The city of Chattanooga will fund support staff to "meet the holistic needs of students and families" in seven schools within the city, marking its first such investment in Hamilton County Schools since the 1990s.
Mayor Tim Kelly announced Monday that the city will place staff to coordinate services for students at certain county schools within the city limits beginning in the 2021-22 school year.
"Throughout my campaign and my short time in office, I've said repeatedly that education is the single most important long-term strategic issue that Chattanooga is facing," Kelly said at a news conference outside Orchard Knob Elementary, one of the benefactor schools, on Monday.
"And while the city may not technically be in the school business anymore, we must be invested in an education system that works for every child from cradle to career," he added. "As I've said many times, schools in the city are, as far as I'm concerned, city schools."
Kelly said the city will make its first "significant investment" since the county and city schools merged in 1997 to provide staff for comprehensive assistance for students outside the classroom.
"Here's how it's gonna work: We're embedding city-funded staff in seven schools across our district, working with principals to bring families resources to support their kids' social and emotional development, making sure they have access to safe and secure housing, and even career services, to open pathways to good-paying jobs," he said. "By directly engaging with families, students, teachers and principals in schools, and also in our city community centers, we can tailor these resources directly to our community's needs, helping every student to realize their full potential."
Staffers will support students at Brainerd High School, Calvin Donaldson Elementary School, Dalewood Middle School, Hardy Elementary School, Orchard Knob Elementary School, Orchard Knob Middle School and Woodmore Elementary School.
The city has not announced a specific dollar figure for the investment, and Kelly said Wednesday that more information will be released during the city's budget presentation process in August.
A spokesperson for Kelly said after the news conference that the city is "anticipating a nearly $1 million investment into our city's students for this program" and specifics will be "firmed up in the budget."
Kelly was joined by outgoing Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Bryan Johnson, Deputy Superintendent Nakia Towns, County Mayor Jim Coppinger and County Commissioner Warren Mackey to announce the partnership and stress the importance of providing support to students outside of the classroom.
"One of the areas of our school board strategic plan is an engaged community and the importance of engagement for enough students," Johnson said. "And when we talk about the true K-12 continuum for students, the truth is they only spent about 20% of their K-12 time in the schoolhouse. They spend 80% outside of the schoolhouse.
"So it's what we do as a community to make sure that we're intentional in our support that is so incredibly important to positioning them for success."
Asked if the county had intentions to establish a similar program at its schools outside of the city, Coppinger said the county general government and commission will "always be looking for some mechanism to plug in to try to help our young people."
The application for the community forward schools coordinators is available on the city's website at Chattanooga.gov.
According to the job description, coordinators will be responsible for supporting school staff and students through "recruiting and coordinating the activities of partner individuals and organizations offering programs, resources, and services at the school and in partnership with community-based organizations to meet the holistic needs of students and families; and implementing whole-child and whole-family strategies to strengthen student and family networks in order to help children thrive."