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Community members share.a meal and discuss their thoughts on Chattanooga's education issues, using Causeway's Gather Round toolkit.
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To download Causeway’s Gather Round toolkit visit www.causeway.org/toolkits

 

Though her oldest son hasn't even started kindergarten, Tiffanie Robinson and her husband wanted to have a conversation with friends about public education in Chattanooga.

The couple decided to fill their living room with about 15 people, all young parents from across the city, and over a dinner of fried chicken and beer, the group began talking about issues facing schools here.

"People brought so many different perspectives," Robinson said. "As people were talking, you can see eyes open as people hear about problems and potential solutions for schools."

Robinson said she felt equipped to facilitate the discussion thanks to the recently released Chattanooga 2.0 report and a toolkit provided by a local nonprofit agency, Causeway, that makes understanding and conveying the information in the report simple.

Chattanooga 2.0 was released in December, providing a sobering picture of the state of education in Hamilton County and also the economic imperative facing the city to develop a more qualified workforce. The report was commissioned as a community-wide call to action for education reform to help all students — regardless of ZIP Code — be prepared to fill the glut of jobs arriving in Hamilton County.

Heather DeGaetano, managing director at Causeway, said she was involved in conversations surrounding Chattanooga 2.0 and wanted to find a way to help get more people involved. So DeGaetano and her staff created the Gather Round toolkit, which equips anyone to host a conversation about improving schools.

"This is the time for people in Chattanooga to be involved in public education," she said. "And that starts with them having conversations."

So far, 15 Gather Round events have been hosted everywhere from Hixson to Highland Park, and now Causeway has made the toolkits available for anyone to download from its website.

Chelsea Conrad, director of creative engagement at Causeway, said the toolkit was created to be open ended, allowing people to host the kind of conversation they want to have, saying teachers and parents and 20-year-olds may have very different conversations.

After the meetings, groups are asked to submit feedback to Causeway, which is compiling the responses to share with Chattanooga 2.o leaders.

Conrad hopes all of these little conversations will spur a diverse pool of people to get involved in public education, something that now is lacking in Chattanooga.

"Without a doubt, education is one of the Chattanooga's toughest challenges," she said. "I hope to see more people empowered and inspired to be involved in finding solutions from these conversations."

Causeway also plans to launch a grant program on March 1 that will award 10 people $3,000 grants to act on an idea that they think will get more parents involved in public education.

Jared Bigham, director of Chattanooga 2.o, said these toolkits are exactly the type of community involvement Chattanooga 2.0 was hoping for in order to accomplish the goal set in the report of increasing the number of Hamilton County residents with training after high school from 35 to 75 percent.

If this happens, the report states 100,000 more local residents will have access to jobs paying more than $35,000 a year, and 8,000 adults will move out of poverty.

Bigham said having these conversations about education and the report across the city are important, because improving schools takes help from everyone.

"Causeway is a great example of an organization using their resources, talent and areas of expertise to get engaged and take action," he said.

Robinson said the group of people gathered in her living room asked to follow up on the conversation and wants to find ways to be involved in improving schools, regardless of whether their children attend them.

"In our group, every talking point led back to socio-economic issues, and why our system does not give every student the same opportunity," Robinson said. "I think everyone there left wanting to help act on these issues."

Contact staff writer Kendi Anderson at kendi.anderson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592. Follow on twitter @kendi_and.

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