CHATTANOOGA (WRCB)- In past years, the Tennessee Report Card announcement has had a celebratory tone for Hamilton County Schools. But not this year. Admitting "we have a lot of work to do," Superintendent Jim Scales shared some positive news at Ganns-Middle Valley School, but it was overshadowed by numbers trending downward in some key areas.
Such announcements are usually well-attended by School Board members and County Commissioners, but the 2009 event was not. Only two Board members were in attendance (Everett Fairchild and George Ricks) and only one County Commissioner was on hand (Dr. Warren Mackey).
Dr. Scales made his remarks to an audience made up of Central Office administrators and invited principals. Among those not in attendance were principals of schools that had done poorly in either state achievement tests, or value-added (year-to-year improvement) scores.
SIGNS OF ENCOURAGEMENT, AREAS OF CONCERN
The State Report Card showed some signs of encouragement: thirteen schools scored straight A's in academic achievement, and three others (Ganns-Middle Valley, Daisy Elementary, and Ooltewah Elementary) scored straight A's in one-year academic growth. ACT scores for high schoolers held steady, and attendance county-wide is up.
But Dr. Scales and his administrators have some areas of concern as well: twelve schools scored all F's in all four academic areas. Two schools (Orchard Knob Middle and Hillcrest Elementary) registered only D's and F's in both academic and value-added categories. Fifteen schools are on the state's "Target" list. The school district did not meet Adequte Yearly Progress in sub-categories that include African-American students, economically disadvantaged students, students with disabilities or the overall graduation rate.
Despite statewide gains in the graduation rate, Hamilton County's is on a downward spiral; numbers have dropped from 75.1% in 2007, to 70.9 % today.
TOO MANY D'S AND F'S
Perhaps most alarming is the poor performance of many low-income inner-city schools that have been frequent recipients of help from local foundations, federal grant and title programs, and county government. Battle Academy, Bess T. Shepherd, Tommie Brown Academy, Clifton Hills, Calvin Donaldson, East Lake Elementary, East Side, Hardy, Hillcrest, Orchard Knob (Elementary and Middle), Rivermont, Woodmore, Dalewood Middle, East Lake Academy, and the now-closed 21st Century Academy all registered only D's and F's on student achievement.
Although most of those schools have offered perks to teachers, received federal and local grants, have relatively new buildings, additional staffers, new technology, interventionists, curriculum coaches and math/literacy coaches, some have made little or no academic progress in recent years, according to the State Report Card.
WHAT ELSE DO THEY NEED?
When asked, "What do those schools need, that they don't currently have?" Dr. Scales said, "We need support, resources and funding. The foundations have provided support, we've received state and local support, but we always need staffing. Our principals and teachers do a good job, but we've got to do a better job. We can't do more with less. We need to make sure our county funds the schools. We can't cut any more, we've cut to the bone. We have overcrowded classrooms."
Board member George Ricks, who represents many of the failing schools in District 4, said "Parents need to step up. We're doing all we can to get them involved. We're making strides at Howard, and we need to spread that success to the elementary schools." Ricks said the later start times at Howard, mandated by the state last year, have helped the school's attendance rate.
Board member Everett Fairchild, who represents District 3, said that many of the low-performing elementary and middle schools have a long way to go, but preferred to stress the positive. "Where would we be without the foundations and businesses that have supported these schools? That's how we need to look at this."
Responding to a question about reported "pressure" on principals to boost test scores (there have been rumors of a letter some principals were asked to sign, indicating they will be moved or replaced if their scores don't increase), Dr. Scales said, "Pressure? We have conversations with principals. But it's up to you (addressing the media) to make sure the story gets reported properly. We're still making progress. We need to improve our scores, and we shall do that. No one in our schools needs to be intimidated. We are professional educators."
MORE HIGHS AND LOWS
Several schools registered all A's in student achievement: Apison, Big Ridge, CSLA, Falling Water, Lookout Mountain, McConnell, Nolan, Normal Park, Thrasher, Westview, Creative Arts, Loftis Middle, and Signal Mountain Middle.
Schools getting only D's in student achievement were : Dupont, Harrison, Lookout Valley Elementary, East Ridge Middle and Tyner Middle Academy.
The State Report Card, with scores from every public school in Tennessee can be accessed here: http://edu.reportcard.state.tn.us/pls/apex/f?p=223:1:3151960069560736