The county schools will push forward with an equity effort that appeared to have been paused after board members Rhonda Thurman and Joe Smith in May said they rejected the idea that county schools need to “racially and economically integrate.”
An equity task force did not meet for several months and the schools did not move forward on hiring an outside consultant to help direct the effort.
However, Dr. Marsha Drake, chief equity officer, said Thursday that sub-committees of the Equity Task Force will begin meeting monthly to work on specific issues related to equity - which was described as giving an opportunity for every student to reach full potential.
She also said the PowerSchool educational technology platform will be used to handle two upcoming lotteries - the first being for enrollment in the much-sought-after Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts (CSLA) and Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences (CSAS). County school staff will no longer be involved in the lotteries.
Supt. Bryan Johnson said the magnet schools have a free and reduced lunch number of about 8-12 percent compared to close to 40 percent in other schools. He said, "We want those schools to be a little bit more cultural mirroring." CSAS officials said the school is 30 percent minority.
Board member Karitsa Mosley Jones, a graduate of CSAS, said schools like her alma mater and Normal Park School "are like private public schools. I'm sorry, but it's the truth."
She said the equity push "is going to make some people uncomfortable who have been comfortable for a long time."
Jenny Hill, a new board member, said in order to push equity forward "things are going to have to change. If we have to change around every school in Hamilton County, then so be it."
Officials are still holding back on hiring an outside consultant, though Ms. Lennon told Dr. Drake, "That's a lot of work you're doing. You're just one person."
Dr. Johnson said, "It's a big elephant. It's a bite at a time."
Mr. Smith said he was leery of hiring outside experts, saying the schools should listen to those with experience in the system.
Another part of the effort is setting up a Newcomer School at Howard School to help with students who do not have English as their primary language.
Another is hiring more guidance counselors to give needy students more social and emotional support.
Ms. Thurman asked about a move to expand open enrollment schools. She said that is something "the parents should decide."
Dr. Drake said she has secured an 18-month equity fellowship to help her on the issue.
The board put off a vote on a five-year contract with Teachers For America, a group that recruits and trains teachers to work in inner-city schools. About half of the teachers are minorities.
Chairman Joe Wingate said a leader of the group was giving a newspaper interview before contacting and briefing him. Steve Highlander said he needed more time to study the details of the contract. Of TFA goals, he said, "I like some of them and some I don't like."
TFA is to supply 15 "supplemental" teachers to the county schools in 2019. They will be paid by the school system. The system is also to pay $250,000 per year that goes to the national organization for recruitment, training and administration. The state provided $1.5 million in funding that will cover that annual cost.
It was noted there are currently six teacher vacancies in the High Priority Schools. Ms. Jones said, "I've got students who don't have a math teacher. Some of the teachers tell me they can't wait until May 25 (end of school)."
TFA officials said Oct. 29 is the initial deadline for next-year teacher commitments. The board is to hold a special called meeting prior to that date.