Roy Exum: Why Signal Wants Out

Wednesday, September 13, 2017 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

There are those, some of them actually members of the School Board, who wonder why the Signal Mountain community is seriously studying splitting away from the Hamilton County Department of Education. In just the last seven days we’ve been given two sterling examples.

Last Thursday night County Mayor Jim Coppinger, much to his credit, held what was called “an informational community meeting” at the high school and it was the greatest example of a “Rope a Dope” sham as you have ever seen. Every “dope” that got sucked in – me in particular – heard some woman read a bunch of emails that within 10 minutes everybody there knew were sent from the same computer.

They had a panel of Hamilton County employees answer those canned questions with canned answers. It was dreadful and I was embarrassed for abusing my time. As I left about midway through the ordeal, it was strikingly obvious to me why Signal Mountain should bolt – these people didn’t have a foggy clue what the sparse crowd wanted and needed to hear. You want people like this teaching your children? Lord have mercy!

Our second Great Indicator came over the weekend when the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment Scores arrived with the remnants of Hurricane Irma. Both were easily predictable but the winds were more exciting. Both were also disastrous and when it is reported it will take the state of Florida years to recover, the Hamilton County public schools don’t seem to have as good a chance.

I dare say nowhere else in the state is there such a bleak picture. If you’ll look over the spreadsheets of the county’s 78 schools, you’ll find that a full 30 of them have the lowest composite score that can be “earned.” With “5” as the highest and “1” as the lowest. Signal Mountain Middle/High School has just come in as a flat “1” in its race to the top.

Do you still want to know why Signal Mountain has had it “up to here” with the Hamilton County Department of Education? Ask yourself what you would do. The only thing a parent can give a child is a good name and a good education. And don’t worry, when a kid from Walden’s Ridge goes out in the world and proclaims he went to the “number one school in the whole county,” the truth will catch up with him when he can’t make change when handed a $10 bill at the gas station where he’s the tire boy.

Here’s one even better: On Signal Mountain there are approximately 16,000 people who live in the 37377 zip code. There are two elementary schools. Thrasher Elementary, with roughly 575 kids, is a “5” in every category according to the TVAAS. Nolan Elementary, with 625 children that you can’t tell me are much different, is a lowest-tier “1.” How does that work? Heavens, the two schools are less than three miles apart!

Nolan has more kids from low income families but there is no way in God’s little acre that anyone can explain such a disparity to me. And this is where the whole Signal Mountain community should glare at the Hamilton County Department of Education. Please, these 1,200 elementary children read out of the same textbooks, have the same type desks, play the same games at recess, and go to the same churches with one another. They play on the same Little League teams. Where is the difference?

I fear I suspect a major reason is what we have uncovered since the last superintendent tucked tail and ran. There is absolutely no accountability anywhere in the whole county pecking order. Coppinger? After Thursday night’s debacle he needs to stay downtown. I know this to be scientifically dubious but the man laid an egg.

The Hamilton County Commission? The 1.9 percent increase for education each one of them approved on the FY2018 budget proves not a one of the nine commissioners gives a rip. The commission is responsible for the school buildings – not HCDE – so who do you think is responsible for $235 million in deferred maintenance of the buildings that average over 40 years of age? That is inexcusable but with nobody held accountable, it is equally shameful.

The school board is made up of nine wonderful people who I like but in almost two years I can truthfully say I have never seen a one hold anybody from the Department of Education accountable. Superintendent Bryan Johnson can hide behind “I just got here” but the same tired faces in the Central Office should have to answer why the TVAAS scores are the worst indicator in the 200-year history of education in Chattanooga.

The state of Tennessee ranks 36th among the 50 states in public education, according to Education Week. With 30 of its 78 schools ranked the worst, and another 11 clinging to “2,” I’m thinking Hamilton County’s batting average is pretty paltry compared to the other 94 counties in the state. Of the HCDE schools, 22 earned the coveted “5.” Another five were “4” performers and 10 made “3.”

More unbelievable, The county mayor takes the very people responsible for the worst test results since John Ross pitched a teepee down by the river up the mountain to announce “our schools aren’t for sale.”

I am pretty certain it would have taken Chief Ross longer to get up there by horseback but I’ll guarantee the only thing he would have taken with him would have been a peace pipe.

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