More than 2,000 Hamilton County students who attend high-priority schools now are eligible to switch to another school halfway through the year.
Although the Tennessee Department of Education asked for a federal waiver so school districts wouldn't have to offer transfers, the waiver was denied.
"We had pretty much thought it was a done deal," said Sheryl Randolph, Hamilton County's director of student services.
State Education Department spokeswoman Amanda Maynord Anderson, said the U.S. Department of Education told state officials they denied the waiver because they wanted to stay consistent and had denied similar requests by other states.
Tennessee school districts normally send letters to parents of all students attending schools on the state's high-priority list early in the fall, after Adequate Yearly Progress results that determine which schools are on the list are released in August.
In order for a school to be considered "high-priority," it must fail to achieve its performance benchmarks, or "make AYP," in any one category for two years in a row. Schools on the high-priority list must make AYP two years in a row to return to good standing.
But this time around, the AYP list was released only two weeks ago. In addition to the 10 Hamilton County schools already eligible for transfers, the new AYP results added seven more: Soddy-Daisy High, Dalewood Middle, East Lake Academy, Hillcrest Elementary, Orchard Knob Elementary, Rivermont Elementary and Tyner Middle Academy.
County officials today will send letters to parents of students at all 16 schools on the list, Randolph said.
Parents will have until Feb. 7 to let the district know whether they want their children to transfer to designated schools. By Feb. 14, families should know whether their application was accepted, and students will start at their new schools the week of Feb. 21.
Randolph said she hopes most eligible parents will keep their children at their current schools, rather than have them switch with only 11 weeks left in the school year.
"I would hope parents would think through what a transfer would do at this time of year," she said. "The problem is, the classes [a student] wants to take may not be available; the pace at different schools may be different. It may look like a good deal, but timing is everything."
Crystal Henderson said she and her husband, Larry, have been debating whether to have their four children leave Hillcrest Elementary and switch to one of its paired schools: Snow Hill or Birchwood.
Henderson called the decision "a Catch-22," and said she and her husband haven't yet made their decision.
"Hillcrest has done such a great job with our children ... but on the same token, I do want to give my kids every opportunity that's available to them. But I feel like they can get that at Hillcrest. I'm really torn, I really am," she said.
A student who switches to a paired school must stay through the end of the school year. Randolph said of 189 students who transferred in August, about 50 have asked to go back to their home schools.
"It just shows you that what sounded good right now may not be the best option," she said.
Test scores of students who enroll in a school after the 20th day of classes do not count for or against that school's standardized test scores, said Hamilton County Schools spokeswoman Danielle Clark.
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NEW PAIRED SCHOOLS
Soddy Daisy High: Hixson High or Ooltewah High
Dalewood Middle: Loftis Middle or Soddy-Daisy Middle
East Lake Academy: Brown Middle (zoned students) or East Hamilton Middle (zoned students)*
Tyner Middle Academy: Red Bank Middle (zoned students) or Hixson Middle (zoned students)
Orchard Knob Elementary: Daisy Elementary or Allen Elementary
Hillcrest Elementary: Snow Hill Elementary or Birchwood Elementary
Rivermont Elementary: Falling Water Elementary or Soddy Elementary
* If magnet students not zoned for the school choose to leave, they must return to their home school.
Source: Hamilton County Schools
TRANSFERS IN 2010
Clifton Hills Elementary: 4 to Falling Water Elementary
Calvin Donaldson Elementary: 7 to Lookout Mountain Elementary; 4 to Lookout Valley Elementary
East Ridge Middle: 9 to Ooltewah Middle; 11 to Signal Mountain Middle
Howard School of Academics and Technology: 13 to Sale Creek High; 34 to Signal Mountain High
Lookout Valley High: 0 to Hixson High
Lookout Valley Middle: 1 to East Hamilton Middle; 1 to Hixson Middle
Orchard Knob Middle: 78 to Hunter Middle; 21 Ooltewah Middle
Red Bank High: 3 to Sale Creek High; 3 to Hixson High
Source: Hamilton County Schools