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SCHOOL STATS

* 2016-2017 school year data provided by the Tennessee Department of Education via the annual State Report Card

District-wide:

> Economically disadvantaged: 37.3 percent

> White: 54.8 percent

> Black or African American: 30.5 percent

> Hispanic or Latino: 11.8 percent

> Asian: 2.6 percent

Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences - Lower:

> Economically disadvantaged: 11.7 percent

> White: 63.4 percent

> Black or African American: 26.6 percent

> Hispanic or Latino: N/A

> Asian: 8.7 percent

Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences - Upper:

> Economically disadvantaged: 10.7 percent

> White: 50.2 percent

> Black or African American: 38 percent

> Hispanic or Latino: N/A

> Asian: 10.3 percent

Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts:

> Economically disadvantaged: 8.8 percent

> White: 65.8 percent

> Black or African American: 22.6 percent

> Hispanic or Latino: N/A

> Asian: 10.3 percent

 

Hamilton County Schools is changing how students are selected for magnet schools.

The lottery process for schools such as Chattanooga School for Arts and Sciences and Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts will be conducted online for the 2019-2020 school year, rather than by staff through a random drawing.

The online application also will include a new blank — family income.

The change was announced at the board of education's regular meeting on Oct. 18. It is an effort by Chief Equity Officer Marsha Drake and her team to collect data on the families who attend some of the most sought-after public schools in the district.

Drake said CSAS and CSLA, though racially diverse, are not now socio-economically diverse.

"When we look at our magnets and especially CSLA, we only have 8 percent of our economically disadvantaged students attending that school. And that is a K-8 school that has roughly 40 students in each grade level," Drake said.

"We've been charged [with closing] the opportunity gap, so we got to see why is that? Is that they are applying for the lottery and they are not getting in or is it that they are not applying? We won't know unless we find out more information from the people applying for these two schools specifically," Drake said.

Kelly Coffelt, principal of CSAS' Lower School, said this isn't information that the school doesn't already ask from parents. All families fill out a free or reduced-price lunch form with income information at the beginning of the school year to find out if they meet those requirements.

Board member Tucker McClendon, who represents CSLA in District 8, said he has had parents reach out to him with concerns about the information requirement.

"I have been contacted by parents that have expressed concern that their income is being asked on the application for the lottery system. Though I don't necessarily agree with that information being collected by the district, I have assured them that this information will be used for data purposes only," McClendon said.

At the Oct. 18 board meeting, board member Rhonda Thurman, of District 1, said she thought asking about a family's income was "wrong" and "way out of line."

But Thurman also told the Times Free Press that she felt the magnet system has always been unfair.

"It's amazing how the more elite get into these schools...Teachers, administrators, board members always manage to get their kids in there," Thurman said. "They are supposed to reflect the population of the district. It's nowhere near close to reflecting the diversity of the district now."

Hamilton County has two "complete magnet schools," or schools without a zone. STEM School Chattanooga and Chattanooga High Center for Creative Arts also are magnet schools, but have specific academic requirements as well as a lottery for admissions.

Barger Academy of Fine Arts, Battle Academy, Brown Academy, Calvin Donaldson Environmental Science Academy, East Lake Academy, Lakeside Academy, Normal Park Museum Magnet, Tyner Academy and Tyner Middle Academy also are listed as magnet schools, but they have assigned zones that feed students into them, as well.

The number of students who attend each of those schools from outside their zone was not immediately available.

Drake emphasized that for the 2019-2020 school year, income information was to be collected solely for data purposes. However, she did acknowledge that the information collected would be reviewed by the Equity Task Force.

"This is another piece of information, another piece of data that is something we need to consider," she said.

Whether the district will make changes to the current lottery process, how students are chosen and if some factors would be weighted more heavily than others in the future, she could not predict.

"That would be something that would be determined in part with the equity task force and recommendations that they make," Drake said. "Looking at the populations [magnet schools] serve now, they are not bridging that gap."

Nationally, diversity has come to mean not just racial integration, but socioeconomic integration as well. Though they often go hand in hand — most schools with students of concentrated poverty in Hamilton County are mostly minorities — a more racially diverse population can mask a lack of socioeconomic diversity.

In 2012, Eloise Pasachoff of the Georgetown University Law Center wrote that "today, over eighty school districts around the United States, together educating around four million students, ensure that poor children are taught alongside middle class and wealthier children through a variety of voluntary integration programs" to formally "integrate their schools along class lines."

At the board meeting, board member Karitsa Mosley Jones of District 5 noted that the conversation was necessary if the district was truly committed to the work of the equity task force.

"If we really want to do this work then we're gonna make some people uncomfortable who have been comfortable for a long time so that we can make people who are uncomfortable a little more comfortable. It just is what it is," she said.

Coffelt said CSAS has not received any concerns from parents or potential families or applicants. Potential CSAS and CSLA families were introduced to the new online lottery system at information sessions this fall.

Coffelt noted siblings of current students entering kindergarten and children of staff members were prioritized in the lottery, which typically leaves 25 to 40 seats open of the 60 available in each new kindergarten class.

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

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