Board to vote on plan for seven schools

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - FRONT PAGE - BY MEGHAN MANGRUM STAFF WRITER

The Hamilton County Board of Ed­u­ca­tion will vote next week whether to open en­roll­ment at seven schools to any Hamilton County stu­dent.

Most county stu­dents are zoned to at­tend a par­tic­u­lar school. Ex­cep­tions in­clude stu­dents who at­tend mag­net schools, ap­ply for hard­ship trans­fers or who have ex­cep­tional ed­u­ca­tion needs.

Dale­wood Mid­dle, the new Howard Mid­dle, Look­out Val­ley Mid­dle/High, Red Bank Mid­dle, River­mont El­e­men­tary, Soddy-Daisy Mid­dle and Wood­more El­e­men­tary are all un­der con­sid­er­a­tion.

School board mem­bers say the dis­trict mostly chose schools with un­used en­roll­ment ca­pac­ity. All but River­mont are be­low 75 per­cent ca­pac­ity, with Look­out Val­ley Mid­dle/High School at only 54.5 per­cent ca­pac­ity.

“It’s awe­some that we are go­ing to have open en­roll­ment next year. I think it’s go­ing to show our county com­mis­sion­ers that we are do­ing ev­ery­thing we can to fill up those class­rooms,” said Dis­trict 2 board mem­ber Kathy Len­non.

River­mont pi­loted an open-en­roll­ment pro­gram in 2017 and now is at 119.4 per­cent ca­pac­ity. Of its 386 stu­dents, 169 (43.8 per­cent) are not zoned for the school. Len­non was un­sure why River­mont was in­cluded on the new open en­roll­ment list. The board will dis­cuss and vote on the list at Thurs­day’s quar­terly board meet­ing.

Other schools be­low 75 per­cent ca­pac­ity in­clude Brain­erd High (60.3 per­cent), Brown Acad­emy (62.3 per­cent), Cen­ter for Cre­ative Arts (71.4 per­cent), Look­out Moun­tain El­e­men­tary (53 per­cent), Or­chard Knob Mid­dle (72.5 per­cent), Se­quoyah High (39.4 per­cent) and Tyner High (66.8 per­cent).

Su­per­in­ten­dent Bryan Johnson has pub­licly said he in­tended to rec­om­mend open-en­roll­ment schools to the board in De­cem­ber.

Hamilton County is slowly be­com­ing a choice dis­trict, Johnson told the board at a Nov. 27 work ses­sion.

“We are al­most, we are about half­way there to be­ing a choice dis­trict” for en­roll­ment, Johnson said, not­ing that the 12 mag­net schools, Fu­ture Ready In­sti­tutes at 13 high schools and River­mont al­ready are open.

Dis­trict 8 board mem­ber Tucker McClen­don said open­ing en­roll­ment at un­der­used schools makes fi­nan­cial sense.

“It is a step in the right di­rec­tion. I think we need to try to get these schools that are un­der­uti­lized to the proper num­ber so it makes fi­nan­cial sense to us,” McClen­don said. “I think schools that are sit­ting at 70 per­cent should be looked at and bumped up to 90 per­cent.”

McClen­don also em­pha­sized fam­i­lies should con­sider their op­tions.

“Each school in Hamilton County has a lot to of­fer and I think there is plenty of op­por­tu­nity at the schools we will be vot­ing on,” he said.

Trans­porta­tion won’t be pro­vided for stu­dents who go to a school out­side their zone.

Cur­rently, trans­porta­tion is also not pro­vided for out-of-zone stu­dents to at­tend Fu­ture Ready In­sti­tutes, but it is for mag­net schools. Only about 5 per­cent of stu­dents at the Fu­ture Ready In­sti­tutes at­tend a school out­side their zone this year.

Len­non said mak­ing par­ents pro­vide trans­porta­tion to open-en­roll­ment schools is the dis­trict’s big­gest chal­lenge.

“That’s a piece of the puz­zle that I do not like, that’s some­thing that we will have to con­tin­u­ally work on as a school board and as a dis­trict,” she said.

Board mem­ber Rhonda Thur­man, of Dis­trict 1, dis­agrees.

“They have to pro­vide their own trans­porta­tion just like it has to be for any child who at­tends a school out of their zone,” she said. “If you are go­ing to get some­thing from the school sys­tem, you should have to give some­thing. We can­not con­tinue to trans­port these kids all over this town.”

Thur­man also said she has sug­gested that dis­trict ad­min­is­tra­tors re­view out-of-zone stu­dents for dis­ci­pline or at­ten­dance problems.

“I want to be sure that par­ents are made aware that if their kids are a dis­ci­pline prob­lem, if they are a tardy prob­lem, if they are an ab­sen­tee prob­lem, they are go­ing to have to go back to their home schools,” she said. “I sug­gested that I hope they re­view these stu­dents ev­ery se­mes­ter.”

The board’s quar­terly meet­ing is set for 5:30 p.m. Thurs­day at the Hamilton County Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion, 3074 Hick­ory Val­ley Road.

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