Red Bank's community school marks one-year anniversary

Hamilton County Schools officials look to expand model to other high-needs schools in the district

Stephanie Hayes, center, jokes with students Rayne Heathington, left, and Serenity Smith during the LEOS after-school program at the Red Bank Community School at Red Bank High School on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018, in Chattanooga, Tenn. The community school is a resource for both community members and students by offering services such as after-school programs and HiSET exam assistance. It celebrated its one-year anniversary Tuesday.

On Tuesday, the Red Bank Community School - the first effort of its kind in Hamilton County - celebrated its one-year anniversary.

As the school celebrates achievements and impacts on the community, the district, under the leadership of Superintendent Bryan Johnson and Opportunity Zone chief Jill Levine, is exploring ways to bring Red Bank's model to other high-needs schools in the district.

In partnership with Northside Neighborhood House, Red Bank's community school aims to provide support centered around three pillars to students and community members - students, parents and "the Hub" - according to Principal Elaine Harper. The Hub, according to Harper, truly is the center of the school.

The partnership grew out of Northside Neighborhood House's own initiative and the Chattanooga 2.0 movement, and it has manifested in after-school programs, academic support, parent classes and engagement, and more than a dozen community partnerships.

"Our role is to listen to the students and the parents and find resources that meet their needs," said Rachel Gammon, executive director of Northside Neighborhood House.

Those services include connecting with community partners such as the Helen Ross McNabb behavioral health center to provide an on-site counselor for students or La Paz to provide immigration information nights.

On average, 40 to 50 students attend the LEOS (Leadership. Excellence. Opportunity. Scholars.) after-school program that is held Monday through Thursday until 5 p.m. in the Hub.

"It is truly a space where students can connect and belong," Harper said. More than 40 percent of the school population has used services that the Hub provides.

Students have access to tutoring and academic support, as well as enrichment, physical activities and meals provided by the YMCA's MobileFit Nutrition program.

The YMCA's program has served more than 3,500 meals since the community school launched, Harper said. Parents also have access to resources in the Hub like on-site HiSET classes for adults hoping to earn a state-issued high school equivalency credential.

Junior Kyn Doss credits the after-school program for improving his grades, but also his attitude.

"I really enjoy being in the classroom now," Doss said. "It helped me mentally, physically, academically."

Doss also credits Red Bank's community school coordinator, Stephanie Hayes, for taking the time to invest in him and the dozens of other students who seek the Hub's services.

Hayes hopes that community school-based services can be expanded to other areas of Hamilton County.

"We need to make more opportunities across [Hamilton County] schools for people to give their time," Hayes said. "Time is more effective than money because it means resources."

Expanding this model was one of Johnson's intentions when he launched the Opportunity Zone last fall. The Opportunity Zone is the district's response plan to support its 12 lowest-performing schools, that include schools in the Brainerd High and The Howard School feeder patterns. Levine was appointed to head the effort, and a 12-member leadership team was named.

Two community school coordinators - John Cunningham and Melissa Graham - also were hired to lead the charge.

"It takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes a village to educate a child," Johnson said. "We are trying to find out how to replicate this type of program systematically."

Red Bank is already exploring how to expand the school's offerings and working with Red Bank Middle School to host an after-school program similar to LEOS. The neighborhood house also hopes to launch a community school at Hixson Middle School, which is in the organization's footprint.

In the Opportunity Zone, some of the schools are steadily on their way to building the community capacity to institute a community school model, the district's Community Schools Coordinator John Cunningham said.

Orchard Knob middle and elementary schools already have a joint Community PTA program as well as a community panel at the elementary level, and East Lake is exploring programs through a site leadership team.

Often the most important aspect for a successful community school structure is a community partner, though. Cunningham said many of the 12 Opportunity Zone schools already have community partners working in varied capacities.

"We want to be able to have a unique approach at each school," Cunningham said. "But we want to be on the same page as to what services we are offering at each school."

"Schools can't do it alone," Harper said. "Students need support outside the classroom in order to thrive. Education is a community effort and a community responsibility."

Contact staff writer Meghan Mangrum at or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.