published Monday, February 20th, 2012

Cook: Unintended Normal Park Museum Magnet School punch to gut

I sat with Jill Levine in her office at Normal Park Museum Magnet School recently. She had a copy of my recent column -- the one I wrote about the nearby Hill City neighborhood being kept out of her school's zone -- on her desk.

Levine, principal of Normal Park, had highlighted in yellow the parts she said were false and misleading. There was lots of yellow.

"I read this and felt like I got punched in the gut," she said at the end of our two-hour visit. "Actually, you punched about 800 people in the gut with this."

I write this column for many reasons.

Insulting an entire school community is not one of them.

And based on the email responses I've received (a handful of parents wrote me nearly 7,000 words of email), I feel like I've dropped a printing press onto a very large Normal Park bruise.

So let me dig out something to say that should be at the top of my barrel of words and not hidden at the bottom. I write columns with opinions, sometimes strong ones. But never do I want them to be unfair.

So let's start over.

Normal Park is easily one of the best schools I've seen. Easily. One. Of. The. Best.

Walking with Levine, I met and heard about some amazing kids. One takes a cab to and from school each day so he can attend. Another student has lived in 10 foster homes. Another comes from really far out of the Normal Park zone: a Burundi refugee camp.

I was called "sir" by 12-year-olds. They looked me in the eye. Balanced between poise and that sweetly awkward teenage-ness, they told me about the work they're doing.

Vital, transforming work.

That's exactly why I wrote the prior column. I believe those Hill City kids belong at that great school -- a mile or so from their homes -- doing that great work.

My column was intended to criticize multiple Hamilton County school board decisions, not the Normal Park community. Not. The. Normal. Park. Community.

"By adding to the zone, you detract our ability to pull in magnet students," Levine told me.

So by allowing the full inclusion of Hill City, Normal Park increases its zone geography, which -- there are only so many seats in the school -- decreases the amount of magnet students that can come. Right?

"Eighty-five percent of our African-American students are magnet students," she said.

Those magnet students, Levine said, represent the heartbeat of diversity in the school.

So why not zone in Hill City, which is nearly half black? And mostly all poor?

Levine made her prediction clear: If Hill City is zoned into Normal Park, real estate prices will surge, low-income families will be gentrified out and a diverse school will become less so in the years to come.

"I get calls from investors asking me where the (zone) boundaries are," she said. "I could fill another Normal Park tomorrow."

So in order to maintain diversity -- racial and economic -- someone somewhere (I'm no longer sure who makes these decisions) should phase in all new construction within the current zone. In other words, don't just phase in Hill City. Phase in everyone.

Start with Hill City. They were in line first. Then any future construction, like the 40-home subdivision being planned on nearby Dallas Road with home prices around $500,000.

And while that's happening, give Levine a chance to start a Normal Park-like high school.

It may happen sooner rather than later. A large group of parents, Levine said, is at work searching for a site for a Normal Park high school.

On Friday, I heard from one of those parents in an email.

"NPMM (Normal Park Museum Magnet) deserves good press and not negative spin. However, the Hill City kids deserve to go to school in their own community," he said. "I think most of us have no problem with that, and that needs to be said."

I do, too.

David Cook can be reached at davidcook@ blumail.org.

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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nucanuck said...

Is Hamilton County incapable of duplicating the success of Normal Park? Is that not the real answer to our educational shortcomings?

February 20, 2012 at 12:25 a.m.
justobserving said...

I don't know, nucanuck. Why don't you ask school board member Jeff Wilson that question. I asked him that same question last November, since he is my representative on the board. I'm still waiting for an answer.

February 20, 2012 at 12:42 a.m.
justobserving said...

BTW, Mr. Cook, thank you for the follow-up article. I was one of those emails you received and appreciate the fact that you actually took the time to dig a little deeper.

February 20, 2012 at 12:46 a.m.
ldurham said...

Seems simple enough to me. Transfer Normal Park proprietor, er, uh I mean principal Jill Levine to another local school! Let her transform that school into an educational wonderland. Sure, in order to instill the Normal Park formula, she'll have to chase off the black teachers and get rid of students with underperforming, undesirable parents, but so what?

In fact, I can't understand why Hamilton County insists on hiding her talents in one little part of the county. Can't they transfer her to Brainerd, Orchard Knob, East Lake or Howard? We're always hearing how those schools need help.

Let's do what it takes to make EVERY school like Normal Park.

February 20, 2012 at 7:29 a.m.
Meece said...

Thank you so much Mr. Cook for taking the time to find out more about the situation and reflect on it further. I am proud of you. This is the type of deeper thought that is needed. Unfortunately, so many of the public statements on this topic have been simple, surface level snippets that have failed to think deeply, but get keep getting repeated.

Cue ldurham with her ax to grind. Ldurham you just refuse to get it and move beyond your bias. People have said this to you, including me, on this very website many times but I'll repeat it: Jill Levine isn't the key here. She was absolutely important, a catalyst, and she continues to be a good leader. But it was the overall transformation of the curriculum, the hard work of forward thinking teachers (and yes, as you continually point out, letting go underperforming teachers in a failing school), and the work of the parents and community that were also essential.

Ldurham, let's go back to the whole point of a magnet school, you love to bait about race, so let's review. The neighborhoods in Chattanooga are largely segregated along racial and economic lines. More poor and minority families live downtown, more white and middle class families have moved to the outskirts and the suburbs. Magnet schools were started in Chattanooga to "mix up" the school populations. Rather than bussing children from downtown neighborhoods to suburban schools (which no one liked) each magnet school was started with a "draw" or magnet to pull in families from the suburbs voluntarily. The goal was to get a mix of children. Consider Orchard Knob, a neighborhood school that is about 99% African-American - that school is not "diverse" because it has a high minority enrollment. It is the opposite of diversity, with the kids all from the same race, same neighborhood, same economic background. It is "separate but equal" because the neighborhood is separate. But we know that separate can not be equal, and that inner-city schools typically get lower resources. So the magnet schools were developed to draw in families from the suburbs. Each had a curriculum choice to draw in families. CSAS and CSLA have the Paideia approach, for example, and that proved popular with many families. Three "Work site" magnets were started, Brown, Battle and Normal Park, each with their own curriculum: Brown the IB, Battle the Gardnarian multiple intelligences, and Normal Park with the "Museum."

February 20, 2012 at 8:31 a.m.
Meece said...

That museum approach allowed for a curriculum where children were treated as active learners and provided opportunities for hands-on, constructivist learning.
Remember that when NPMM opened they were going door-to-door to be people to attend, it started ten years ago with about 200 kids. Each of the three work site magnets were given other draws to try to pull people in. Parents who worked downtown were given priority to magnet slots, as were siblings of magnet students. Preschools were opened at Brown, Battle, and Normal Park as "feeders" to encourage parents who worked down town to use the preschool and then just keep their child at that school. In my opinion, this is the closes thing we have to a developmentally appropriate curriculum in Hamilton County, and it has been wildly successful. It has attracted parents - in-zone, magnet and new developments. That curriculum = which was never concerned with test scores = has shown the best test scores in the state. It has been a natural experiment in DAP, and DAP has passed with flying colors. What we need to expand is the constructivist learning approaches, hands-on active learning, positive guidance, support for children with special needs, and parent involvement. And yes, ldurham, removing teachers who are not doing their job regardless of their race - rather than giving special treatment or cronyism. Those are the elements we need to expand in this system, not switching around one person. What we need to stop is the personal grudges and sniping, ldurham. That is doing nothing to solve the problems with our schools. Jill Levine led that transformation at NPMM so why should you expect that she should now be transferred? You want to take what is working and tear it apart rather than helping by analyzing and learning. Because you fail to understand the process that took place and would rather repeat your simple minded bias over and over. Ldurham underlying your comments is your belief that some children are better able to learn than others, and I do not agree with you. All children can learn ldurham.

February 20, 2012 at 8:31 a.m.
Meece said...

And the problem with phasing in all the new developments is that NPMM is a magnet school, not a neighborhood school. That's what it is. Normal Park is the only magnet school that is continually called on to stop being a magnet. Look at CSAS, this year they will let in fewer than 60 kindergartners. There will be over 100 at NPMM. Why are there other schools in the neighborhood, heck, right across from NPMM that are completely magnet with no zone whatsoever? Where is the call for community schools? There will be no magnet lottery for NPMM this fall because of the increase in in-zone population. There will be no new magnet slots in that kindergarten class. There will be a few slots for siblings of current magnet students - they were promised slots when their older siblings enrolled, but those are "on the line" and being reduced. Now, move ahead. Houses continue to be built throughout N. Chattanooga in any spot that is big enough to squeeze on in, and families continue to move here. The homes are marketed for the school zone. Fairmont housing development is bringing in 18 new families. This is wonderful, but is a big shot of growth. Now add in 40 homes in N. Perry. Let's say between those, next year there are 20 new 3rd graders in zone. That's a whole new class worth of third graders. We can't make room out of thin air. Hello, magnet parents, where do you think that space is going to come from?

February 20, 2012 at 8:40 a.m.
Meece said...

This is where I disagree with Mr. Cook, and this is where I think that all who are concerned about NPMM should agree with me. The north perry subdivision should not be zoned for NPMM. They are selling that property with the draw of the school zone. In a recent Times Free Press article, the developer said he was going to keep building houses as long as they were letting children in to NPMM.

Hill city parents, do you think it is fair for a new up-scale subdivision, geographically it IS Hill City, to be built and those children be guaranteed a space in the school and your children are not? I don't.

Magnet parents, whose spot do you think those children are going to take? Do you think that your hard work the past few years has somehow grandfathered you in and that you have a guaranteed spot? Because you don't. And the existing magnet spots will be eliminated next just as there are no new spots.

Parents currently in-zone, do you want your children to attend an increasingly crowded school? Surely some of the success has been classrooms that aren't over crowded. Those homes haven't been built yet, they haven't been sold, they are on the edge of the "zone" and that land shouldn't have been included in the zone anyway if the rest of Hill City wasn't. With the inclusion of Hill City, with Fairmont, with the new homes throughout the neighborhood, we simply can not sustain another 40 families.

February 20, 2012 at 8:48 a.m.
Meece said...

That is something that all NPMM supporters and families should agree on. If you share my concern that NPMM can not support this increase in population, I have started a petition to the school board asking that the homes that will be built in this new up-scale development NOT be included in the NPMM zone. Please take one moment to sign it, it is simple and easy. The zone should be changed before any families are sold those homes and made a promise that can not be delivered:

Click here:

http://www.change.org/petitions/executive-assistant-to-the-board-do-not-allow-perry-development-to-be-zoned-for-normal-park-museum-magnet

February 20, 2012 at 8:53 a.m.
riverman said...

I have an idea David, why don't we bus the Hill City students to Signal Mountain Elementary?

February 20, 2012 at 9:33 a.m.
ldurham said...

You make my argument so much better than I; and you use waaay more words!

Let's spread the success of Normal Park to every school! Much like the Normal Park neighborhood in 2002, ten years later, Orchard Knob Elementary and Middle are underperforming, and the neighborhood/school population is majority black.

The principals of those schools are black, and many of the teachers are too. Much like Normal Park and Chattanooga Middle a few years ago. Hopefully the parents of Orchard Knob will begin a petition drive to request the transfer of Jill Levine to Orchard Knob, so that she may wave her magic wand, eliminate the underperformers and troublemakers, attract parents with wads of cash and plenty of time, and make Orchard Knob schools excellent! That should take about 5 years. Then she could make other schools excellent. Within 20 years or so, we'll finally have 100% schools of excellence countywide. Now I'm not sure where we'll put all the displaced teachers and students, but just like at Normal Park, she'll find a way to make them go away. To another county, maybe? Then it will be their problem. Because we're only worried about Hamilton County, right?

As my friend Meece stated so eloquently, Mrs. Levine -was- important to the transformation, and -isn't- the key any more. So why is she still at Normal Park, resting on her laurels? We have real needs in Hamilton County. If she has the secret recipe, share the love!

Or since the Normal Park faithful will be sending their children to high school soon, why not transfer her to one of the existing nearby high schools (Red Bank? Howard?) and let her turn those schools around!

But whatever you do, Normal Park crowd: please keep your greedy hands off Center for Creative Arts! That school doesn't need a "transformation."

February 20, 2012 at 9:36 a.m.
RhiMaynard said...

A point of clarification: the Perry North development is not in the Hill City Neighborhood Association's boundaries. Our northern boundary is Meroney Street. The Perry North Development is in the Northshore/Cherokee Community Association's boundaries. The Regional Planning Agency refers to this whole general area as the Hill City/Northshore area and that is based on a 2003 planning study. The TFP article about Perry North cited, in part, the RPA's more general designation - stating the development is in Hill City when it is actually in the "Hill City/Northshore planning area."

February 20, 2012 at 9:45 a.m.
Meece said...

Diane I'm sorry that I use to many words for you, but it is a complex issue and simplistic statements are not helping. Your own bias is that the children in Orchard Knob, etc. can not learn. I don't agree with you. The DAP curriculum and parent involvement work with every child. Your basic premise is wrong. Honestly, it bugs me that you somehow think you should tell Jill Levine where she should be working. Yes, we want her at Normal Park. Grow up and get over your personal problem. Everybody gets it. You've written this a thousand times and anyone who wants to read it has. You offer no real or new solutions to the reality that has been pointed out to you over and over, that there is more demand for the school than there are spaces. You just want to snipe. Haters gonna hate, I know, I know.

Rhianna of course that development is not part of your neighborhood association but they are somehow zoned for NPMM and the reality is that if it remains that way the families who buy houses there are going to have guaranteed spots at NPMM and those slots are going to take slots from Hill City. Geographically that development is adjacent to Hill City - why should it be zoned and Hill City not zoned? You are standing in the forest, now quit staring at that one tree and look around. I really don't understand why there is not more concern from the Hill City association about this project. Are you just refusing to believe that there is limited space? Is that what it is? Are you afraid that if you admit there is limited space that it will be turned around on you in the future? Or is it really just about the Hill City property values after all? Because I'll be honest Rhianna, I don't think that is your point of view. I think you've had noble intentions when you've been fighting for access for Hill City families. But if you want more Hill City families to attend NPMM how do you think that is going to happen with a new development springing up already "in-zone?"

February 20, 2012 at 10:10 a.m.
cowtow_no said...

@ldurham Too late, Orchard Knob already has exceptional leadership and motivated teachers. Howard, too! They are doing just fine without interlopers. You have to be in these schools to really see that amazing things are already happening all over Hamilton County, and not because of any one leader. It's because of many people who believe that things can be better. Then they act on it. I hope our school board and county commissioners have the opportunity to see it, and act on it, too.

February 20, 2012 at 11:47 a.m.
ldurham said...

I can't understand Meece's reluctance to allow the Normal Park principal to shine in the underperforming schools in the county. Orchard Knob folks are surely trying hard, but there's no comparison in test scores with the mighty Normal Park.

Just about every other school (including Orchard Knob) has a new principal every year or two. Does Mrs. Levine hold some sort of power the principals don't have?

February 20, 2012 at 2:16 p.m.
HimJim37 said...

Good column. Thank you, David Cook. Two footnotes on magnet status: 1.) The magnet program has the potential to promote diversity at Normal Park, which would be terrific. At the moment, the racial/socio-economic makeup of the NP lower school would not impress anyone in that regard. I understand there are a variety possible reasons for that, but it surely needs to change. 2.) Magnet is great. I like it. It is the schoolboard's job to provide good schools for kids everywhere for magnet and local communities, and no one should have to defend the school's magnet status to the school board. But, gosh, dangling the school's magnet status in front of the schoolboard as an argument for excluding a low-income population . . . I hate that strategy. I want to see that strategy set aside and put away for the good of the magnet progam and the kids in Hill City. Everyone gets it that HCDE needs more than one Normal Park. Let's focus on that.

February 20, 2012 at 2:32 p.m.
Meece said...

ldurham You can't understand that as a parent I want to keep a great principal at my children's school? Really?

You don't understand that consistent administration is a good thing? Really. You want to state that as if it is a serious question. Please, ldurham you are not that opaque.

Ldurham your repetition of the line that Mrs. Levine "should be sent somewhere else" as if to prove she can "do it there" just belies your underlying assumption that some children can not learn as well as other children. You believe in a pedagogy of poverty that children in low income areas can't learn as well or through the same methods. That is your bias.

You know, you are always bringing up the fact that underperforming teachers at the failing chattanooga middle weren't retained to normal park. I'm starting to wonder if maybe the reason some of those teachers performed poorly was that they shared that sort of pedagogy of poverty, so they held low expectations for their students and in turn for their own performance. There's always some external force to blame. Something to think about.

February 20, 2012 at 3 p.m.
cowtow_no said...

Jill Levine creates conditions for kids to thrive, as does Crystal Sorrells at Orchard Knob Middle and Mason West, teacher at Howard. These individuals are the catalysts for change in our schools. They are culture-changers, not just test score-keepers. In fact, test scores do little to motivate this elite group. Test scores are the result of a coherent and bold vision that rallies countless supporters behind it! That is how you change a school and an entire education system (and it's happening all over Hamilton County), not by plucking out one leader and transferring him or her somewhere else. Rather than crucify the one, let's ask the hundreds of others, "How can I help? What do you need?" Let's elevate this conversation and demand our school board's response!

February 20, 2012 at 3:09 p.m.
ldurham said...

Meece: do you hear yourself talking? You want to keep a great principal at your child's school? Really?

Did you ever stop to think that parents at the 75 other schools in Hamilton County might want to do that too? How do you think they feel when their "great" principal is transferred, often against their will? Oh, I forgot. You're Normal Park. You're above all that.

Get off your high horse. Thanks to all sorts of underhanded, backroom manipulation, Normal Park has been able to get away with things other schools can only dream of. And you want that sort of "parental involvement" and so-called diversity throughout the county? Here's a simple solution: ask the parents who are driving their Volvos all the way to Normal Park to stay in their neighborhood schools, so they can make Bess T Shepherd, Rivermont, East Brainerd "as great as Normal Park." Why is that a bad idea?

And cowtow: give any principal in this county the power to hire/fire whoever they want, and chase away troublemaking, underachieving students without any repercussions, and you'll have a pretty darn good school. But that would be kinda hard to do at 75 schools, don't you think? Where do you send the ones you booted out?

February 20, 2012 at 3:15 p.m.
Meece said...

Thank you cowtow_no I agree with you 100%.

Ldurham now we are back to who drives volvos and the lies and stereotypes of families? The common denominator of your straw men is your belief that poor children can not learn. You think you have to boot out the "trouble makers and under achievers."

Of course I want to keep a great principal at my kid's school. And yes, I want the principal's at all schools to be empowered. And I want all teachers to be doing an excellent job.

What's fundamentally fascinating here, and that you refuse to get, is that the reason for normal park's success is a constructivist, developmentally appropriate curriculum and positive guidance. The active learning, the hands-on doing. Parent's have sought that out, and it is succeeding. That's why the school is in demand. The groundswell of change has to be away from didactic curriculum and negative environments, but you want to hold on to a pedagogy of poverty that only reinforces those failed approaches. Despite the clear evidence, there will be voices in the community who will claim that a "back to basics" rote focus on drilling the three r's and punitive discipline is the best approach, especially for children in poverty. That is because of their low expectations for children in poverty. Like your low expectations. They will write off the succcess of a DAP program as being only the result of rich kids in volvos, despite all evidence to the contrary (such as the value-added scores from the state report card). Anyone who has ever sat in the car line knows your characterizations aren't reality based.

February 20, 2012 at 4:02 p.m.
hixsondave said...

Idurham is right on the mark. It's a darn shame when children can't walk a few blocks to school because of "rich kids in Volvos" from the other side of town.

February 20, 2012 at 4:28 p.m.
rosebud said...

meece, here's a fair question for you. Just for the sake of argument, let's say you're right. You attribute Normal Park's success to "a constructivist, developmentally appropriate curriculum and positive guidance. The active learning, the hands-on doing."

So, that's all there is too it? It's not Jill Levine? It's not the parents who won the lottery? OK then. How long has this been going on, 5-10 years? As we're often reminded by you and the rest of the Normal Park Fan Club, every school needs to be like Normal Park.

So: why haven't the rest of the county schools copied this easy formula? What's keeping them from it? If the students are not handpicked (you say even the poor children can learn, right?), if the teachers are not handpicked, if the principal is easily replaced (um, yeah, right)... if all it takes is "the groundswell of change"...why hasn't it been copied by a bunch of other schools?

If it's not the power of the principal, if it's not the money, if it's not parents with volunteer time and financial resources at their disposal, if it's not "lottery winning" students from fine neighborhoods, if it's not handpicked teachers....then why on earth aren't most county school principals on the doorstep of the Central Office begging to be "the next Normal Park?" Wouldn't that be the natural thing to do?

February 20, 2012 at 7:05 p.m.
Meece said...

Hi Rosebud. A couple of quick things. First, of course principals "hand pick" teachers - they hire teachers, that is sort of what they do. Second, many administrators from other schools are visiting and observing and sharing at NPMM.

What we are talking about here are two fundamentally different views of curriculum. In the NPMM example, we have a developmentally appropriate curriculum (well, as close to one as exists in Hamilton Co.) that treats children as active learners. The view is that young children actively construct knowledge of the world by doing. On the other hand, there are proponents of more traditional, rote teaching methods. These assume that the child is not an active learner, but a passive learner, and the role of the teacher is to bestow knowledge to them. The view is that through direct instruction and drill on the basic subjects of reading, writing, and arithmetic that scores on standardized tests and other metrics will improve.

You can believe one of two things. You can believe that at one of our clandestine liberal elite meetings, over brie and Belgian lambic, we all decided that we wanted to take over a 116 year old falling down building that doesn't even have a gym, and we wanted to load our handpicked prodigy into our volvos and drive them from all over the county, because that would be easier than simply moving to fairyland in the first place, and the Central Office was so enamored with our secret plan that they rigged the lottery to keep the riff raff out, and in "5-10" years this cabal was able to pull off stacking a school. In this view, those rich kids were simply smarter than the other children in Chattanooga, and have managed to perform well on outcomes despite that goofy curriculum. They were going to do better anyway, because their parents drive volvos. Of course, the demographic data doesn't support that, and the value added scores from the tn. report card - indicating that the kids at normal park were learning at a faster rate than in other programs in the county, rather than starting out "smarter," don't support it either. A part of this world view is the belief that children in poverty simply aren't as capable as children from upper income homes, and therefore lower expectations are held for them.

Or, you can believe that an active learning approach is a better way for children to learn. That this is developmentally appropriate for the way children think. That learning broadly actually helps children perform better on standardized tests than didactic approaches. And that this approach works for all children, but the problem is that some administrators and teachers have low expectations and standards for their children, particularly children in poverty, and do not expect them to perform well and act accordingly, and in this way the teachers do a poor job and the children suffer the consequences of those low expectations.

February 20, 2012 at 8:45 p.m.
Meece said...

Thus we have the achievement gap between poor and rich neighborhoods, and the cycle continues as expectations drop even lower. But that gap isn't because of any cognitive difference between socioeconomic classes, but is due to differential expectations, treatment, and allocation of resources.

Unfortunately, I think too many people hold that first view point. That's why I said a "groundswell of change." There has to be buy in for what is working rather than cynicism.

I'll give you an example. I would wager that if you asked people in the area what the problem was with public education, there are many people who would say "because they got rid of paddling." Here's the thing though. Corporal punishment is allowed in Hamilton County. It hasn't been "gotten rid of." It isn't used though at NPMM, and they have the best test scores in the state. Now, the cynic has to come up with a rationale for that to defend their world view, and they say "well, those are just hand picked children anyway" as if they somehow just don't need that spanking that the poor kids need. Nope, its the poor kids, we got to keep them in line. Give them an inch they'll take a mile. They aren't going to learn anything anyway. The alternative - that positive guidance builds an internalized sense of right or wrong versus external and a more positive climate that supports learning - is just dismissed. Those rich kids just knew how to behave. They came out of the volvo that way.

Again, if "more schools are going to be like NPMM" then we are going to have to accept that works with "these" kids works with "those" kids = and I am convinced it does. But instead, there are some who would rather say "oh those are just hand-picked children" because of their own cognitive dissonance. They are discounting what is working because of their own preconceived notions.

That is why parents are seeking out NPMM - they view that active, constructivist curriculum and positive climate as important. Not everyone in Hamilton County does. I bet there are people right now ready to type that I am wrong.

So yes, administrators are important. I believe that administrators should be given the tools to accurately and fairly evaluate teaching performance.

And yes, parent involvement is certainly and absolutely important; your assumption though that NPMM families aren't dual career is wrong though. There is a pedagogy of poverty here, also, of lowered expectations. "Well, bless their hearts, we can't expect those poor folks to actually be involved with the school." That's bs, too. But many administrators will act in ways to alienate parents rather than bringing them in, again based on those low expectations. We set ourselves up to fail.

February 20, 2012 at 8:45 p.m.
Harshreality said...

Thankfully, the last of my children are about to exit the HCS system. Over the years and through several schools, there are a few things that I've learned. With that, I'll impart just a few nuggets for your consumption along with my commentary. You can take it or leave it.

1) The parents, staff, and administration should be damn proud of what they have achieved at NP. Enjoy that success and keep fighting for your children's education. 2) Stop saying that other schools should be like NP. THEY CAN'T. If they could, they would have done so. There is no mandate at other schools to require volunteerism, or require mandatory parent/teacher conferences (good for you that you do). The simple fact is that there are far too many parents that just don't care. They send their child to school and think they have met their responsibility. Schools tend to attract like minded people. Set the bar low and you get low performance. Set the bar high and you get NP, CSAS, CSLA, etc. 3) Just a question. Why is it that the highest performing schools are magnets. Just a thought but maybe it's because they can impose rules and requirements that other schools can't. Should we simply scrap the historical school concept and make them all magnets or take the magnet philosophy and impose those rules on the historical schools? 4) If you aren't lucky enough to have your child at a great school, there is nothing...NOTHING....that will do more for your child's education than to be heavily involved in that process on a DAILY basis. If you think just sending your child to school everyday is all it takes, then you are seriously WRONG. 5) meece, you seem very involved and sincere in trying to make things better for others. Good for you but you can't push a rope. I doubt that your detractors here has any idea of what the real situation is at NP. They just like throwing stones. So is the way the world seems to be these days. Tear down what you don't have or understand. With that said, 6) rosebud, idurham, and hixsondave do actually have a point. I hate the way they are presenting it and they obviously have an axe to grind but if you read through their venom, they are saying what I have already said. Not all schools can be like NP. There are parents that are not capable or not interested in being that involved in their child's education. What do you do with those children when their parents aren't involved? I don't buy the BS from idurham about the under performing teachers but I do agree with the comment about the children.

As I said, take it or leave it. I'm about done with this roller coaster that is the HCS system. Good Luck.

February 20, 2012 at 9:39 p.m.
carls said...

What a pleasure it is to read David Cook's columns! Thoughtful, fair ... Keep it up, David!

February 20, 2012 at 10:45 p.m.
ldurham said...

Let's deal with the fiction posted above: "of course principals "hand pick" teachers - they hire teachers" or they are forced to take in the ones that Mrs. Levine didn't want.

"this approach works for all children, but the problem is that some administrators and teachers have low expectations and standards for their children" Yet you don't want to share Mrs. Levine and her expertise at any other county school. How selfish.

"many administrators will act in ways to alienate parents rather than bringing them in," Oh. You mean when Mrs. Levine and her supporters fought like hell to keep Hill City kids out of their school, repeatedly over the years?

Thanks meece. You make my arguments a heck of a lot better than I do.

February 20, 2012 at 10:49 p.m.
Meece said...

Except your "arguments" lack veracity.

Haters gonna hate, ldurham.

February 21, 2012 at 7:38 a.m.
rosebud said...

Ldurham's arguments look spot-on from here. I can't find anything inaccurate. It's well known that the teachers Normal Park didn't want were dumped on other schools, that Jill Levine is the only principal in the county who hasn't been transferred in the past ten years, and Normal Park has actively fought to keep poor kids in their neighborhood out of their school. None of those facts can be disputed.

Hater? Not if you're just telling the truth.

February 21, 2012 at 7:47 a.m.
Momof3 said...

The irony behind all this is that the "poor kids" of Hill City, as so many posters mention, will lose their spot if...or should I say when....they leave the zone. The "spot" actually goes to the property. So if the people living there are renters, which I believe many are, then when the property values skyrocket, and they will, the renters will lose their house and their spot at Normal Park. So the diversity that people talk about with kids that can walk to the school, etc...will be gone as well. It's practically guaranteed that the "Hill City" properties will eventually house the same demographic as the prior "zone" does.

And just to clear up a few things...I don't drive a volvo...nor were my children "hand-picked." We applied through the lottery before the school was popular and if you want to talk about promises...then the siblings of all the magnet students who came to NPMM when no one else wanted to should be first in line.

I work full time and still find the time to give the measly 18 hours that are asked for by "magnet" schools. The school is very good about offering such a variety of times and dates that even working people can meet the requirements. Amazing!!

Yes...Normal Park was a perfect storm...everything came together and things happened. Personally, I'm in favor of the zone being smaller or non-existent. In my ideal world, I'd take the "magnet" program out of the neighborhood, just like CSAS. Perhaps a new home in the old 21st Century building??...and let the neighborhood be just a neighborhood school with a traditional curriculum. But that's just a dream....

February 21, 2012 at 3:18 p.m.
Meece said...

Momof3 you are living in reality and it is OK to dream. I'd like there to be enough space for magnet, zone, Hill City, fairmont and even new developments. But in reality there isn't right now, and a new development should not be zoned for NPMM before any families even build a home there when there isn't room for magnet and Hill City families right now. That's reality, too, and what we need to figure out. To me, I see a real value of blended magnet and zone, but I'm thinking of the bigger picture of Chattanooga in general and N. Chatt. may have just outgrown it. If there was going to be a school moved to a new building, my personal wish is that it could somehow be a school that has no real tie to a zone in N. Chattanooga, and then NPMM could use that space. Too bad there isn't such a place.

On the other hand, in the reports from bizzaro world, poor teachers should be retained, schools should be overcrowded, and principals should be shifted around quickly before they can ever establish any consistency. Maybe they'll work that out over there, too.

February 21, 2012 at 7:48 p.m.
ldurham said...

Momof3: you are to be commended for doing your 18 volunteer hours. And you're right, it isn't very much at all. But when the NP boosters say: "Don't hate...just make all the schools like us," they force everyone else to gag.

Go to the inner city schools. The ones where "bad" teachers get dumped, and every student who walks in the door has to be enrolled: no cherry-picking. Ask those principals and teachers, "why can't you be like Normal Park?" They'll tell you. They can't FIND many of the parents. Some of the children aren't sure who their parents are. They're raised by grandma, an aunt, a neighbor, and they lay their head wherever they can find a place to sleep. And you want to talk parental involvement? 18 hours? Some of those teachers would be thrilled to talk to a parent for 18 seconds. Give me a school in the desert, and if the parents are involved, that school will have good test scores. Or build a palatial school on Lookout Mountain, and if the parents are ignoring their children, those students will struggle.

Plus, do some research, and answer this question: what percentage of the NP student body do teachers take trick-or-treating, buy shoes and coats and Christmas presents for, cart around to after-school events, and play social worker/babysitter for? I'm sure there are some, even at Normal Park. But compare the percentage with East Side and Hardy. It's like night and day. But you want to say "why can't all schools be like us?" And you wonder why you have so many critics and naysayers throughout the county? That's an easy one.

And meece: I've never seen anyone post comments saying that bad teachers should be retained. But School A shouldn't be allowed to choose the best and brightest, while School B shouldn't have to take in the School A "rejects"; not if they're all truly "public schools." What gives School A the right to have its handpicked choice of teachers, if School B has to take whoever is dumped on them? You don't think this has happened? You need to talk to more than one principal.

Nor have I seen anyone endorse the concept of "principals being shifted around quickly." I strongly oppose that. I do find it interesting however, that there's only one principal in Hamilton County who is apparently immune to that treatment. Yet she's the one who knows the secret to turning around bad schools, and has all the answers. But she's your principal, so it's perfectly okay, right?

If lightning struck in North Chattanooga, and NP parents were forced to send their children to Red Bank Middle, I wonder how many would bail, and go to private school? By the way, do some research and find out how many principals have been moved in and out of the revolving door at Red Bank Middle during the past ten years. But...why can't they just do what Normal Park does? And why aren't all those students' parents at school board meetings demanding that?

Is it really that hard to answer these questions?

February 21, 2012 at 8:45 p.m.
Momof3 said...

I can't debate those points with you...because without parent involvement it is very hard to get everyone pulling in the same direction. Where I take issue is that NP is no different then Battle or Brown in how they were set up. Yet it is the only school continually attacked. And yes, the people there are defensive...wouldn't you be? I don't think everyone wants to be or should be a NP...but I think what people are trying to say is try to take some of what's working and use it elsewhere. No, maybe not the parent volunteering...but other stuff. So many people here are obviously intelligent yet these discussions tend to be demoralizing at best.

I am offended every time I hear some of this. I am a working class person. I have to work to earn a living like most people do and so many want to portray us all as rich, etc. that's just not true. I got to NP using the system that was put in place. I have painted and shoveled mulch along with so many others. And just because the zone recovered doesn't make it right to push out the magnet students that built that school.

I'm not going to lie to you. I hope for a high school option. I am zoned to what's considered a good school, but I am not impressed. If the options that are available don't prove fruitful...in my eyes, for my children...and honestly isn't that what everyone works for...then I will go private. I can't risk my kids education, there's no do over. But if everyone in a school is doing what's best for their kid, then you get a group of people with common goals, and that's what works.

I chose NP for diversity. I still want that and I truly believe others do too. I think we all need to find a better way to communicate, try to understand the different points of view and maybe share knowledge. One school can't fix a county, nor should it be punished for the successes it has achieved.

February 21, 2012 at 11:12 p.m.
hixsondave said...

Monof3, you chose Normal Park for diversity. Could it be you meant lack of diversity? That would be easier to believe.

February 22, 2012 at 7:28 a.m.
rosebud said...

That's a good point, hixsondave. I find it hard to believe that anyone chose Normal Park for "diversity." Certainly not a diverse faculty. If you want to see true diversity, both teachers and students, go to Red Bank, East Ridge, Lookout Valley, Central. But I don't think you'll see many Normal Park parents explore those options. Too much diversity.

Normal Park has carefully selected, pre-screened, mom-and-dad, well-behaved, protected diversity. Not real-world diversity. Big difference.

Also Momof3, if most of the good, involved parents in those truly diverse school zones keep escaping and fleeing for Normal Park, Silverdale and other private school options, how will those public schools ever get better? You all say you want all public schools to be great "like Normal Park." But when given an opportunity to make them great, you run in the other direction.

It reminds me of various elected officials and big money business owners (most of whom are Normal Park or private school parents). They give speeches and serve on committees to "improve public education." They just won't send their OWN kids to their zoned public school.

February 22, 2012 at 8:07 a.m.
Momof3 said...

So what reason do I have for not using the Soddy schools?? If you want to discuss what some here have said is "white bread"...there it is. I chose NP in 2005...when it was more diverse (73% white, 22% black in 2007, the earliest report card I can see on the web) - should I switch schools now? I don't disagree that it has changed somewhat...but most of the cause of that change is people moving to the zone - yes "white" people...a zone that has been made bigger with the addition of HIll City, which is now at risk of the same demographic change. Which was the point all along. If the current people of HIll City wanted to be at NP...they should have taken the magnet status that was offered in 2010...because then it was not tied to the property.

I get what you are saying...but the inner-city schools are no more diverse than some of the far out county schools. My "definition" of diverse is a population mix that matches that of Chattanooga. So for Chattanooga...looking at the biggest populations...that is about 80% white, 14% black and the remaining 6% are hispanic and "other" minorities in 2010. http://diversitydata.sph.harvard.edu/Data/Profiles/Show.aspx?loc=300

And let's see on the 2010 report card for NP...the population was...78% white and 17% black with the remainder other minorities. My zoned school?? well it's 96% white and 0.7% black.

Is it not every schools responsibility to attract the best teachers? I don't think Ms. Levine has the power to say...you are bad...you go to Howard, or Red Bank, etc...that's just not happening. Each principal puts out their needs and people apply to work there. I'm sure that in 2012 NP is an attractive choice for teachers, but it wasn't so much when it was first converted. I'm also pretty sure that the school had NO idea how my children, or any children for that matter, would behave when receiving a lottery seat, nor did they know if I would do or give any more than the required 18 hours (or what any parent will do).

February 22, 2012 at 9:41 a.m.
Momof3 said...

Yes, there are rich, stay at home parents that give a TON to NP. But they are the minority, not the majority. And some of the people that have been specifically mentioned in various posts, live in the zone. Yes, the "zone" includes a bunch of nice houses...and yes, no one is disputing that many of those parents didn't use the school prior to it's conversion. But the reality is that they are zoned. They did not buy their way in, they just opted to use the school that their tax dollars were paying for rather than pay extra to go private. Just because someone has money doesn't mean they have to spend it on something they can get with money already paid in taxes.

I get that there's a disparity between schools...that's everywhere, not just in Chattanooga. What I still don't get is how "tearing down" NP will improve the other schools. There are several commenters on here that just spout poison. If you are going to attack NP, then you should equally attack CSAS, CSLA, Battle, Brown. They are also attracting students from their zoned schools. Why focus only on NP?

I happen to love the magnet concept. I think it causes people to "buy in" to a common focus. I would love to see more schools like that. I would love to see a math and science school...an area that America is lacking.

February 22, 2012 at 9:42 a.m.
hixsondave said...

If wanting neighborhood children go to NP is "tearing it down" like you say then you prove our point.

February 22, 2012 at 9:48 a.m.
Momof3 said...

Did you actually read and digest what was written before throwing out yet more of your venom?

You say you want neighborhood kids, but then you say it's too white - which is it, cause it can't be both. That neighborhood, the one zoned to NP and any new areas that will be zoned...will ALL be white in time. Increasing the zone will make it white faster, it will NOT increase diversity. Do you not get that?

I never said or even implied that the neighborhood kids were "tearing it down"...what I said is that people like you are constantly attacking it, keeping the controversy going...it was figurative, not literal. And I also said that if you take issue with the way NP was set up, then you take issue with Battle and Brown, because they are the same zoned/magnet setup....and they still have a guaranteed spot for paid pre-k students in kindergarten...but I don't hear you talking about that...

February 22, 2012 at 10:40 a.m.
hixsondave said...

You want me to take issue with Battle or Brown... OK. Why aren't you sending your kids there?

February 22, 2012 at 10:49 a.m.
abcdefghi said...

Ldurham - we all know you are actually Rhonda Thurman. Go ahead and own it.

February 22, 2012 at 11:33 a.m.
Momof3 said...

Because I was interested in the Museum Curriculum. Remember...I applied to NP before it ever won any awards - whereas many of the current zoned people moved there after it became popular. It was also a different demographic back then (I know you doubt me on that, but if you actually read what I wrote, you'll see that NP is way way more diverse than my zoned school and is in line with the populational mix of the Chattanooga demographics).

The issue with NP seems to be zoned vs. magnet, and possibly rich vs. poor. There was also issue with the pre-k program (modeled after Battle and Brown). But the magnet population is not what's changing the demographic, the zoned population is and will continue to do so. Do you disagree with that? What I see is that over the next few years "Hill City" will get their kids phased-in, but if they move from Hill City, they're out...if the property owner sells or raises the rent, they're out. What has really been accomplished but increasing property values and ultimately ensuring that the school will either be overcrowded or the magnet population will become obsolete and the very "poor" people that have been spoken of are out anyway because they can't afford those properties-heck, I can't afford a property that would fit my family in that zone, and I consider myself to be middle class.

So my question to you is. What is your interest in all this? since your name is "Hixsondave", can I assume you have some tie to Hixson schools?...Can you write more than a one liner that is snipey. Give me a feel for what you see as the issues because all I've gotten from you is criticism of my choices without any meat to what you think should happen. The only thing I think you want is kids being able to walk to school?? So you are against magnet programs??

February 22, 2012 at 2:18 p.m.
cowtow_no said...

"Let the refining and improving of your own life keep you so busy that you have little time to criticize others." ~H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

February 22, 2012 at 3:07 p.m.
pastNPMMparent said...

We would not recommend this school to anyone. Are the NP parents on here actually seeing what happens to their children day to day in the classrooms? They have been under investigation by HC DCS by yet another family whose child was mistreated.

pastNPMMparent- "hand picked, upper class parents with very visible careers in important Chattanooga companies whose child will not be going back in the fall because of how we saw NP treat other children"

May 19, 2012 at 5:26 a.m.
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