Chattanooga Prep approved to open its doors in 2018

Dr. Elaine Swafford, left, and Kelly Alling, center, hug next to Ted Alling after their charter school, Chattanooga Preparatory School, was approved by the Hamilton County Board of Education during a special session on Thursday, April 27, 2017, in Chattanooga, Tenn. The board also approved a balanced budget to be sent to the county commission.
photo Here is the rendering of the new boys' school, Chattanooga Prep.

Chattanooga Preparatory School will welcome 60 sixth-grade boys into its classrooms in the fall of 2018, after the Hamilton County Board of Education voted to approve the charter school Thursday night.

Ted and Kelly Alling announced plans last year to open the all-boys charter school, which aims to provide low-income youth with the support needed to counteract the crippling effect poverty can have on education. The school plans to recruit students from neighborhoods in East Chattanooga, Alton Park and East Lake.

"This is a win for these boys," Kelly Alling said after the vote. "We'll give them an opportunity to succeed, and they're going to do great."

Standing next to his wife after the meeting, Ted Alling said the work ahead will not be easy.

"But the hard work is worth it," he said. "This is going to be amazing!"

The school board voted 8-0 to approve the nonprofit charter school. Tiffanie Robinson, the school board member who will represent Chattanooga Prep, abstained from voting, because the Allings are investors in her company, Lamp Post Properties.

But before the vote, Robinson applauded the Allings and Elaine Swafford for their willingness to start the school for kids in her district. It's encouraging to see people stepping out of the business community and getting involved in public education, she added.

"My hat is off to them," Robinson said. "I know their hearts are absolutely in the right place."

School board member Karitsa Mosley Jones, who also represents students in the neighborhoods where Chattanooga Prep will be recruiting, noted how the district pays for each kid attending a charter school.

"I want to make that public knowledge so our community understands how much money we have to pay out, and [the money] doesn't go directly to a public school, it goes to a public option, but not a public school," she said.

About 1,090 of the district's more than 44,000 students now attend one of the district's three public charter schools. The district only contributes its state and county per-pupil allocations to charter schools, totaling about $8,000 per student.

School board member Rhonda Thurman reminded the board that the allocations come from taxpayer dollars.

"Just remember this is not our money," she said. "It belongs to the taxpayers it's the children's money."

Thurman also added that parents should have the choice to send their kids wherever they want, and she again advocated that every school across the county offer open enrollment.

"Parents are going to have themselves options," Thurman said. "And they are going to take advantage of those options, whether it's vouchers or charter schools or whatever they have to do."

Chattanooga Prep will partner with Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy and be located next to that school in Highland Park. In the past couple of years CGLA has posted large academic gains, and the state is studying the school as a model for its work turning around low-performing, high-poverty schools.

Swafford, executive director of CGLA, is an adviser to Chattanooga Prep.

Many of the boys likely to enroll in Chattanooga Prep are zoned for schools that fall in the bottom 5 percent of schools statewide based on academic achievement, and most kids struggle to escape the toxic cycle of poverty, data shows.

Boys at Chattanooga Prep will be given high academic expectations and the support they need to reach them, and the school will focus on building leaders, organizers said. The curriculum will be based on STEM - science, technology, engineering and math - and mentorship is foundational to the school's mission.

Ted Alling said he wants this school to be a pillar of the community, and a leg-up for the boys that attend.

"This is going to be a game-changer," he said.

Contact staff writer Kendi A. Rainwater at or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @kendi_and.