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Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 4/24/17. Hamilton County School Interim Superintendent Dr. Kirk Kelly and Education Commissioner Dr. Candice McQueen speak about their plan to improve area schools during an editorial board meeting at the Chattanooga Times Free Press on Monday, April 24, 2017.

UPDATE: The Hamilton County Board of Education is meeting with state officials this afternoon to discuss the partnership district.

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ORIGINAL STORY: The meeting between the Hamilton County school board and Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen will start at 4 p.m. today. The meeting will be held at the Hamilton County Department of Education, located at 3074 Hickory Valley Rd, Chattanooga, TN 37421.

 

State education officials will outline and field questions about a collaborative partnership to improve Hamilton County's lowest performing schools during a meeting with the school board today.

"We are continuing to discuss which option will be most successful, and we are still actively considering both the Achievement School District (ASD), which is our most intensive form of intervention, as well as a joint governance model that would allow the state and district to partner over a set of schools within the same feeder pattern," said Candice McQueen, Tennessee's education commissioner.

A month ago, McQueen talked individually with each school board member about the partnership district, and then met with school district and community leaders about the plan. Last week, McQueen returned to Chattanooga and met with the principals and staff at Brainerd High, Dalewood Middle, Woodmore Elementary, Orchard Knob Middle and Orchard Knob Elementary.

Ultimately, the board has two choices: accept the partnership district or allow the ASD to take control of at least some of the schools.

School board member Karitsa Mosley Jones, who represents several of the schools facing intervention, said Wednesday she is against the ASD.

"The ASD has not proven to be successful," she said, pointing to its results in Memphis and Nashville. " I don't think [the ASD] is what's best for our kids here or our schools."

Mosley Jones said she's open to considering the partnership district and is glad the entire board will be able to talk about the details of this plan with McQueen.

"I have some questions," she said, adding that she's hesitant to work with the state.

Mosley Jones said she wants the state to allow Hamilton County to continue working to turn the schools around on its own, saying the district's current leaders are helping the schools make gains.

But McQueen said these five schools, known as priority or iZone schools, have tested in the bottom 5 percent of schools statewide since 2012. And each of the schools, besides Brainerd, was also identified in 2002 as being among the lowest-performing in the state.

During the last five years, the iZone schools have received additional support and more than $10 million in additional state funding, but struggled to achieve little — if any — academic progress under Hamilton County leadership.

McQueen said the state feels "a tremendous sense of urgency" around changing the outcomes of the 2,300 students in these five schools, and has been in conversation with Hamilton County district and community leaders for months to determine which interventions are best for the schools.

"To be clear, no decision has been made," she said. "We are still determining the viability of all our options. Thursday's conversation with the school board will be a continuation of this vetting process."

McQueen is asking the school board to decide if it wants to move forward with the partnership district during its meeting in June.

If the board and state agree to the partnership, next school year will be a planning year for the separate district, as both groups will work to appoint a separate board to oversee it, and the board will then hire a director. Under the proposed plan, the state will appoint 60 percent of the seven-to-10 member board, and Hamilton County Schools will name 40 percent.

The state will pump additional funding into the new district initially, and its leaders will control the budget.

McQueen and Hamilton County Schools Interim Superintendent Kirk Kelly previously told the Times Free Press that Chattanooga 2.0 will also be a part of the partnership, which they both agreed is an asset.

Kelly also voiced support of the plan.

In coming years, McQueen said the partnership district could be expanded to include more of the county's low-performing schools if academic gains are not made.

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

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