Community weighs in on Brainerd and East Ridge school rezoning proposal

Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Robert Sharpe, Chief Operations Officer with the Hamilton County Department of Education, speaks to the group. Hamilton County Schools hosted a meeting at Brainerd High School on Monday, January 30, 2023 to share school zone maps, answer questions, and receive feedback about proposed school rezoning for the 2023-2024 school year.

A small crowd gathered at Brainerd High School on Monday evening to offer feedback on Hamilton County Schools' plans to rezone areas of East Ridge and Brainerd. Their main concerns centered around how it might change the racial demographics of the affected schools, and some were worried rezoning would slate Brainerd High for future closure.

School board member Karitsa Jones, D-Chattanooga, said closing Brainerd High was the opposite of what a rezone would achieve.

"The goal is not to close Brainerd High School," Jones said. "The goal is to try to diversify the school to keep it going."

The proposal would move East Ridge High School students living north of Interstate 24 and Hixson High students living south of the Tennessee River to Brainerd High School in an effort to relieve overcrowding at those schools. It would also move East Ridge Middle School students living north of I-24 to Dalewood Middle School.

Hamilton County Schools Chief Operating Officer Robert Sharpe said Brainerd High and Dalewood Middle are underutilized.

"We can get more students in the building, more programming into the building, with a better balance," Sharpe said. "We have East Ridge High and East Ridge Middle that are both over capacity. So, due to the alignment and proximity of the two school zones, definitely on paper, this is certainly doable in terms of realigning the zones."

In all, the change could move 192 students -- 148 from East Ridge High and 44 from Hixson High -- to Brainerd High, lowering East Ridge High's utilization from 101% to 86% and increasing Brainerd High's utilization from 59% to 80%.

Hixson High is at 81% capacity and would decrease to 77% if rezoned.

The proposal also moves 127 students from East Ridge Middle to Dalewood Middle, which would lower East Ridge Middle's utilization from 103% to 85% and increase Dalewood Middle's utilization from 39% to 58%.

(READ MORE: Howard students, staff protest overcrowding issues at Hamilton County school board meeting)

East Ridge Middle School Principal Christy Caldwell Drake said she's in support of the proposal.

"We're over capacity," Caldwell Drake said. "I don't have a library anymore. We had to split it into classrooms. We don't have a cafeteria."

The Rev. Jeffrey Wilson of New United Missionary Baptist Church and graduate of Brainerd High, asked about how it will affect the racial makeup of the schools.

"Brainerd High, who would be the demographic?" Wilson asked. "Hixson, they didn't want those kids, made them leave. ... What will Brainerd look like next year?"

Jones said it's too soon to know.

"To be honest with you, me as a school board member, I couldn't answer that for you," Jones said. "The families are going to determine what kind of students come in this building."

The deadline for school-of-choice applications has been extended to Feb. 7 for students affected by the rezoning. They may choose to go to a school of choice or may stay at their school of origin for one calendar year. However, their families must provide their own transportation.

The Rev. Ann Jones Pierre, president of the Chattanooga Hamilton County branch of the NAACP, told district officials that forcing families to provide their own transportation is a form of punishment.

"My concern is to be fair to the children in the school," Pierre said. "It is inconsiderate of the planning team not to have bus service so that the children can stay at the school. That is not right."

The district is still seeking community input on the plan until Feb. 6. Those interested in submitting their feedback can do so online at

Officials said they will take that feedback into consideration and make a final recommendation to the Board of Education on Feb. 16. If approved, families will have until March 17 to decide if they will stay at their school. The changes will go into effect this fall.

Contact Carmen Nesbitt at or 423-757-6327.