Roy Exum: At Last! New Schools

Friday, October 20, 2017 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

In this me-me-me-only-me world of today, we-we-we-finally got a thrilling $125 million facility plan for the Hamilton County Department of Education on Thursday night. The School Board unanimously approved a well-thought-out “first Band-Aid” that will provide a new elementary school in Harrison, middle schools in East Hamilton and Howard, and a quite-satisfactory answer to move Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts (CSLA) into what has been an under-utilized Tyner Middle School.

A large group of Tyner supporters fumed that the Middle School would be put in the same building as Tyner High School, saying it would make one building over-crowded, and the pout spread as CSLA supporters had been accused of wanting “a private school at taxpayer expense.” But renderings of both renovations, with additions, showed two schools that fully compliment the other.

From a practical standpoint, the HCDE should immediately contact the Tenn. Secondary School Athletic Association seeking to add CSAS students – who have no football team – to Tyner’s roster-depleted team because today Tyner has less than half the number of students it did when Wayne Turner coached his first district title. Let the CSAS kids combine with Tyner in every sport and there would be some great friendships formed.

The two middle schools are both “musts” due to over-crowding and a new elementary school in Harrison has been the school district’s top priority through three superintendents. In addition, $66.5 million will be applied towards the appalling deferred maintenance in the district but it will take a concentrated 10-year plan until the public schools can really recover from the ravages of 12 years without a tax increase.

Yes, a $200 million windfall from the millage rate allowed County Mayor Jim Coppinger to provide an “eleventh-hour” boost for Hamilton County education after it has plunged to the worst metro district in the state in recent years.

A combination of wretched leadership by the County Commission, the School Board and the Department of Education itself shocked Chattanooga when a study suggested 60 percent of our third graders cannot read at grade level and 65 percent of our high school graduates must take remedial courses before regular classes at Chattanooga State.

David Testerman, an outspoken school board member after serving as principal at several HCDE schools, makes no bones about the fact, “This is a great start to fix our buildings but our system is still broken. We must keep our momentum. ”

Bryan Johnson, the new superintendent who has been over the District for just three months, said on Wednesday it is crucial “we change the culture of public education” and the first solution to school buildings is a master stroke in the process.

He said, “This is a real world that we live it. What has been allowed to happen has happened, okay, but I am thrilled with what the staff has done, not just in tonight’s building but from an overall effort in our ‘Innovation Zone’ schools, our deep commitment in making the bright things we’ve done brighter, and a strong first step in utilizing our existing facilities. (Howard’s middle school will be in the existing Howard building … much like it was before it was removed. The location is ideal.)

The School Board also approved several new positions in Johnson’s efforts to reorganize the central office staff. The increased intensity with the 10 poorly-performing “Innovation Zone” schools just took a number of HCDE’s brightest and best away from key roles and the new “Super” is taking deliberate steps in creating new positions with new responsibilities.

“Making changes is not easy and I’m the first to know everybody wants a new school. But buildings isn’t where I am … we’ve got to worry about academics. It’s where the rubber means the road. People don’t remember the buildings where they went to school and none of them are asked about them on a job application. What matters is what you learn, what we can teach a child.

“That’s changing a culture. We’ve got to yearn for excellence,” is Johnson’s stance.

Thursday night, when the school board opted to think ‘outside the box’ instead of settling for just three new schools, was the best thing that could have happened to “we” in our climb out of where “we” are right now.

royexum@aol.com

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