Chattanooga Preparatory to open new school in Knoxville

Chattanooga Preparatory School, a public charter school that serves minority and underprivileged boys in Hamilton County, has plans to open a sister location in Knoxville, dubbed Knoxville Preparatory School, in 2024.

"We were getting messages through our social media, calls from parents. A question that regularly came up was: 'Do you all have a bus that goes from Knoxville to Chattanooga every day?'" Chattanooga Prep Chief Executive Officer Brad Scott said.

Founded in 2018 by Ted and Kelly Alling, Chattanooga Prep serves 280 boys in grades six through nine. Approximately 94.5% of enrolled students are either Black or Latino while 80% come from low-income families, according to data collected by the school.

The couple opened Chattanooga Prep to create more educational equity in Hamilton County.

"Every student should have a great opportunity to education, and unfortunately in Chattanooga, you're defined by your ZIP code as your education is concerned. And that's something, I just don't agree with that," Kelly Alling said in a phone call.

Knoxville parents wanted the same opportunities for their children, Scott said.

"Looking at the data both in Knoxville and Chattanooga is very similar. Boys are underperforming in schools and in community social areas," Scott said. "We have an opportunity gap in both Knoxville and Chattanooga. And those outcomes are affecting the opportunities."

A 2018 study of social mobility and race led by Harvard economist Raj Chetty found that both race and neighborhood influence a child's upward mobility and economic status as an adult.

Researchers found that, regardless of a child's own socioeconomic status, those who live in neighborhoods with higher incomes, lower rates of poverty and higher levels of education tend to have better economic prospects as adults.

However, race is the biggest predictor of success, no matter if the child lives in a high- or low-opportunity neighborhood.

As an example, the probability of a white child in the M.L. King neighborhood in Chattanooga becoming a high earning adult is 11%. For a Black child, the probability is 2%.

The income gap is just as wide in high-opportunity neighborhoods like North Chattanooga. The probability of a white child becoming a high-earning adult is 21%. The probability for a Black child in that same neighborhood is 1%.

Chattanooga Prep's educational model aims to close that gap by offering a rigorous curriculum to minority students from all neighborhoods in Hamilton County.

"Through our model of exposing young men, building the leaders of tomorrow through nurturing educators, nurturing environment exposure, helps to change that trajectory," Scott said.

Knoxville Preparatory School will use the same educational model in a city where approximately 22% of residents are Black or Latino.

"Academically, we believe that all our students are capable of achieving, that they have no ceiling, as long as they're receiving a great, rigorous education. We accomplish a lot of that by putting our students through AP (Advanced Placement) courses, no matter what level they're at, they're going to go through AP courses," Juan Aguinaga, chief academic officer at Chattanooga Prep, said in an interview.

Knoxville Prep will also take on Chattanooga's small teacher-to-student ratio (16:1), emphasis on sports, creative arts and extracurricular activities, and its culture designed for boys.

"We're able to focus our curriculums on the development of boys," Scott said. "And when we think about our society, our communities here in Chattanooga, but soon to be Knoxville ... When you look at the data, boys are underperforming girls in almost every area of our communities. So, an all-boys school focused on leadership and academics, preparing students for college and career, we can tailor our curriculum and tailor our model to what boys love and what boys need to help them succeed."

Devin Love, 12, said that since coming to Chattanooga Prep from Dalton Public Schools in Georgia, he's had more opportunities.

"Coming here, it opened me up to a lot of things, club-wise. I did chess. I did Media Club," Love said. "I opened up to a bunch more things which I think wouldn't have happened from where I came from."

Love now runs his own school podcast and has interviewed former Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and his family members - Cleveland Browns owners and Pilot Flying J CEO Jimmy Haslam and Dee Haslam.

Love, alongside other students, has also had a hand helping plan for Knoxville Prep.

"We've been to a lot of different meeting-type things, talking about the plans for it ... and discussed what we should do to try and keep Knox Prep flowing like how Chatt Prep is," Love said. "The education, it should stay the same, because I feel like the push here is really strong. So, I think that should stay the same. But other activities to keep the students engaged, you might have to just see what other kids like from where they're at."

Chattanooga Prep officials filed a letter of intent for Knoxville Prep with the Knox County school board, a required step in the state of Tennessee's charter school application process. The next window of approval for charter schools is April 2024. Scott said he's confident the school will be approved.

"I think we've seen a lot of incredible success at Chattanooga Prep, and we want the same opportunity for kids anywhere, honestly," Ted Allong said. "And this is a great next step for our organization."

Contact Carmen Nesbitt at cnesbitt@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6327. Follow her on Twitter @carmen_nesbitt.