Pushing school reform in Hamilton County: volunteers go door to door urging residents to become involved

Pushing school reform in Hamilton County: volunteers go door to door urging residents to become involved

February 7th, 2011 by Kate Belz in News

Hamilton County school board member George Ricks, right, talks to Gladys Pankey about the upcoming visit of education activist Geoffrey Canada. Volunteers went door to door in the Harriet Tubman Development on Saturday morning asking parents to to turn out when Canada visit Hardy Elementary School on Feb. 15.

Hamilton County school board member George Ricks, right,...

Standing in the door of his apartment in the Harriet Tubman housing development, James Tumbling scanned the flier that Anita Pickett had just handed him.

The paper was an invitation to see nationally known education reformer Geoffrey Canada, who is visiting Chattanooga this month.

"This looks pretty important," Tumbling said.

"Do you think we'd be out in this cold if it wasn't important?" Pickett called out over her shoulder as she moved on to the next apartment. "This is for our kids."

Pickett and more than 30 volunteers knocked on doors throughout East Chattanooga on Saturday to spread the word about Canada's Feb. 15 visit and invite local residents to get involved in their children's education.

"We want to get something started here that will turn our schools around," said Pickett, executive secretary of the Harriet Tubman Resident Association.

Canada is president and CEO of the Harlem Children's Zone, an organization that since 1997 has worked to increase graduation rates among students in the Harlem area of New York.

He will speak at Hardy Elementary School and at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

The Harlem Children's Zone targets 100 blocks in Harlem, providing children and their parents with an expansive range of services "from cradle to college," according to its website. The Obama administration has used it as a model for education reform.

Community leaders hope Chattanooga schools will take cues from Canada, too.

The Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies hopes to implement a similar program, Chattanooga Promise Zone, in area school districts most affected by poverty and crime.

"We hope Mr. Canada's visit will be a catalyst to really push this program forward," said David Eichenthal, president of the Ochs Center.

The local program is still in its infancy, but Eichenthal said it has support from the city, county and area organizations.

He said a pilot program will be launched at Hardy Elementary, considered one of the county's most at-risk schools.


What: Geoffrey Canada's talk on education.

When and where: Tuesday, Feb. 15. 4-5 p.m. at Hardy Elementary School and 7 p.m. at Roland Hayes Concert Hall inside the Fine Arts Center at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

Cost: Free

State figures show 95 percent of Hardy students are economically disadvantaged; 24 percent are at or above grade level in math scores and 21 percent are at or above grade level in reading and language scores.

Community leaders and parents hope that while speaking on a panel at Hardy Elementary, Canada will help them hash out issues specific to the area and to the school.

"It's pretty amazing what he was able to do in Harlem. We'd like to duplicate that here," said school board member George Ricks, whose District 4 includes Hardy.

Brittany Craddock said she hopes the initiative will give a boost to Hardy, where her daughter is in kindergarten.

"I want her to get a good education," she said. "And you have to start when they're young, even as young as she is."

Canada's talk is a part of the George T. Hunter Lecture Series, which is sponsored by the Benwood Foundation, UTC, CreateHere and the Ochs Center.

Contact staff writer Kate Harrison at kharrison@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6673.