Show Me The Top 5 Inequities In The Hamilton County Schools - And Response (6)

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

UnifiEd unveiled its equity plan, the APEX Project, and on the front cover it says, “Hamilton County’s Community Vision for Educational Equity”.  I think it is rather pompous for UnifiEd to interview just 2,600 of Hamilton County’s 336,400 community members, come up with an equity plan and say it is representative of the citizens of Hamilton County. I want to know who elevated UnifiEd to the head seat at the educational table? They were not elected, they were not appointed and they are not accountable to anyone. UnifiEd is not about education. Their purpose is social engineering and organizing citizens to lobby elected officials to increase taxes for liberal education experiments. You do not have to believe me, just check out UnifiEd’s APEX Project online.

In the last few weeks I have been called a White Supremacist, a racist, elitist, hateful, and dangerous for voicing opposition to one of the APEX  Project’s socio-economic integration strategies of “redrawing attendance school zones” to be paired with a “robust transportation policy” (pg. 23). UnifiEd says what they are calling for is not busing. But, the report goes on to say, “Each school integration strategy must be coupled with adequate transportation for all students.” Also, this from page 24, “A strong grassroots commitment that focuses on the development of trust and residents in our rural neighborhoods, the growing suburbs and the City of Chattanooga can ensure that all schools are supported in integration efforts.” Did you get that? All schools. How are all schools going to integrate if schools in the suburbs are not sent to urban schools? Call it what you will, this is busing.

During my 14 years on the School Board, I have heard a lot of edubabble. The newest education catch phrase sweeping across the country is “equal is not equitable”. (This is a narrative really being pushed by UnifiEd in their APEX Project). At May’s School Board meeting, the Board voted 8-1, (I was the no) to pay $290,000 to pursue hiring a consulting firm to come in and identify “inequities” in the HCDE. The Board was told we would not be paying for the consultant contract because an outside, unknown group would pay for it. It is, however, very important who pays for it.

If inequities are so prevalent in Hamilton County, I wanted to know what they are so I asked for a list of the top five.  All I was told was there were many inequities and the children in the inner-city schools could tell me what the inequities are. My question is this, if school children can tell us, why are we considering paying a consulting group $290,000 to tell us? Like I said, consultants look at your watch and tell you what time it is.

If HCDE is, in fact, treating some of our students inequitably, I want to know. Are there inequities with classroom resources, facilities, faculty, discipline? I did a little research and think a little history would be helpful.

During my tenure on the Hamilton County School Board, we have had two white superintendents (Register, Smith) and three black superintendents (Scales, Kelly, Johnson). When the two systems merged in 1997, the Chattanooga City School System had a black superintendent, Dr. Harry Reynolds. The City School System had an enrollment of 21,000 and was 62 percent black and the Hamilton County School System had an enrollment of 24,000 and was 95 percent white.

Before the merger, the HCDE was scoring in the 90th percentile on state tests. In 1999, two years after the merger, eight of the district’s elementary schools, all located in Chattanooga, Calvin Donaldson, Clifton Hills, East Lake, East Side, Hardy, Hillcrest, Orchard Knob and Woodmore, were ranked among Tennessee’s 20 worst schools. Were there inequities then? If so, who was responsible?

After seeing that eight of Tennessee’s worst schools were now part of the HCDE, Dr. Register partnered with the Benwood Foundation to focus on reforming these schools which became known as the Benwood Schools. The Benwood Foundation put in $5 million, PEF added $2.5 million. All teachers in each of the Benwood Schools had to reapply for their jobs. The Community Education Alliance created the high-profile array of incentives for Benwood teachers, including mortgage loans, a tuition free master’s degree, and $5,000 bonuses for teachers who demonstrated student gains.

The Education Sector reported, “In addition to the Benwood Foundation and PEF, the Weldon F. Osborne Foundation committed over a million dollars and partnered with the University of Tennessee to create a free master’s program for Benwood teachers. The Urban League and Community Impact also contributed funds and offered after-school tutoring and parental-involvement programs. In all, more than $10 million was committed to reform Chattanooga’s struggling elementary schools.”

In 2001-02, 11 Hamilton County Schools were put on Tennessee Schools on Notice. Those schools were Calvin Donaldson, Chattanooga Middle, Dalewood Middle, East Lake Elementary, Franklin Middle, Hardy Elementary, Howard Elementary, Howard, Orchard Knob Elementary, Orchard Knob Middle and Woodmore Elementary. Many additional resources were put into these schools to help boost their academics.

In 2001, the Carnegie Corporation invested $14 million to reform each one of the county’s high schools.

In 2006, Jim Scales worked with Benwood as they began their second five-year phase with $7 million from the Benwood Foundation and an additional $1 million from PEF to expand the initiative to eight more schools.

In 2006, $2.5 million from the NEA Foundation and $6 million from the Lyndhurst Foundation supported the Middle Schools for a New Society.

In 2012, another $1.25 million from the Lyndhurst Foundation kept MSNS alive.

In the Spring of 2013, a three-year $10 million improvement grant was awarded to improve academics at five priority iZone schools. Those schools were Brainerd, Dalewood, Orchard Knob Middle, Orchard Knob Elementary and Woodmore. These schools failed to improve.

In 2017 the Opportunity Zone Schools - Brainerd, Dalewood, Hardy, Woodmore, Barger, Howard, East Lake Middle, Orchard Knob Elementary, Calvin Donaldson, Clifton Hills, East Lake Elementary and Orchard Knob Middle - were awarded $600,000 from the state and $1 million from the federal government over five years for school improvement. A breakdown of expenditures with the first installment of this grant money as of June 30, 2018, listed; 24 Teacher Leaders stipends, three consultants for Professional Development, Math and Algebra Equipment (flat screens), Science instructional materials and money for field trips, night school with transportation, two Community School Specialist, Art and Science Opportunities, and two Behavior Specialist - all totaling $658,611.

Please note that all of the aforementioned programs and monies are above and beyond the county, state and federal monies already given to high priority schools. Also, these programs do not include many more of the new positions or programs (such as later school starting times and truant officers) that have been implemented in our high priority schools. I personally do not see any inequities with classroom resources. Maybe there are inequities with facilities. Let’s look at the facts.

When the county and city school systems were separate before the merger, each time the Hamilton County Commission gave one dollar to the Hamilton County School System for capital projects they had to give one dollar to the Chattanooga City School System for capital projects. In spite of this fact, when the systems merged, many of the city schools were in dismal condition. So, one of the first challenges for the newly formed school district was to bring the city schools up to acceptable condition either through replacement, renovation or, in the case of Brown and Battle Academy, a new build. Some of the school replacements were East Lake Middle, East Lake Elementary (getting a new addition as well), East Side Elementary, Hardy, Orchard Knob Middle and Orchard Knob Elementary. Dalewood got a new wing in 2005 and Howard High petitioned for a $18.2 million renovation instead of a $18.9 million new building. In 2003, $1 million was spent to re-roof Howard. Howard Middle is being renovated and is scheduled to reopen in 2019.  

I do not see any inequities with facilities. Maybe there are inequities with technology. There are five schools that have been 1 to 1 with technology for the last four years. Those schools are Red Bank High, Howard, East Lake Academy, Tyner Academy and the STEM School. The life of Chromebooks is four years, so these schools will soon be getting their second Chromebook before others get their first. Maybe there are inequities in discipline.

One of the main problems with our high priority schools is chronic absenteeism. The 2016 Tennessee State Report Card stated that 63 percent of students of Brainerd High School did not show up for class more than 10 percent of the year. Others listed in this report were Orchard Knob Elementary, Orchard Knob Middle and Woodmore. I recently read one educator's comment that said he thought the biggest problem in many high priority schools was that they did not get enough “time on task”. If you do a cross reference with the On Notice Schools, High Priority Schools, the iZone Schools and the Ozone Schools with attendance records and behavior issues that continue to disrupt class, I think you will see a very definite pattern with lack of “time on task”.

This is from the APEX Project pertaining to student behavior and discipline: “Implement restorative justice practices: Our schools need to move away from zero-tolerance policies that have disproportionately impacted students of color and toward restorative justice models which focus on community health rather than individual punishment. This is particularly crucial for students coming from low income areas who, on average, experience higher rates of exposure to violence and biased discipline practices. Restorative justice seeks to better understand students and educators to create an environment that focuses both on responsibility and community reconciliation. There are multiple approaches to non-punitive restorative justice, including mediation, student conferencing, circle discussions, open dialogue, and trust building exercises.”

Attitudes like this about student behavior (blame anyone but the student) makes me understand why discipline issues are at the top of the list of why teachers leave the profession. It is really sad that race is even considered in discipline. There should be equal punishment for equal offenses regardless of color. Is this inequitable?

I do not understand the “restorative justice models which focus on community health rather than individual punishment”. But, I do understand an article I recently read that was written in 1886 in Swansea, Massachusetts, “We have fine school houses, competent teachers, faultless textbooks, yet very indifferent scholars. We need the cooperation of the parents. If at home children have learned the lessons of obedience, if they have been taught the value of education, and if they have been encouraged to study, their relation to the teacher in the school will be pleasant and their progress in study will be positive. If, however, children at their fireside are permitted to sit in judgement over the faults of the teacher and to discuss his lack of ability to maintain order, if they ae encouraged in acts of disobedience and irregular attendance, the teacher’s task will be a laborious one and the school nearly worthless. Let parents cooperate with teacher in his well-meant, well-directed efforts. Let them show their interest in the school of their district by frequent visits, let them see the school is not wanting in appliances necessary to the success of imparting instruction and to the progress of the scholar in study and the schools will assume a more elevated and efficient position.”

Just think how many millions of dollars could have been saved if we had just followed the plan laid out in 1886.

I am still waiting for someone to identify the top five inequities in HCDE.

Rhonda Thurman

* * *

It is always sad to learn that a group is not really who they say they are. That is certainly the case with UnifiEd. School Board member Rhonda Thurman has given us some things to think about. 


Why does UnifiEd think only their ideas get implemented? 


Why are they the only group at the table with a plan?


Why does UnifiEd have open access to children in the schools, and what warrants that? They are not educators?


This group is far from grass roots.


I have a copy of an email that the UnifiEd non-profit mailed out to anyone that was in their data base referring to Rhonda Thurman and Joe Smith as hateful and dangerous.  


The nerve of UnifiEd to send such an offensive email out about our elected officials in their extensive data base and trying to raise money with a donate button in the email at the expense of Rhonda Thurman and Joe Smith.  The true intent of that email was interference in campaigning against one candidate to associate him with another. This is a strategy UnifiEd thinks of in political terms.


UnifiEd speaks of accountability against our elected officials who dare defy them. That is UnifiEd’s entire mode of operation - agree with us or you are a racist. The group uses some the most hateful language and bullying tactics against our elected officials.  Elected officials should denounce this radical group and ignore them.  They do not speak for the majority of Hamilton County residents as the title of the APEX Plan boldly claims. 


The nerve of UnifiEd to call this APEX document our Hamilton County Plan without a vote of any elected body in Hamilton County. Further, why is the UnifiEd Plan the only plan being considered?  After all, UnifiEd has zero experience in public education. Their consultants are not from this area either. Don’t we have some say in our local schools?


On the other hand, UnifiEd are rock stars at political campaigns. Ask Tiffanie Robinson, Kathy Lennon, Karista Mosley or Kathelyn Geter about UnifiEd’s political abilities, wink.


The former director of UnifiEd, Jonas Barriere, formerly employed by the Obama for America PAC relocated here to work, and most paid staff are not from Chattanooga. The founding director, Elizabeth Crews, is formerly of the Tennessee for Obama PAC and Andy Berke for Mayor. It is truly an Obamathon of campaigns with these pros.


UnifiEd is a political campaign machine, who does not have knowledge of public education. They hide behind a veil of we must change the public schools, but the real agenda is gaining control of our elected County Commission and School Board, and property taxation.


UnifiEd group has received $1.6 million in funding - grassroots indeed. How has UnifiEd helped the public schools for $1.6 million so far?   I see no accomplishment at all for $1.6 million in spending.


This group is a big money operation with a mission to control elected boards to their vision. The notion that UnifiEd’s group of 2,600 people are going to decide the direction of the schools with their plan titled APEX by using divisive language, integration, racist, equity…. really?  Unify indeed.


UnifiEd, state your inequities now to School Board Member Thurman.  She keeps asking, and you keep failing to respond. Wonder why?  


The APEX plan is not our Hamilton County Education Plan as UnifiEd claims.


There needs to be more ideas at the education table than just a group of radical left hacks.


We need more viable educational ideas than just a social engineering plan, and UnfiEd has shown their agenda is not honest.


April Eidson 


* * * 


How is allowing inner city kids to bus out to county schools going to make them learn any better?Are they going to actually show up for school are they going to pay attention, mind and really learn any better? 


This problem with kids doing good in school starts at home. Hold parents accountable for their kids actions. Quit shuffling the problems around; it will not fix anything. 


Danny Bales


* * * 


I wouldn't miss reading a post by Rhonda or April and I have no dogs in this fight.  I know these two ladies will give the facts as they are and not as someone wants you to think.  They always do their research and as far as I'm concerned they're rock stars.  Keep up the pressure, ladies.

Sue White


* * * 


Ms. Thurman,

Just as you are waiting for someone to show you the top five inequities in the Hamilton County Schools, I am waiting for you to lay out a comprehensive plan to improve our schools and make them providers of quality education for all Hamilton County students, regardless of race, creed or color.

The fact is that some schools in the system are producing very poor results despite what you claim are good facilities, state of the art equipment and equal sharing of funding and that, with a few exceptions, most are not performing at an acceptable level. So, what can we, the Hamilton County community, the Board of Education and the administration of our school system do to raise the performance of, not just some, but all of our schools? Have we accurately identified the problem(s)? If so, what are the conditions necessary, the objectives to be achieved, that will alleviate them? Most importantly, what’s the plan that will achieve these objectives and produce those results?

You seem to have very strong opinions about what the problems are and, at times, have suggested objectives that you feel need to be achieved to solve those problems. You are also very good at criticizing the proposals of others that you disagree with. As far as I can tell, however, you have never proposed a plan of your own to attain those objectives and produce positive results for our schools.

You cite an article from 1886 that you recently read and assert that we could have saved millions of dollars had we “just followed the plan laid out in 1886.” Like you, however, the author has identified the problem, unruly kids and uncaring parents, laid out his objective, having them both behave appropriately, and described the result, schools of a “more elevated and efficient position,” that achieving the objective would, in his opinion, produce. He has not, however, put forth any mechanism, a plan, to achieve his objective and produce that result.

Do the assertions of this author from 132 years ago accurately reflect your thinking on the problems currently plaguing our schools?  Do you agree with him that achieving the objectives that he lays out will solve those problems and raise the performance of our schools to an acceptable level? If so, even though I have serious doubts about the relevance of his musings to the very different world that we live in today, I am willing to set them aside and support your plan to achieve those goals and produce the results set out by your cited author and you…as soon as you come up with one. 

Harry M. Hays


* * * 


Mr. Bales, your letter appears to imply students who don't attend inner city schools are better disciplined than students who do, and are therefore far superior. That their parents are more engaged than parents at inner-city schools. That's not true. Those 'better' schools just do more to protect the image and reputation of their schools, parents, teachers and communities, because many who work at those schools have children who attend and most live in the same communities. My own children attended some of those 'better' schools.

The only problems with inner-city schools are, over the decades, there's a great disconnect from parents, community and the school. Where inner-city schools went over the top suspending students for wearing a white shirt on a blue shirt day, wearing laced shoes instead of flaps, or measuring a student's skirt from hem to knee, and the measurements came up short, those better schools were covering up the fact students were showing up high, hungover (even some parents showed up drunk/hungover at parent/teacher meetings), bringing weapons to school, gangs openly roaming the halls and fights breaking out (yeah! white-gangs at those schools were prevalent-although you'd never know by the reports in the media). 

Where inner-city schools were throwing the students under the bus over minor infractions, or none at all; banning parents who complained from school property, those 'better' schools did whatever it took to protect their image. They knew a negative image on the school would stick for a lifetime. They were not only protecting their image, but their future. 

However, I do agree there's nothing to accomplish, and even greater harm will be done, by busing inner-city students from a failing environment into a harmful toxic one where they're neither wanted nor welcomed. This will only result in even greater psychological harm and damage for those inner-city students. 

The solution is for those inner-city schools to reshape and change their attitude towards how they mete out discipline. They can also start with a great humbling by apologizing to those students and parents they've harmed over the decades. There's no reason those inner-city schools can't once again become the envy they once were. Yes, I said envy. Because there was a time local inner-city schools were just that. The envy of the city. So much so that they were sometimes threatened by an all white school board if they didn't slow down, or even cease, they'd receive lesser funding in the following year school budget than the low funding and cast offs books and supplies they were already presently receiving. In those days inner-city schools had a profound and solid connection to the students, parents and communities they served and a vested interest. Like the line in a Whitney Houston song, "Didn't we almost have it all."  There's no reason these schools can't "have it all" again. 

Brenda Washington 


* * * 


Mr. Hays, it’s not Mrs. Thurman’s job as a school board member to introduce any plan comprehensive or otherwise regarding improving schools. The lack of an understanding of the role of school boards, county commissions and superintendents is part of the problem we have. It’s especially difficult for people with private school backgrounds to understand the public schools as well.

Under the system established for Tennessee public schools the board hires the superintendent and that person, not a so-called non-profit group, formulates policies of improvement. The board then votes to enact or not. They as elected officials get input from the rest of us and make their deliberations and decisions based on that.

What we have, as Mrs. Thurman so eloquently articulated, is a long history dating back to the 1980s of valiant and very costly attempts here to provide a quality education to all students in the public schools. But money and valiant attempts can never create the desire for learning and hard work by parents, teachers and students that goes into acquiring a successful and productive education. 

Mrs. Thurman is also pointing out social engineering schemes have not worked here either. For that matter they generally don’t work anywhere except in Ivy League college demonstration schools. 

It is my contention the Public Education Foundation and their activist arm Unifi-Ed have had the desire to turn all Hamilton County Schools into magnet schools where they can tinker with the demographics until they get the balances they want. When they say they aren’t for forced bussing, they mean they want so many different themes on the big education roulette wheel, everyone will find their favorite and it will all get better.

But who is going to pay for all of this? Will private schools be the winners as more public school parents opt for that choice? Will more and more parents opt for home schools or Georgia who don’t want their children as part of some social experiment? How will this help anything get better?

We have but to look at the past, Mr. Hays. Where is the 21st Century School now and how many students flocked to Tyner, Lakeside, East Lake for their magnet themes? Certainly CCA, CSAS, Normal Park and CSLA have been successes, but what about all of the others? Parents made it clear they want mostly community schools not themes.

In the past we had a magnet school here that was truly outstanding and successful, but the social engineers who wanted everyone on a single track moved away from vocational education. That school that was closed was Kirkman Technical High School. 

But for now  the superintendent should be given the opportunity to present his ideas for improvement using best practices that fit this community. That’s what the board hired him to do. 

Ralph Miller 

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