Roy Exum: Best Plan For Signal

Sunday, January 28, 2018 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

The story that is now making the rounds is that without the Signal Mountain schools, the collective grades for the other Hamilton County public schools would be so bad some parents would move to another county. But when Thrasher Elementary was found to be the best by one looney testing method last year and Nolan, less than three miles away, was found to be the very worst, the testing method proved to be the biggest farce of all. The children and teachers at both schools on the mountain are identical!

On Friday the Signal Mountain Town Council voted to shelve a beautifully-done viability study that indicated Signal Mountain ‘could’ create its own school district. I believe the biggest reason “should” and “would” were omitted … at this time, mind you … is because from the absolute beginning, every person involved in the study unanimously agreed that if every child in the community could not benefit by the change, breaking away from HCDE would never happen.

Earlier this week state legislator Todd Gardenhire proposed a bill where Hamilton County would give the school buildings to Signal Mountain - at no charge -- if there was a split. I think that was a clever ruse because we already knew Signal Mountain was stymied by the fact the town’s children, the children in the unincorporated areas in the community, and the children from Walden could not be included in the same district.

Candidly, if the Town of Signal Mountain established an independent school district, state law prohibits parties outside the town’s boundaries. That will take a serious effort in the legislature. My hunch is state Senator Gardenhire had a “frog” in his pocket with the proposed give-away. That “frog” would be the city of Brentwood, with a group eager to break away from Williamson County school district.

Brentwood doesn’t want to “officially inquire at this time,” so to speak, and Todd knew the Signal Mountain piece in the bigger puzzle was no longer in the game. The best course, according to the Town Council, will be to shelve a plan, which is far different than scrapping it. There will undoubtedly be many looks at it in the years to come with it glaringly obvious Signal Mountain schools are the lowest priority in the county.

One school board member charged, “We can’t give Signal Mountain anything we don’t give the rest.” That’s baloney. Howard is in the guaranteed process of getting a football stadium and two other high schools are getting athletic tracks. Lookout Valley is expanding its gym. There is no equality in facilities because no two of the 78 HCDE schools have the same needs. Yes, you spread the projects fairly but, without enough money, the theory is every school must wait on its turn. This is also to say some members of the school board, to cop a phrase, “have never played team sports.”

That’s what brought the viability study into being. Not one person on Dr. John Friedl’s team was paid as much as a dime. The Signal Mountain Town Council is also not paid but approved the study in the belief humankind must constantly seek to improve. As a result, everybody in the study can support a valid argument either way.

It is estimated that most residents within the town limits were in favor of the split while the “unincorporateds” and Walden residents were strongly against. This is one reason the viability study, with its formulas, was a tremendous idea. But the arrogant HCDE rebuffed the entire community and, in two public meetings, allowed no questions from the public.

The HCDE, in fact, gave Signal Mountain several reasons to get out after its spokesmen asked Signal Mountain to stay. The worst was Supt. Bryan Johnson not sticking to his word, according to several sources. Mayor Howley met with Johnson in good faith but, in the 11th hour, Johnson turned his back on the stunned Signal Mountain.

This why Signal Mountain officials shelved the plan instead of canceling it. There is a genuine lack of trust for the HCDE. The mountain’s school board representative, Kathy Lennon, failed to stand with the people, instead rather blatantly with one faction. Now she plans to pick a Citizen’s Advisory committee to represent “every child” yet most of her credibility is gone. She lives in Red Bank and some on the Town Council strongly believe she tried to undermine the viability committee and the entire project. (Her husband is a popular teacher at the high school.)

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There was an alarming story in the Nashville Tennessean that only four percent of our black students in the state are ready for college. We can and must do far better than that.

But guess what?

* - On June 14, 2011, the New York Times reported that in New York state, “13 percent of black students and 15 percent of Hispanic students statewide were deemed college-ready after four years of high school, compared with 51 percent of white graduates and 56 percent of Asian-Americans.”

* - On April 2, 2012, the Dallas (Texas) Observer reported only three in every 100 blacks was ready for college.

* - On April 4, 2016, the Education Trust issued a report “that found that 47 percent of students did not take a college- or career-ready curriculum. It found further that 31 percent took a college-ready curriculum; 13 percent took a career-ready curriculum; and only eight percent took a curriculum that was considered both college and career ready.

“The problem is particularly pronounced among students from low-income families.

“Whereas 44 percent of students from the nation’s top two income quintiles did not take a college- and career-ready curriculum in high school, 53 percent of students from the bottom two income quintiles did not take a college- and career-ready curriculum, the report states.

“Specifically, whereas 82 percent of White students completed a college-ready curriculum with at least a 2.5 GPA, only 63 and 51 percent of Latino and Black students, respectively, completed a college-ready curriculum with a 2.5 or higher. The gap between low income students and their more affluent counterparts was similarly wide: 64 versus 80 percent, respectively.”

* - On April 7, 2014 the Huffington Post had a story that said, “A new report from the College of Education at the University of Arizona found that less than 1 in 10 minority high school graduates in the state are adequately prepared for college. Non-minority students are not much better off though, with only 2 in 10 prepared for college after graduating from high school.”

* - On Dec. 11, 2015 US News & World Report reported, “On the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress, only 18 percent of African-American fourth-graders were proficient in reading and only 19 percent scored as proficient in math, according to an analysis by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation released Friday. The eighth-grade numbers were even worse, with only 16 percent of African-American students proficient in reading and 13 percent proficient in math.

“By comparison, the report said, the national average for proficiency among all students in fourth-grade reading was 36 percent, while it was 40 percent in fourth-grade math, 34 percent in eighth-grade reading and 33 percent in eighth-grade math.”

* - On Dec. 11, 2015 US News & World Report also revealed, “… graduation rates for African-American students range from 84 percent in Texas to 57 percent in both Nevada and Oregon. But, according to data from the ACT test, the percentage of African-American students who are college-ready in English, math, reading, and science ranges from 17 percent in Massachusetts to only 3 percent in Mississippi.”

* * *

Isn’t it time to admit what we are doing isn’t working? Or has never worked?

The best answer I can find that will make a difference is Mandatory Pre-K education in Tennessee. Take whatever monies are needed from state college that graduate 60 percent of the students in six years.

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