Part of the mission statement for the Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts (CSLA) – according to its website – is to “participate respectfully and responsibly in a democratic learning community.” But after an outlandish appearance before the Hamilton County School Board on Thursday night, it is safe to say one of Chattanooga’s best schools is today its most least respected. I’m talking about a new definition for stupid.
A sizable delegation from CSLA attended the “facilities committee” of the board’s monthly meeting and some rabble rouser came up with the idea a great way to get attention would be to start a repugnant tiff with the board. The trouble is, CSLA promptly knocked its own self out – face down on the canvas, I’m telling you -- and with the school board and the leaders of the Hamilton County Department of Education watching stone-faced, the animosity that was immediately apparent was cringe worthy.
CSLA, housed in an admittedly poor facility on East Brainerd Road, is like many other county schools in dire need of major repairs but some CSLA organizer got the idea they could bully the school board with catcalls, whistles, shouts of “liar,” and boorish behavior. It was the worst thing a “magnet school” could have possibly done in a district where now there are $231.5 million in construction projects piled up.
Rhonda Thurman – definitely the worst on the board to try to intimidate – was thoughtfully explaining why a “magnet” must wait. “We’ve got schools where a child has no other choice. If CSLA ceased to be, every child is already zoned to another school and there is a place for them. If Harrison Elementary is condemned, those children have nowhere close by to go.”
In short, every child at CSLA is “picked” to attend. There are waiting lists at CSLA of between 159-200 students in each grade because of the educational excellence, but elsewhere in the district some five-year-olds in the first grade must ride over an hour on a bus each way. “Our priority has to be with these people,” Ms. Thurman said.
Obviously, Rhonda is right and, while County Mayor Jim Coppinger has poured over $138 million into school construction since taking office, the County Commission has not been as forthcoming in meeting the demands in education. School officials will be forced to rezone students, particularly in the East Brainerd and Ooltewah areas that are growing in populations by leaps and bounds.
The CSLA crowd demonstrated they could care less. As one “adult delinquent” yelled “Liar” and those around him hissed and booed, Rhonda popped right back, “I’ve been called worse but, you know what? it doesn’t matter because I’ve heard your garbage before and this board is going to do what is best for everybody.”
That’s when some rube stepped badly outside of decency and attempted to goad Rhonda even worse. The board’s vice chairperson, Karitsa Jones, instantly called him down and explained to the CSLA malcontents there were rules and decorum that would not be compromised in the face of their disgusting behavior.
“Who do these people think they are?” was the consensus of the standing-room only crowd.
But the best of all rebuttals came when the monthly meeting began and two of Chattanooga’s so-called “worst” schools, Orchard Knob Middle and Dalewood Middle, celebrated the gains they have made with the board melting at the success stories in the very face of iZone threat. The state has announced it may take as many as seven schools away from Hamilton County and place them in a state-managed achievement district.
Schools in Memphis and Nashville have already been seized from Shelby and Davidson counties and, while Hamilton County schools like Brainerd High have boasted rapid improvement, the word from Nashville is that the state Department Of Education will hit Hamilton County next to show the achievement school concept is viable.
The tingle is that the state achievement district is anything but. Of the schools it has taken, very few have shown improvement. Some think casting aside local teachers and supervisors for outside unknowns will never work. According to independent news sources, this is proving to be true in both Memphis and Nashville.
But the state department of education is mandated to show effort for the money being spent and,, again according to Nashville legislative sources, the grab will happen. Thurman revealed the HCDE must bring the Hamilton County schools “up to standard” before the state assumes control. “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?”
The vice chair, Mrs. Jones, informed the CSLA representatives that the County Commission would decide how school funding with be allocated so perhaps they should appear there to continue their cause. I can predict, after watching last night’s debacle, the commissioners will be waiting.
In contrast to CSLA, the Harrison Elementary spokesperson cheerfully and pleasantly thanked the board members and administrators for coming out to tour the badly-deteriorated, 79-year-old school.
The board responded by voting Harrison Elementary as the top priority for a new school.
I can also predict when this year’s Summer Reading lists are issued by CSLA, there may be a new “parent” requirement: “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie.
One line in the book reads like this, “Personally I am very fond of strawberries and cream, but I have found that for some strange reason, fish prefer worms. So, when I went fishing, I didn’t think about what I wanted. I thought about what they wanted. I didn't bait the hook with strawberries and cream. Rather, I dangled a worm or grasshopper in front of the fish and said: "Wouldn't you like to have that?" Why not use the same common sense when fishing for people?”