we not read?
This editorial page has called for using the attention brought to our schools by the Ooltewah hazing/rape to turn our school system's darkest days into positive change.
But all the editorials and foundation reports and high-level resignations we could possibly hope for won't really bring the change we need until students and parents and grandparents and employers insist on it. Loudly. Consistently. Unrelentingly.
Employers are beginning to come around. Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Bill Kilbride, in the wake of Superintendent Rick Smith's announcement that he will step down, said the chamber will redouble support for the Chattanooga 2.0 education initiative - a goal to use best teaching practices and best educational approaches to ensure that 75 percent of our graduating high school seniors will earn a post-secondary credential. This isn't just a feel-good goal. It's an essential need because more than 80 percent of our jobs that pay a living annual wage require it.
To get our students to those post-secondary certifications, of course, high schools have to graduate students. And to graduate students, our middle and elementary schools have to be improved from the ground up.
In coming weeks, you can pretty much count on school board members and county commissioners to devolve into spit fights over whether a new superintendent should be home-grown or be an outsider. You can count, too, on these leaders spiraling into nonsensical rants over school costs and funding. After all, we get what we pay for, and we don't pay for much.
Frankly, though, the petty questions of insider/outsider and pay-me-now or pay-me-later aren't the important ones.
The single most important factor that will shape our children's education from this day forward is whether we can find a positive change agent with the vision and grit necessary to take on disengaged students and parents, rudderless and underpaid teachers, an in-grown educator-heavy school board, a head-in-the-sand County Commission, election-consumed municipal and county mayors, and state leaders who will only vote on school issues if the National Rifle Association is the lobby.
It's a hundred-mile walk to school uphill both ways in the snow, but our children and our county are worth it.
This job ad - this hire - is unquestionably the most important one that any public or private Southeast Tennessee or North Georgia group will make in this and coming years.
More Ooltewah rape case stories
- Previously confidential Ooltewah rape settlement finally unveiled to Hamilton County school board members
- Mom alleges Ooltewah High School failed to protect her son after he was attacked in class
- State attorney: Insurer's settlement payments in Ooltewah High School sexual assault cases 'likely subject' to open records law
- Gardenhire blasts Hamilton County school board over confidential settlements in Ooltewah rape cases
- Second student in 2015 Ooltewah High School rape settles federal case
- Hamilton County Schools reaches confidential settlement with one Ooltewah rape victim
- Ooltewah rape case: School board agrees to negotiate settlement with victim
- Civil claims in Ooltewah rape case headed to trial
- Judge recuses himself from civil lawsuits linked to Ooltewah High School rape case
- Hamilton County Board of Education attorneys move for separate trials in Ooltewah rape civil lawsuits
- Greeson: More past mistakes mean more work for Hamilton County Schools leaders
- Federal judge rules against school board for 2nd time in Ooltewah rape civil suits
- Judge's ruling in Ooltewah rape civil cases puzzles some Hamilton County school board members
- Hamilton County Schools attorney denies swaying Ooltewah High School inquiry
- Attorneys for Ooltewah victims: Emails show district, investigator 'openly collaborating'
- Ooltewah rape investigation: Judge rules school board lawyers must turn over communications
- Attorneys for Ooltewah assault victims want to see private documents used to create report
- Judge dismisses perjury charges against Gatlinburg detective in Ooltewah rape case
- Attorney for former Ooltewah coaches wants to add more evidence to lawsuit
- School district agrees to turn over key investigative file in Ooltewah rape case
- Attorneys to argue whether private lawyer must turn over full Ooltewah investigative file
- Judge sets trial date for detective charged with perjury in Ooltewah High School rape case
- School district, former superintendent respond to Ooltewah rape case lawsuit
- Judge: State, county and school district must respond to ex-Ooltewah employees' lawsuit
- Ex-Ooltewah High staffers' lawsuit claims mistreatment in wake of rape case
- Three former Ooltewah High School employees file federal lawsuit over rape case fallout
- Analysis: Sex assaults in high school sports minimized as 'hazing'
- Appeals court upholds local judge's ruling in connection with Ooltewah High School rape case
- Gatlinburg detective facing charges in Ooltewah case continues to argue it should be dismissed
- Ooltewah rape case set for trial in 2018, judge tells attorneys this case is a 'priority'
- Date set for federal trial in Ooltewah High School rape case
- Former Ooltewah High School employees deny culture of hazing and abuse
- Lawmakers plan to rewrite child abuse reporting law following the Ooltewah High School rape case
- Ooltewah rape case: Hamilton County Schools argues it shouldn't be held liable in second federal lawsuit
- Lawmakers plan to rewrite child abuse reporting law following the Ooltewah High School rape case
- Gatlinburg police detective charged in connection with Ooltewah rape case will appeal judge's decision
- One year later: Ooltewah basketball
- Lawsuit filed in Ooltewah sexual assault claims Hamilton County Schools covered up abuse
- Judge dismisses charges against former Ooltewah High School basketball coach
- Judge to decide whether to dismiss charges against former coach in Ooltewah rape case
- Ooltewah High School rape case: Gatlinburg detective asks to appeal judge's decision allowing DA to prosecute
- Ex-Ooltewah employees join school board in denying liability in Gatlinburg rape
- Ooltewah rape case: School board files response, claims no responsibility
- Attorney asks for lawsuit from Ooltewah victim against school board be dismissed
- Judge allows DA to continue in perjury case against Gatlinburg detective
- District attorney to continue prosecuting Gatlinburg detective for perjury in Ooltewah rape case
- Former Ooltewah High School basketball coach hearing delayed
- Former Ooltewah athlete spending less than a year in custody for rape conviction
- Former Ooltewah students convicted of rape-related charges will be released this year
- Ooltewah investigation: Schools failed to address reports of abuse
- District attorney's report on Ooltewah High rape case criticizes school district
- Cooper: Ooltewah rape suit adds to board woes
- Attorneys representing victim of Ooltewah rape case file lawsuit
- Lawsuit filed in Ooltewah High School rape case names school board and school employees as defendants
- Former Ooltewah High School basketball coach appears in court
- Former Ooltewah basketball coach asks that charges be dismissed
- Victim lawsuit imminent after three teens convicted in Ooltewah rape case
- All three defendants in Ooltewah rape case found guilty, two receive reduced charges
- Judge in Ooltewah teammate rape case says he closed the trial to protect juvenile defendants
- Former Ooltewah High School students charged with assaulting teammate appear in court
- DA warns of problems if he's taken off Gatlinburg detective's perjury case
- Judge says he needs more time on decision to remove Pinkston from prosecution
- Sohn: Want to blame media for Ooltewah? Bring it on
- Cooper: 'A culture of hazing'
- Greeson: Hamilton County school leaders' transparency is welcomed, but more details needed from Ooltewah
- Report calls Ooltewah High School's hazing training 'deficient'
- District Attorney says there's no conflict of interest in his prosecution of Gatlinburg detective
- A 'culture of hazing' existed on Ooltewah High School basketball team
- Attorney says coach was singled out unfairly in Ooltewah High rape case
- Williams and Haymon named new Ooltewah boys' basketball coaches
- Gatlinburg detective wants Neal Pinkston disqualified from prosecuting his perjury case
- Two Ooltewah High School administrators not returning after rape incident
- Ooltewah coach, Gatlinburg detective plead not guilty in Ooltewah rape case
- Two plead not guilty in connection with Ooltewah High School rape case
- Ooltewah High School principal reassigned to new school
- Jim Jarvis replaced at Ooltewah High as principals shuffled at Hamilton County schools
- Three adults involved in Ooltewah rape case each face different outcome
- Hamilton County District Attorney drops charges against Ooltewah High School assistant basketball coach
- Detective charged with aggravated perjury could face harshest penalty in Ooltewah rape case
- Detective investigating Ooltewah rape to be charged with aggravated perjury
- Former Ooltewah coach Andre 'Tank' Montgomery could spend nearly a year in prison
- Ooltewah basketball coach faces criminal charges in connection with teammate rape
- Cooper: School board, public must work together
- Greeson: Court diversion aside, Ooltewah decision now on Kirk Kelly
- Ooltewah athletic director could return to job after deal
- Ooltewah athletic director strikes deal in rape case
- Cooper: Jill Levine hiring fuels intrigue
- Kirk Kelly names Jill Levine chief academic officer
- Sohn: It's school crunch time, and we have status quo
- Cooper: School board votes to march in place
- Hamilton County school board in disagreement over new interim superintendent
- Kirk Kelly named interim superintendent of Hamilton County Schools
- Sohn: All eyes on the school board as vote for interim superintendent nears
- Greeson: Picking a school leader
- Cooper: Schools chief should be dispassionate
- Hamilton County school board narrows search for interim superintendent to 3 finalists
- Veteran pair will manage Hamilton County schools for now
- Greeson: Nightmare for Ooltewah victims continues with wrong ruling
- Parents of victims in Ooltewah rape case upset suspect won't be tried as adult
- Gatlinburg detective files $300,000 defamation lawsuit against Neal Pinkston
- Accused Ooltewah rapist will be tried as a juvenile
- Ooltewah rape victim testifies as judge weighs fate of the accused
- Greeson: Smith's departure puts onus on school board to fix this
- Cooper: Smith's exit leaves clean slate
- Rick Smith quits after months of turmoil, revelation of scathing schools report
- Greeson: HCDE moving forward
- Clay Bennett cartoon: Rick Smith
- Hamilton County school board refocuses on schools, not scandals
- Adults charged in Ooltewah rape case turn themselves in for second time
- School board meets for first time since deciding not to buy out Rick Smith's contract
- Greeson: School board members let us down; Smith needs to go
- One Ooltewah rape case suspect may be tried as an adult
- Ooltewah substitute teacher and coach investigated for soliciting minor
- Rick Smith plans to remain schools superintendent through 2019
- Sohn: School board should stand for children
- Cooper: Resignation still an option for Rick Smith
- Greeson: School board buries heads in sand of insanity
- Superintendent Rick Smith to remain at helm of Hamilton County school system
- Decision looms today over superintendent's future
- Three new candidates apply on final day to become Hamilton County's interim superintendent
- Interim Hamilton schools chief candidate drops out of consideration, leaving one candidate
- Top national attorney hired to represent victim in Ooltewah rape case
- Could August re-election for four Hamilton County school board members impact decision on Rick Smith buyout?
- Smith: We are all Ooltewah Owls
- Gatlinburg police chief guarantees PD, city are taking allegations against detective seriously
- In wake of Ooltewah incident, former NFL star points to three lies boys are taught about masculinity
- Rick Smith's buyout plan riles Hamilton County school board members
- Gatlinburg detective defends testimony, district attorney responds, claims detective perjured himself
- Greeson: Rejecting rather than reporting student abuse our next job
- TBI investigating Gatlinburg police detective for perjury in Ooltewah rape case
- Detective's remarks in Ooltewah rape case fuel community outrage, calls for change
- Sohn: Ooltewah's perverted culture of 'horseplay'
- Cooper: Ooltewah must address its culture
- Chattanooga's police chief blasts Gatlinburg detective for Ooltewah rape testimony
- Ooltewah case moves forward: Detective says attack by students wasn't rape
- Greeson: Mistakes after Ooltewah nightmare magnify previous hazing indifference
- Wiedmer: Former NFL star Joe has manhood message for us all
- Judge sends Ooltewah school officials' charges to grand jury
- Judge renders decision in Ooltewah rape hearing
- School board eyes external audit of school culture in wake of Ooltewah rape case
- Oklahoma school district acted quickly, kept public informed in assault similar to Ooltewah rape
- Basketball players charged in Ooltewah rape case scheduled to appear in court
- Wanted: Interim superintendent to bring stability, leadership to Hamilton County schools
- Sohn: Change agent and schools savior wanted
- Ooltewah students post video to YouTube exemplifying positive qualities
- Ooltewah High School officials' attempt to get charges dismissed fails, judge denies motion
- School leaders will be called to testify in Ooltewah rape case
- Sohn: The silver lining in Ooltewah's school heartbreak
- Cooper: School board faces its own high-stakes test
- Wiedmer: Smith won't be the last adult out of a job from Ooltewah mess
- Rick Smith steps down in wake of Ooltewah High rape case
- School board votes to buy out Superintendent Rick Smith's contract
- Pressure mounting on school leaders in Ooltewah rape case
- Ooltewah athletic staff begin to fight charges against them
- School board, attorneys meet privately about Ooltewah rape case
- Greeson: Superintendent Smith, and the rest of us, must do better by our students
- School board meets behind closed doors, citing expected lawsuits over Ooltewah rape
- More details revealed about Ooltewah rape case; Two juvenile suspects approved for bond
- Cook: Crimes of silence in Ooltewah
- Greeson: Those at fault at Ooltewah should face scary timese
- A plea for change: Parents complain of bullying in schools; three adults face charges in rape case
- Wiedmer: Life just turned scary for adults in Ooltewah case
- Sohn: Let Ooltewah's darkest day be new dawn for schools
- Cooper: Hazing policy examination better late than never
- Parents claim harassment in Hamilton County schools has been happening for years
- Ooltewah coaches charged for failing to report sexual assault of four players
- School board member schedules panel discussion on Ooltewah assault
- Hamilton schools out of compliance with state law for hazing, bullying policy
- Greeson: Hamilton school board needs to rebuild trust after Ooltewah
- Ooltewah High School's basketball coach reassigned to textbook depository
- County officials break silence in Ooltewah sexual assault case
- Sohn: Finally, school officials choose to lead
- Wiedmer: Could Ooltewah situation become another Penn State?
- Ooltewah basketball coach reassigned based on new facts
- Sheriff Hammond doesn't rule out charges for adults involved in Ooltewah rape case
- Opposing coach says Ooltewah players threatened his team hours before alleged assault
- Petition demands Superintendent Rick Smith and Ooltewah Coach Tank Montgomery resign
- Smith: What Hamilton County Schools got wrong about Ooltewah
- Cook: Dominance, power and sports culture in Ooltewah
- New charges sought against former Ooltewah basketball players
- Court releases more details in Ooltewah rape case
- Aunt of Ooltewah victim starts petition, wants perpetrators charged as adults
- Sohn: School and county leaders must lead, not hide
- Cooper: Public needed reassusrance surrounding Ooltewah incident
- Greeson: School leaders, it's time to lead after Ooltewah mess
- Judge has not issued an official 'gag order' in Ooltewah rape case
- Ooltewah boys' basketball season cancellation affects other area schools
- Ooltewah High School basketball season canceled; school officials under gag order
- School board says no answers yet regarding Ooltewah assault case after meeting with legal counsel
- Ooltewah basketball season canceled, effective immediately
- Ooltewah students, community gather to pray for victim in assault, rape case
- After Ooltewah incident, Mayor Andy Berke announces plan to stop bullying
- Officials are staying quiet about Ooltewah basketball player rape case
- Greeson: Outrage at Ooltewah now calls for action
- Nerbun: Sports culture needs more character focus
- District attorney to investigate more Ooltewah High assault allegations
- Ooltewah High School's basketball game canceled
- Ooltewah grads urge school to have external investigation of 15-year-old student's rape, assault
- Attorney says Ooltewah coach being wrongly vilified in basketball player rape case
- Experts say soul-searching needed in wake of Ooltewah athlete rape case
- Sohn: Ooltewah High School basketball coaches should resign immediately
- Ooltewah rape victim may have warned basketball coaches of abuse
- Cooper: Nip hazing before it begins
- Greeson: Ooltewah attack leaves pain, questions and prayers for the victim
- Basketball players charged with rape of teammate won't be coming back to school
- Ooltewah students charged with rape, assault after teammate injured with pool cue
- Ooltewah High School basketball player undergoes surgery after being allegedly hazed by three teammates in Gatlinburg cabin