published Friday, August 17th, 2012

David Cook: The one and the only Howard

I'm sitting on the gym bleachers with two students during a break in their Wednesday morning wellness class -- the topic was a healthy body mass index -- when I hear the word for the first time.

"Everybody sees it now as The Howard School," said junior Derelle Roshell.

Did you spot it? Check out the sixth word in his quote. It's a tiny word -- three letters -- nudged between "as" and "Howard." Rhymes with pea. And sea. And celebratory.


Not Howard School.

But ... The Howard School.

"It makes a big difference," said sophomore Taneshia Gearing, next to Derelle on the bleachers. "I want to come in and learn and be educated and part of The Howard School."

It is significant that students, teachers, alums and principals have begun attaching this little word -- the -- at the front of their school. Like The Ohio State. Or The President.

"It adds more power to the name," said Roshell, a wise, gregarious teenager whose principals and classmates have fondly nicknamed "Senator," which probably underestimates him.

This may be the most dramatic opening of school in decades for Howard -- sorry -- The Howard School, in years.

The Howard School has been lifted from the Tennessee Department of Education's watch list of low-performing schools. Thursday night, the school was featured in a full-length documentary, "Build Me a World," which premiered at the Tivoli Theatre.

"Kids are coming back from other schools," said school counselor Ismahen Kadrie.

I'd wager the good news will continue this fall, when last year's test scores [already viewed by principals but embargoed from the public eye] are released.

"I can't talk about it," said Principal Paul Smith.

But his smile does.

When Smith arrived at Howard -- "five years, one month and one day ago," he said Wednesday -- he began the renaming process. When calling parents, speaking at meetings, addressing Central Office, he always said "The Howard School."

It was an act of faith.

"At first, folks were laughing," he said.

No longer. It's reached saturation point, where students -- with pride, seriousness -- call their school The Howard School.

Perhaps it's time the rest of us do, too.

Consider Mason West, the teacher who brought the Talented Tenth program to Howard, which the documentary highlights. Taking West's course is like being given a passport. Students envision new programs at Howard; engage in debate tournaments; travel to Jamaica and Washington, D.C., to meet with high-level government officials; and, like last year, propose to officials at Volkswagen the idea of turning Howard into a training site for future VW workers.

While the Talented Tenth still exists, West doesn't live in Chattanooga anymore. He moved.

Howard has halls full of talented educators and administrators; West isn't the only one doing good work. But the loss of West is a tremendous loss for our city. He is one of the most inspiring, wisest educators I've seen in my whole career. We should have steered every resource possible into praising, utilizing and promoting him.

Let's learn from the loss of West. Let's invest in -- not ignore -- the future of this school.

Smith's vision has three parts: increase Howard's vocational training, turn the school into a K-12 program and build a 21st century stadium -- with track -- in the empty lot adjacent to the school. He's got miles of data and plenty of pedagogical experience and stats to back up his plan to really make Howard into a downtown school for the new century.

Plenty of deserved attention has been given to other schools in the county. We've hired architects, built buildings, funded additions. On Signal Mountain. In East Brainerd. In North Chattanooga.

Now is the time to invest in The Howard School.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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rosebud said...

Mr. Cook, do you keep up with the news much? Invest in Howard? You mean the same community that TURNED DOWN a new school from the County Commission in 2003? The same school that has seen at least $20 MILLION in facilities improvements since that time? Yes sir, go ahead and compare that amount, with what's been invested at East Brainerd Elementary, CSLA, Red Bank High, Brainerd High, Lookout Valley, East Ridge Middle and High, Soddy-Daisy Middle....oh, forget it, I don't want to confuse you with the facts.

August 17, 2012 at 8:44 a.m.
Haiku said...

rosebud, that's because your facts are seriously flawed. Yes, Howard turned down a new school from the County Commission in 2003, and it's a good thing they did. They county wanted to remove Howard students and make way for the suburbanites return. The new school would have been so far out in the boondocks those students would have been waiting at a bust stop at four a.m. to get there, and would have likely not have gotten back home until almost midnight. It was all suppose to be a part of the gentrification plans. Move the poor out, encourage the upper-middle classes who ran away in the 1970s to return. The plan was to destroy the image of Howard, its students and the surrounding community those students come from in order to make their removal seem more justified.

August 17, 2012 at 10:58 a.m.
ldurham said...

Now that's funny, haiku. So, you are privy to some secret plan to build a new Howard school in the boondocks? Where exactly are the boondocks in the Howard zone? Fact: they were offered a new school building. Fact: they turned it down, preferring to stay in the toxic dump they're already in. Fact: The county has spent more than 20 million dollars on that old building since that time. Fact: At least two dozen other schools need 20 million just as bad, and haven't gotten a penny.

August 17, 2012 at 2:24 p.m.
Haiku said...

Idur, there were no plans to build another Howard in, around or anywhere near that area. You call the land there toxic, but developers see it a prime property. The school wasn't going to be torn down. the plan was to preserve it, and use it for multiple purposes. Possible in part a private school, where none of those original Howard students would have been allowed to return, unless they played sports of some kind.

All of that area south of Main, along with Main, has become prime property over the years that developes want to get their hands on. They can't do that as long as poor and poor working classes are living in the area.

We're all going do die from something at some point in time. That area is no more toxic than most any town in Ameirca that once relied heavily on manufacturing to create jobs. The reason why poor areas remain poor is there's nothing in them, job wise, to sustain them. When you do more to keep jobs out than to bring jobs in, communities start to decline and deteriorate. Within about 20 years, give or take, the entire area is in ruin.

August 17, 2012 at 2:44 p.m.
ldurham said...

So, you do not dispute that we taxpayers have spent more than $20 million recently on the school that David Cook states needs the "deserved attention" that has been "given to other schools?" What a laugh. Drive around. Look at the schools that someone mentioned above. Who's crying out for their needs? Jump in when you've done your homework.

August 17, 2012 at 3:34 p.m.
Haiku said...

Idur, I can neither dispute it nor agree. Unlike you, I'll have to be honest. I don't know how much my tax dollar has been spent on either Howard school or any other school, and neither do you. 20 million is likely an exaggeration rather than an absolute. I do know there are fractions who have been on a mission to take such a historical building as Howard with such historical significance almost from the moment poor and working class blacks were gifted the building we now know as Howard. What name the building now known as Howard would have been called if the original intended recipients had wanted it we might never know.

I think it is you, Mr. Idur, who not only needs to do your own homework, but to also take a trip down history lane.

August 17, 2012 at 6:16 p.m.
rosebud said...

Well, looky here, Haiku. Validation of every fact you've denied. From the mighty Times Free Press, no less. Even the columnist Mr. Cook could learn by researching his own newspaper. Homework, indeed.

August 17, 2012 at 6:58 p.m.
Haiku said...

rosebud, youre link doesn't reveal anything I wasn't already aware. Removing students from one building to another isn't going to do away with a negative image. Wasn't that one of the excuses used, as if they were actually trying to do a favor? The story link you pulled up is only one in many on the subject during and before the article you've linked. There were previous less friendly stories, basically admitting what they had in mind for both the students and their planned use for the building.

August 17, 2012 at 7:44 p.m.
Lr103 said...

I don't have any children in schools. However, if Howard wants to continue to improve and continue to move upward the school will have to become savvy, expand its horizon and become competitive. There were once plans for Howard to contract with Chattanooga State. Chattanooga State wanted to set up classes at the school, but was turned down. I still don't understand the logic of that decision. Since the whiners are always whining about their wasted tax dollars going to Howard, Howard could lease out portions of the building to colleges, and hold both day and evening classes like the school use to. Those could be continuing educational studies for adults and students alike, vocational studies, and even studying of the arts, classics and craftmenship. If other companies don't want to hire from your communities, using one excuse after the other, why not set up your own delegation in the school that could go into other countries and entice businesses that would create jobs to your communities. The fabric that holds a community together and helps it to thrive and survive isn't having a church on every corner, but the businesses that operate there and the jobs they provide. As long as others are allowed to inch out just enough funds to keep you coming back and begging for more, they're going to always be in control of your destiny and hinder the ability to advance.

August 18, 2012 at 8:51 a.m.
rosebud said...

Howard: with some of the lowest achievement scores in the county, and one of the highest graduation rates. Someone explain how that works, please.

August 18, 2012 at 2:58 p.m.
shen said...

maybe they're not as savvy at it as some of the better schools, rosee, and must have forgotten to fix things first up some grades and test scores?

August 18, 2012 at 5:45 p.m.
rosebud said...

Right. I guess all the other schools are doing it wrong.

August 18, 2012 at 6:35 p.m.
shen said...

Well, rosee, they don't raise suspicion. That is, until those little valedictorian darlings go the college and the truth comes out.

August 18, 2012 at 6:45 p.m.
rosebud said...

Yep, sure does. Most of 'em are running businesses now.

August 18, 2012 at 8:08 p.m.

Achievement tests are one of the biggest scams foisted upon the education system.

They're a profit stream, and any benefit to the students is incidental.

August 18, 2012 at 11:22 p.m.
rosebud said...

So...achievement tests are scams? Does this mean graduation rates are believable? Many Howard students can't pass their classroom tests, yet they somehow "earn" a diploma? But students from Ooltewah High, who do better on their classroom tests, don't quite qualify for their diploma? Funny how that works.

August 19, 2012 at 8:58 a.m.

Rosebud, check out the industry, and the costs of it. All to create more statistics, which superficially seem useful, but really tell little, and certainly don't help improve anything.

But at least we're not Kentucky, which had somebody who wanted an evolution-free version.

Anyway, if you want to fix schools, stop listening to the siren call of the test industry. They seduce us with stories about how we just need to know what students are learning. But they're actually a distraction from finding solutions as the test sucks up more time and money. It's like going to the doctor and spending so much money on diagnosis that you can't afford the medicine.

August 20, 2012 at 1:04 a.m.
LaughingBoy said...

The tests are useful in measuring how much the students are learning. It's not just remembering historical dates and names, there is a writing assessment, and most of the math is calculations. Without some testing it would be left to individual schools to determine graduation-readiness and that's clearly something that would be abused.

August 20, 2012 at 2:18 p.m.

That would be the ideal. The reality is that the test industry has become something that's clearly being abused, ranging from time spent on test prep, to over charges for services, to improperly scored resulted, to outright cheating.

I remember one case where somebody hadn't been taught some math technicalities (due to being from another place where they didn't cover such things), so they did badly on that section. The counselor insisted the child had math deficiencies. The parent said no, you don't understand it's a lack of teaching. Blah-blah-blah, long story short, the school administration just couldn't grasp the situation.

I'd rather not have the tests. Too many people just get locked into the idea of tests results as a sacred cow.

August 20, 2012 at 3:24 p.m.
LaughingBoy said...

How would you measure performance, and knowledge obtained/retained?

August 20, 2012 at 3:36 p.m.

I don't have a full plan, but I'd rather have nothing than have a big over-arching test program that is really just a money trough for those who only see students as dollar signs.

At the least, we wouldn't be deluding ourselves with useless statistics.

But for a start, I'd see about making the tests more helpful towards individuals than empty statistics to judge schools.

August 20, 2012 at 4:05 p.m.
LaughingBoy said...

They're not useless and empty statistics.

August 20, 2012 at 4:33 p.m.

They've certainly been good for justifying taking money out of schools and siphoning it into the pockets of testing companies.

Because well, it's statistics. Performance numbers are important! Or just like a majority of what is taught in school, it's actually useless theater.

August 20, 2012 at 6:15 p.m.
shen said...

Many of those students from those better schools,and also private schools, had to take remedial courses in college right alongside those students from poor performing schools. The only differences between the better schools, private schools VS poor inner city schools are the better schools and private ones have more help aides, and they do more to protect their image. They don't want that negative stigma to follow their students for the rest of their lives. Plus, no one's going to pay thousands of bucks for their child to attend a low performing private school with a negative reputation for social issues. Little Sammie and Samantha caught with drugs on campus, or ina compromising situation at a private school or better school aren't going to make the evening news.

August 20, 2012 at 7:37 p.m.
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