District wants to revamp, spread Hamilton County High School support programs and re-purpose staff

District wants to revamp, spread Hamilton County High School support programs and re-purpose staff

February 18th, 2019 by Meghan Mangrum in Local Regional News

Hamilton County Schools wants to revamp how it educates students who have fallen behind in high school, dropped out and since returned to school or otherwise haven't fit into a traditional high school setting.

Currently, only about 200 students participate in the district's diploma completion program or alternative programs at Hamilton County High and a Chattanooga State Community College campus.

But school leaders say that Hamilton County High's Harrison Bay campus is "inaccessible" and they hope to spread its programming throughout the district.

On Thursday, the school board will vote to remove the school's state number, essentially erasing its identity as a stand-alone school that is held to the same requirements and tracked by the same metrics as other schools in the state.

Rather, school leaders discussed at a Monday night work session, the programs housed at Hamilton County High will serve as support programs at multiple locations throughout the district to serve the same student population that might not otherwise earn a high school diploma.

"Hamilton County High School is its own school, which means it has a school number, but they're getting kids that just by sheer circumstances are behind," said Justin Robertson, chief of schools for the district. "Right now there are only two options for kids who get behind and neither allows for earlier remediation."

Robertson told school board members that he envisions re-purposing Hamilton County High's staff — seven staff members in all — and spreading them across the district to support struggling students in other areas.

John Maynard, the district's career and technical education director, said only about 10 students who attend either of the programs currently "come from north of the river."

"We'll try to create satellite options for kids at some of the existing high schools," Robertson said. "By housing them in high schools, we could start early. For instance, if a freshman fails Algebra 1 and English 9, we know [they're] going to struggleif we can put these programs in our comprehensive high schools we can reach them."

The move to re-purpose staff at Hamilton County High is possible because of a partnership between Chattanooga State's Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) and the district to house two TCAT programs in unused space at Hamilton County High while the college undergoes renovations.

In December, the school board approved the temporary relocation of Chattanooga State's motorcycle and marine services and welding programs to the school with the understanding that some of the equipment and materials will remain for dual-purposes in the building after the completed renovation.

"I think it's a really good opportunity for us to move towards more career and technical education programs that will allow us to support Central and Ooltewah high schools," Robertson said Monday.

If the board reduces Hamilton County High to simply a support program, the students that will partake in its programming at satellite campuses will remain students of their original, home high school. That means their test scores and whether or not they graduate within four years will count toward their home schools rather than toward Hamilton County High's state accountability metrics.

Robertson told the board Monday that Brainerd High School and The Howard School both already have additional supports for students who are off-track to graduate, and additional staff will bolster their programs. He pinpointed Hixson High School as a possible satellite site in the north end of the county, which would increase access for students in Soddy-Daisy, Hixson and Red Bank.

Superintendent Bryan Johnson has emphasized that one of the district's main goals, outlined in the strategic plan adopted by the board last fall, is to increase the district's graduation rate from about 86 percent to 90 percent by 2023.

"We are going to have to do something different to reach those kids and get them on track," Robertson said.

The school board meets for its February regular session at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday at 3074 Hickory Valley Road.

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