published Thursday, February 9th, 2012

Cook: The Hill City 5 and broken promises

One. Two. Three. Four. Five.

That's the number of children in Hill City -- a working-class neighborhood on the North Shore where residents claim an average income of a little more than $21,000 and homes sometimes sell for three times that amount -- that next year can attend Normal Park, an award-winning magnet school less than a mile away.

Five kids. Less than a mile.

Their story is a hard one to tell. It's jumbled, contradictory and, for many, insulting. It begins four years ago. There will be time for questions at the end. Most will be mine.

In 2007, as the Hamilton County school board shut down Chattanooga Middle School, Hill City residents were promised their children would be zoned for Normal Park by the 2010-11 school year. All children. Any children.

Yet in 2010, the school board reneged, voting to zone Hill City away from Normal Park. School officials said Normal Park was in danger of becoming overcrowded. And it was.

With children from all over the county. Miles and miles away.

Last November, the school board changed its mind again. Hill City families were told their children could attend Normal Park in the upcoming year.

When the school board met Jan. 19, listed on their agenda was "Hill City Phase-In Plan."

No one from Hill City had been invited.

"They did not notify the very community members that have been working diligently to resolve this for the last two years," said Rhiannon Maynard, president of the Hill City Neighborhood Association.

She said it felt like a "sucker punch."

That night, it was decided to phase in Hill City kids, five at a time, into kindergarten only. Their application -- two pages, on a green form -- was due postmarked two days ago. Any other Hill City child who wants to attend Normal Park, which hosts grades one through eight, must enter the same lottery as a child from, say, Big Ridge, Ooltewah or Harrison.

By the way, each of those neighborhoods had more children attend Normal Park than kids from Hill City. Normal Park receives students who are zoned for at least 57 elementary and middle schools across the county.

Last school year, at least 30 neighborhoods had larger numbers of children attending Normal Park than the Hill City Five.

Like a confused kid in class, I have more questions than answers.

Why didn't the school board stick to its original plan in 2007?

How can a school give priority -- vast priority -- to kids all across the county but not on its own doorstep?

How much do race and class matter in the decision?

How are decisions made when drawing zoning lines?

And if parental involvement is integral in having successful schools, why would Normal Park not beg for as many Hill City kids as it can get? Their parents are organized, meet regularly and are fighting -- really fighting -- for what's best for their little ones.

"Justice and fairness would be the inclusion of the whole community into this community school," said Maynard, who doesn't even have kids and is still fighting.

Karla Riddle, director of magnet schools, said she understands the struggle.

"Zoning constantly changes," she said. "It's a difficult situation. Everyone wants their child in a good school."

Joe Galloway, the school board member who represents Hill City, is optimistic.

"The upside is the zone has been approved and efforts are being made to work with Normal Park to get in as many as possible from Hill City," he said in an email. "None of this was the case six months ago, so I try and encourage folks to be patient and see what happens."

Riddle said she and Superintendent Rick Smith are working toward a solution. She met with some Hill City folks Monday night.

"What I tried to help them understand ... we have to have a starting point," she told me. "Our responsibility is to monitor and adjust. We have to get away from the idea that it can't be changed."

Hill City knows that. All too well.

David Cook can be reached at

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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justobserving said...

Mr. Cook, If these are suppose to be serious questions, then it is very telling that you have only sought and reported on one side of this story. Even so, let me attempt to address some of your "questions".

Why didn't the school board stick to its original plan in 2007? Wait, was it a plan or a "promise"? Plans can and do change. As to why it changed, I would direct you to look at the population growth in the zone between the time of the plan and the intended implementation of the plan. Since the zoned students now compromise the vast majority of the spots, how do you propose to implement the 2007 plan in 2012? There is not enough room. Should we kick out the current magnet students? Just say to them "Thanks for all your hard work and dedication to help build this school, now go somewhere else". If you would like specifics, here are the projections for next years kindergarten class. The projected 106 students for next year's kindergarten class at NPMM includes the five spots for Hill City, a projected five from Fairmont, 67 other in-zone children, and 29 siblings of already attending magnet students. (Thanks to another poster for that information).

How can a school give priority -- vast priority -- to kids all across the county but not on its own doorstep? I would like for you to explain the "vast priority" you speak of. How did a child from Soddy Daisy or Harrison get any priority over Hill City children? Hill City children could apply for the lottery just like everyone else outside of the zone. Your question is at best misinformed and at worst, just plain ignorant.

How much do race and class matter in the decision? The very nature of your question implies that you think there was some sort of discrimination involved in these decisions. If that is indeed what you are implying, I think you are doing nothing more than race baiting an issue that you clearly know nothing about. Why don't you actually take a few minutes to talk to people who actually are involved and understand the issues here rather than writing another one sided hit piece that has been told to you by a group that is certainly not above such tactics.

How are decisions made when drawing zoning lines? Again, rather than insinuating impropriety, why don't you simply contact the school board and ask that question. In case you don't know, all the school board members phone numbers and email addresses are posted on the Hamilton County Department of Education web site. I think the more important question here is why you would rather make veiled accusations rather than actually trying to be informed on the subject that you are writing about?

February 9, 2012 at 9:18 a.m.
justobserving said...

And if parental involvement is integral in having successful schools, why would Normal Park not beg for as many Hill City kids as it can get? Are you suggesting that NPMM should provide preferential treatment to a select group because they meet certain criteria? On one hand you make several attempts to insinuate that has been happening but on the other you are wondering why NPMM hasn't been doing that all along with the Hill City children. Make up your mind Mr. Cook. Do you want NPMM to discriminate and provide preferential treatment or don't you? Or maybe you only want that preferential treatment to apply to Hill City.

If you would like to publish another underdog story, why don't you try the one about a failed school that was literally crumbling and NO ONE wanted to go there. Then a group of highly motivated parents, teachers, and administrators pulled together and though hard work and dedication turned it around to be one of the best schools in Hamilton County.

February 9, 2012 at 9:19 a.m.
JustOneWoman said...

It felt like a sucker punch because it was a sucker punch. Our world is becoming more and more entrenched in the money god. If you don't have money, how dare you ask for the same education.

Justobserving, others might take YOU more seriously if you didn't come across so $#%$# condesendingly. You may be right, but who is going to listen? And one thing I have learned from those that think they know it all, they never do.

February 9, 2012 at 9:39 a.m.
hixsondave said...

Brace yourself Mr. Cook the Normal Park mafia will attack. They don't condone rational arguments and will not tolerate anyone questioning the status quo.

February 9, 2012 at 9:50 a.m.
unclelightnin said...

Here's an "irrational" argument for you from the parent of a Normal Park magnet student: NPMM is MAGNET school - therefore, it is to be expected that a large proportion of the student body would be from other school districts. If that one isn't rational how about this one: there are many children who live closer than those in Hill City who are not included in the zone - some of them have taken part in the lottery like the rest of us did (a system that wasn't set up by any "Mafia") and their children now attend NPMM - some of them don't; but you don't see them up in arms. You play by the rules that are established and if you win, you win - if you don't you don't. Maybe the Patriots would like the rules changed so they can replay the Super Bowl; if they don't win, they can always seek to change the rules again. As someone who pays close attention to the news I have noticed that it is not unusual for government bodies to change plans regardless of whether or not they were originally put forth as "promises." You might want to check out how many homes in the Hill City area have been put on the block at greatly inflated prices since the decision was made to work out a compromise. If you do this, you might get an idea of what the actual motivation is to keep this issue alive.

February 9, 2012 at 4:53 p.m.
hixsondave said...

I made that post in levity, but it's nice of you to prove the point.

February 9, 2012 at 6:05 p.m.
justobserving said...

Nice Dave. Mr, Cook writes a hit piece and you call anyone opposed the mafia. How ironic.

February 9, 2012 at 8:13 p.m.
Meece said...

Mr. Cook frankly I am ashamed of you. There is information out there that disputes everything you've typed here. You are an educator, yet you are passing off innuendo without checking a hint of a fact. If your time in the classroom is based on this little research and this much preconceived bias, then people are wasting their money sending their girls to GPS. Shame on you.

February 9, 2012 at 8:32 p.m.
unclelightnin said...

hixsondave, you accuse others of being "the mafia" but can't seem to come up with anything but insults for anyone who has a rational point of view that doesn't agree with yours. If you want to do something productive, why don't you insist that the rest of the school board adopt the high standards that have been set at NPMM as the norm instead of wasting a lot of time and taxpayer money trying out how to fit all of the students in Hamilton County into one school that not so long ago no one wanted their children to attend - including the good people of Hill City (remember, they originally chose to attend Red Bank).

February 9, 2012 at 9:24 p.m.
Meece said...

By the way, quick question, do you know how many children from Hill City applied for those five spots?

February 10, 2012 at 12:03 a.m.
unclelightnin said...

I'm curious to know the answer to that one.

February 10, 2012 at 8:26 p.m.
Meece said...

The answer is "two."

February 12, 2012 at 8:21 p.m.
unclelightnin said...

I suppose that for the people who have been so rabid about making changes this would qualify as an inconvenient truth. What do you say, hixsondave, et al? The people who really want changes are the developers who stand to make a lot of money by selling property at greatly inflated prices - not the kids in Hill City.

February 13, 2012 at 9:29 a.m.
hixsondave said...

"Figures recently provided by Riddle show Normal Park has 416 magnet students and 366 zoned this year. In 2002, the school enrolled 13 zoned kindergarten students. Riddle said Normal Park has already enrolled 59 in-zone kindergarten students for next fall’s 100 kindergarten spots, with more students expected to trickle in." Looks like our publicly funded private school may be going public.

February 13, 2012 at 10:44 a.m.
unclelightnin said...

hixsondave: please look up what the phrase "magnet school" means before posting anything else. Publicly funded private school? Do you have any idea how much in private funds have been donated by parents and local businesses? Apparently not. Normal Park doesn't receive any more than the average school from public funds - please don't take my word for it - check with the school board. As far as your quote is concerned - yes, more in-zone students have enrolled as time has gone by; that's because before all of the improvements made by parents and donors very few wanted to attend the school; since the improvements were made there has been a large influx of people into the Normal Park zone because of the school and its programs. Did you ever actually see the inside the buildings before so many worked so hard to make them the schools they are today? Again, apparently not. What about CSAS and the other magnet schools? Are they publicly funded private schools as well? And did you see how many Hill City families rushed to try for one of the five spots? Two kids - two. Again, this is all about making money from development in the guise of fighting for the underprivileged.

February 13, 2012 at 7:12 p.m.
hixsondave said...

Your arguments get more transparent every time. The old stories about how much effort and money from the parents are a little flat. They are your kids you should be doing that regardless of where they go to school. Any school in the system would benefit just as much as Normal Park if they could hand pick the students. The parents at Normal Park don't deserve all the credit for the schools success,give the tax payers a nod, and last but far from least the Normal Park Lottery.
Making money from housing development,if it applied at places like Signal Mountain as well, it would at least have a ring of truth. Real monetary reason may be the current magnet parents are saving a bundle by comparison and they don't want neighborhood kids butting in.

February 13, 2012 at 10:04 p.m.
unclelightnin said...

Transparency is a good thing isn't it? It seems you prefer clouding the issues with phrases like the old "hand pick the students" one that's been going around for quite some time without one single shred of proof to support that allegation. The answer given however, whenever someone disputes the allegation is something along the lines of "well, we know what we know" without any evidence to back up whatever it is you think you know. This argument, of course, was stunningly effective when used by those who insisted that the world was flat and/or that the sun revolved around the earth and remains equally persuasive now. I have never implied that the parents alone deserve credit for the success of the school; that credit belongs mainly to the hard work and dedication of the staff and administration and the students themselves. Of course we appreciate the taxpayers money, but all of the schools benefit from that - again, Normal Park doesn't get any more than anyone else. The difference in the quality of the results the school consistently achieves surely can't be attributed to a difference in the quality of tax dollars. As far as your remark regarding the possibility of a monetary motive would indicate that you haven't been to North Chattanooga in the last few years or so. Take a drive through, you may notice a few new businesses/buildings/renovated homes/new homes, etc., etc. Coincidentally property values have taken quite a bump in that area. Don't take my word for it though, check out the facts for yourself.

February 14, 2012 at 9:28 p.m.
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