Community Voice: It’s time for a long-term capital plan

In addition to increased funding for our schools, UnifiEd calls for the county and school district to work together to create a long-term plan to address current and future facilities and capital needs. If you agree, we encourage you to take a few moments to contact your county commissioner and tell them so! Visit the Fund Hamilton County’s Future campaign hub here to get your commissioner’s contact info plus templates for letters, emails, and calls on the subject. 

Lesley Rice, a Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts parent, wrote this “Community Voice” guest blog with her perspective on why such a long-term plan is vital.

I have been tirelessly advocating for a new building for Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts (CSLA) over the past few months, and it has become apparent that neither the Hamilton County Department of Education nor the Hamilton County Commission has a strategic plan for how to address the many facility needs in our county’s schools. When UnifiED approached me regarding their current “Fund Hamilton County’s Future” campaign (which includes a call for creating a multi-year strategic plan), I knew the CSLA story needed to be told in this context. CSLA is a very tangible symbol of the failure of Hamilton County to properly resource our schools and to create and fulfill effective long term planning strategies.

Back in March of 2014 WRCB’s School Patrol journalist David Carroll wrote an article titled “CSLA’s sad situation: Who’s to blame?” He writes:

“Back in 1999, I attended a Hamilton County School Board meeting of the Facilities Committee. Dr. Jesse Register was superintendent. Board members included Debra Matthews, Charles Love, Joe Conner, Janice Boydston, Bill Eldridge and Everett Fairchild, among others. All have since retired, resigned, or moved out of town, and in Ms. Matthews’ case, passed away. Their Facilities Committee was made up of community leaders who spent months visiting every single school building in the county. This committee listed each school’s physical condition, wiring infrastructure, student capacity, classroom space and enrollment. From those visits, they created a massive report listing the pros and cons of each building, particularly the ones that needed to be replaced or renovated in the first 5-10 years of the new century. Near the top of the list was the Chattanooga School for Liberal Arts (CSLA). By 2004, so the experts said, it needed to be replaced.”

Wait – so are you telling me there was some sort of 5-10 year plan regarding facility planning created in 1999 and which has absolutely not been followed? Is this because the money wasn’t there? Is this because the politicians who came along in the subsequent years weren’t committed to the vision or the plan? I suspect the answer is a combination of those two things.

Mr. Carroll goes on to tell the story of how CSLA, an award winning school, has been the victim of the local political system. Carroll says, “within that word called ‘politics’ resides smaller words like ‘clout,’ ‘power,’ and ‘turf.’ Ever since that Facilities Committee recommended a new school for CSLA in 1999, our elected leaders have used their clout and power to shore up their own turf.”

There are nine districts in Hamilton County, and the elected leaders in those nine districts tend to favor projects and investments that work to get them re-elected. This is just the nature of the system. But for a school like CSLA – a small, dedicated magnet school with students from all nine districts – there simply isn’t enough power or clout to compel the overwhelming members on the school board or county commission to act on its behalf.

Currently facilities are voted on every 2-3 years by the school board. This means that, rather than following a multi-year approach, the facility needs in Hamilton County are open to political posturing every few years based on the whims of the current batch of politicians.

The parents at CSLA have utilized various strategies to try to work within the existing political system over the years to win over the hearts and minds of politicians. It is a frustrating and exhausting process that seems to start all over with each election.

One of our newly elected school board members told me a few weeks ago that CSLA parents were not being “objective” in our approach for a new building. Perhaps that individual is right. It is difficult to be objective when you see a political system that takes a strategic plan that was created in 1999 and fails to see it through to fruition and that has yet to create a similar plan for a new crop of needs some 18 years later.

While I can’t pretend to be objective when it comes to the very apparent and long-standing needs at one of our county’s flagship schools, I hope I can at least point out that the existing system and the failures of nearly two decades of leadership are not unique to CSLA. CSLA is merely a symptom of a much greater problem countywide.

It is past time for our school board to create a new multi-year strategic capital plan similar to the one that was created in 1999. HCDE must take inventory of the facility needs that exist and prioritize those needs based upon the immediacy of the findings. There was a list presented at a Facility Committee meeting back in February of 2017 that can be expanded upon and further developed.

It is time for the County Commission to ascertain how to fund the plan and to properly resource ALL of our schools so that every student in our county has access to the best education possible in a clean, safe, and modern facility. How will the commissioners generate the necessary revenue to fund such a robust program? How can the state of Tennessee assist in that process? These are the questions with no easy answers – and yet it seems clear that there is simply not enough revenue coming in at the present time to fund the existing needs.

Perhaps most importantly, it is time for the voters of Hamilton County to demand that our leaders act in the best interest of all of our students. It is unlikely that anyone can develop a plan that can withstand the ever-present political turnover. Therefore, voters must be watchful in seeing that well thought out plans are implemented by whoever happens to be in office.

While I hope that our current leaders will take the call to create a plan seriously, I know all too well that the existence of a plan isn’t worth anything if it isn’t implemented. Let us not repeat the follies of the last two decades. We MUST do better, and we must begin now. And it is okay with me if we start by granting Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts that building they were promised 18 years ago.

By Lesley Rice
Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts parent


School Board Recap – May 2017


The full May 18, 2017 school board meeting was recorded – watch the video here

Awards and Recognitions

  • HCDE Chief Academic Officer Jill Levine recognized Hamilton County High School teacher Rachel Turner for receiving the Outstanding Humanities Educators Award.
  • Colonel Tom McConnell recognized JROTC cadets and units with exceptional academic achievements and scholarship awards. The cadets recognized received scholarship awards totaling $4.5 million.
  • Margaret Abernathy from the Exceptional Education Department announced the renaming of the PALS Center to the Amy Piazza PALS Center in honor of the devoted late teacher Amy Piazza.
  • Cathy Jennings, the 2017 Southeast Regional Coordinator for RN School Health, was recognized by Sheryl Fletcher for her work to promote student health and wellness.


  • Dan Liner from Hamilton County Educators Association recognized the celebration of teachers in the month of May
  • Tennessee State Representative JoAnne Favors spoke on behalf of the delegation representing the community of the five schools being considered for a “partnership zone” within the school district. She stated that the there is not sufficient data to support moving forward with a partnership zone and suggested it could be a civil rights issue to do so due to de facto segregation of these majority African-American schools. Favors called for the board to postpone commiting to a partnership zone for at least one year in order to gather more data and involve the community in the discussion. She announced the creation of the Chattanooga Public School Coalition, which is currently organizing to address the partnership zone debate on behalf of the community.

The April 20 board meeting minutes were approved, as was the consent agenda.

Several field trips were approved. Board member Rhonda Thurman raised concern that no administrators were scheduled to be on these overnight trips and suggested exploration of a policy modification that would require an administrator be present on every overnight field trip.

Campus report

Superintendent selection process and plan – A plan and timeline was proposed and adopted for narrowing the list of superintendent candidates and making a final selection. A community involvement component calls for community forums with each finalist candidate when they are in town for final interviews. View the full plan here

Chairman Highlander said Coleman Lew (search firm) indicated the board should not expect reference letters to be entirely candid as they are open to public record.

Board member Karitsa Jones advocated for having a standardized list of questions for candidates in finalist interviews.

The board voted to table the vote of a contract related to contract bus drivers due to changes in the contract language related to driver penalties following the board’s review and discussion.

Board attorney Scott Bennett presented a revision to the board’s remote participation policy. The board voted to allow board members to participate in meetings electronically if unable to be physically present up to two times per school year.



Superintendent Selection Plan Announced

The school board voted at its May 18, 2017 meeting to adopt a “working roadmap” for the process and timeline for the selection of a new school superintendent by mid-June 2017. 

UnifiEd has called for a plan for more than a year that involves the community and is pleased that the adopted plan includes:

  • Community forums with each finalist candidate, and
  • Suggested meetings in each district for constituents to share feedback on the candidates with their Board Member.

The board agreed that the plan is subject to change as necessary and appropriate. Chairman Highlander will appoint at least three board members to lead the implementation of this roadmap.

Superintendent Selection Process

May 22 – First-round interviews via Skype are completed.

May 23 – Reference packets available for review by Board.

May 25 – Board will deliberate and vote on top 5 candidates. 5 candidates will be chosen with weighted scores. Top 5
lists will be provided in alphabetical order with each mention receiving one point. If there is a tie for
the fifth position, a ballot will be taken with just the two final candidates.

May 25 – June 5 – Community meetings are suggested for Board Members to hear from constituents. Handout on each of the
Top 5 will be provided. (The decision whether to hold a meeting, and its planning and logistics, are up to individual Board member.)

June 5 – 9 – Finalist candidates travel to Chattanooga for face-to-face interviews and community forums.

Proposed Components of the Daily Schedule
• 90-minute session with the full Board. If the Board desires to work from a unified set of questions, then
a process needs to be determined to identify the questions.
• Following that session, the candidate will be available to meet with individual Board members. Suggest
20 minutes.
• Candidates will visit two schools for a prearranged meeting with principals, teachers, parents, students
and community stakeholders from the site of the school and schools in the surrounding area.
• Candidates will take part in a meet-and-greet session with elected officials and advocacy group
leadership. A group should be identified to host these sessions.
• Candidates participate in a Community Forum for 90 minutes. All community members are invited to
attend. It is recommended that the events be hosted by a central organization (i.e. Hamilton County
PTA), and not the School Board. Locations for the forums will be decided by the Board while the hosting
organization will be responsible for planning the event, soliciting questions, asking questions and
moderating onsite Q&A. A media availability will take place for 20 minutes before the Forum.
• The 90-minute session with the Board and the Community Forums will be live streamed and available
for the public to watch via the system’s Facebook page and YouTube channel.

June 15 – School Board deliberates and selects the new superintendent. Ballots will be taken until one
candidate receives a minimum of five votes.

May 2017 School Board Watch Blog

In this edition of UnifiEd’s School Board Watch Blog, we will take a look at the agenda for the May 18th regularly scheduled session of the Hamilton County School Board Meeting. The meeting will be held in the Hamilton County School Board Meeting Room at 3074 Hickory Valley Road and is set to begin at 5:30 PM. We will live tweet @UnifiEdHC, follow along at #HCSchools.

To see the entire agenda with supporting documents click here.

Hot Topics:

  • Board Policy 1.407 School District Records- First Reading: The State Board of Education now requires all boards to have a public records policy in place by July 1, 2017. The director of schools must maintain all school district records required by law, regulation, and board policy. This also includes how to handle requests for copies or inspections of district records.
  • Board Policy 3.501 Wellness Policy- First Reading: The 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act requires each Local Education Agency (LEA) participating in the National School Lunch Program or other child nutrition programs to review our local school wellness policy annually. The revisions include a commitment to nutrition, understanding the connection between health and academic performance, promoting nutrition education, physical activity, and health goals, and the creation of a School Health Advisory Council.

Recognitions and Presentations:

  • The Principal at Hamilton County High School will recognize Rachel Turner as one of six teachers in Tennessee to be awarded 2017 Outstanding Humanities Educator Award. Turner had the top growth gains in last year’s US History test, and had the highest level of effectiveness in Hamilton County.
  • The Director of JROTC will recognize unit and student achievement and honors of JROTC Cadets who obtained significant scholarships and/or national and state awards.
  • The Director of the Exceptional Education program will recognize the renaming of the PALS Center to the Amy Piazza Preschool Assessment and Learning Services Center.  In addition, Exceptional Education would like to present Amy’s parents with a plaque recognizing their daughter.
  • Coordinated School Health Coordinator, Cathy Jennings will be recognized for being voted as the 2016-2017 Southeast Regional Coordinator of the year during the Coordinated School Health Institute in Murfreesboro this month.
  • Leadership Chattanooga will present their team project to the board.

Field Trips

  • Hixson High School and East Hamilton High School will send students to compete in the Future Business Leaders of America National Competition.
  • Brown Middle School and Signal Mountain Middle High School will send students to compete in the Technology Student Association National Competition.
  • Hixson High School will compete in the Health Occupations Students of America National Competition.
  • Hixson High School, Central High School, Ooltewah High School, Red Bank High School, East Ridge High School, and Signal Mountain Middle High Schools will participate in camps.
  • Sequoyah High School will compete in the Skills USA National Competition.
  • Loftis Middle School will send students to attend the National Beta Club Convention.
  • Normal Park Museum Magnet School will send students to participate in TED-Ed Youth Talks in New York.  
  • Red Bank High School will send students in JROTC to compete in the National Academic Quiz Bowl Tournament.
  • STEM School Chattanooga will send members of the MIT Inventeam to attend MIT’s Eureka Fest 2017.
  • East Ridge High School will participate in the TMEA All State Conference.


Board approval is sought for:

  • Contract to Chemically Treat Heating & Cooling Systems totalling $857.60 monthly from the Maintenance Operating Budget.
  • Contract to Purchase Electronic Security Equipment totalling $125.40 from the Maintenance Operating Budget.
  • Contract to Furnish Labor & Materials for Boiler, Piping and Duct Insulation Projects with funds to be provided by the Capital and Operating Budgets pending total material costs.
  • Contract to Furnish HP Cartridges with funds to be provided from the Operating and School Budgets.
  • Track Resurfacing for Red Bank High School totalling $160,950.00.
  • P.E./Athletic Equipment & Supplies Contract with funds provided by the Operating and School Budgets.
  • Science Equipment Materials & Supplies Contract with funds provided by the Operating and School Budgets.
  • Laminating Film and Routine Maintenance Contract with funds provided by the Operating and School Budgets.
  • Chartered Coach Service for Student Field Trips with funds provided by the Operating and School Budgets.
  • German Reading and Teaching Materials Contract with funds provided by the Operating and School Budgets.
  • Recommendation for Bid Approval for the School Nutrition Program totalling $38,362.60 from the School Nutrition funds.
  • Request Approval to purchase from Snap-On-Industrial for Student Certification Kits totalling $51,626.04 with funding through the Perkins Grant.  
  • Request Approval to purchase Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s easyCBM, a k-8 benchmark progress monitoring and assessment service, totalling $127,750.00 per year with funds provided by the General Purpose Budget.  
  • Request Approval of contract with Public Consulting Group-EdPlan 504, providing administrative supports and trainings, totaling $11,425.75 with funds provided by the General Fund.
  • Request Approval of contract with Public Consulting Group-Goal Progress Monitoring and Transportation Wizard and IEP Goal/Objective Progress Monitoring System for 2017-18 SY totalling $15,185.63 from the IDEA Part B Funds.
  • .Request Approval to purchase Tennessee ACT Vouchers totalling $124,000.00 through State BEP funds.  
  • Request Approval to renew IBM SPSS Software Maintenance Subscription and Support Contracts totalling $36,932.45 from the General Purpose Fund.
  • Request Approval to renew Intelligence Annual Maintenance Subscription and Support contracts totalling $13,073.00 from the General Purpose Fund.
  • Request Approval to renew PowerSchool Software Maintenance Subscription and Support contract totalling $222,981.75 from the General Purpose Fund.
  • Request Approval to renew ESRI Software Maintenance Subscription and Support contract totalling $12,197.26 from the General Purpose Fund.
  • Approval to purchase camera systems for 69 contractor buses from Seon Systems Sales Inc.totalling $189,957.00 from the Transportation Budget.  

Business and Finance:

  • Approval sought to send sixty CTE teachers from various schools to attend the 2017 Institute for CTE teachers in Nashville, TN. This institute provides training that allows teachers to meet requirements for recertification. It also provides classroom content specific strategies that teachers can implement in their classrooms. At this institute, sessions are centered around Postsecondary Readiness, Career Readiness, and Teacher Readiness. Total cost is estimated at $39,150.00 with funding through the Perkins Grant.
  • Request for approval for teachers, administrators, and other staff members to attend the Professional Learning Communities at Work (PLCs) Institute conference in Atlanta, GA. This conference will enable staff members to learn and exchange information in the area of curriculum and instruction in improving the skills and knowledge of educators. This will total $25,000.00 with funding sources from Federal Title I and/or Federal Title II.
  • Approval sought from the Principal of St. Jude School for the contract/consultant agreement with A+ Educators for a total of $4,500.00 from their school based Federal Title II private school budget allocation. A+ Educators is the sole developer, publisher and copyright holder, therefore, the sole source of CORE CONNECT job-embedded professional development.
  • HCDE accepted a donation from Commissioner Tim Boyd of $5,000.00 from his bond fund to purchase band and orchestra instruments for CSLA.
  • HCDE accepted a donation from Commissioner Greg Beck of $7,000.00 from his bond fund to purchase a stadium sound system for Brainerd High School.
  • Director the the Pre-K Programs is requesting to apply for a grant totalling $2,675,517 from the State Department of Education’s Office of Early Learning to pay salaries for Pre-K teachers and assistants, purchase instructional materials and equipment, and provide stipends for the upcoming 2017-2018 school year.
  • Approval and acceptance sought for the UTC Each One Reach One Grant application totalling $100,000.00.   

Budget Amendments

The following budget amendments for Federal Grants and Self-Funded Programs for FY 2017 are recommended for approval:

  • Title I, Improving Basic Programs, with transfers between line items
  • School Improvement Grant Cohort III for IZONE District, with transfers between line items
  • School Improvement Grant Cohort III for IZONE Schools, with transfers between line items
  • Title II, Teacher & Principal Training & Recruitment, with transfers between line items
  • Safe Schools, with transfers between line items
  • Family Resource Center, with a net increase of $700
  • 21st Century Community Learning Centers (Year 3, East Lake Academy), with transfers between line items
  • Focus Schools, with transfers between line items
  • Read To Be Ready Grant, totaling $157,260
  • Carl Perkins Vocational Grant, with transfers between line items
  • CTE Incentive Grant, totaling $2,500
  • Bible History Teachers Self-Funded Program, with transfers between line items and a net increase of $178,399
  • Nursing Services Self-Funded Program, with transfers between line items
  • Gigabit Community Fund Self-Funded Program, with transfers between line items
  • HCEA Representative Self-Funded Program, with a net increase of $364
  • Benwood Foundation Self-Funded Program, with transfers between line items
  • School Paid Positions Self-Funded Program, with transfers between line items and a net increase of $87,025

School Board approval is needed for transfer of funds to the Capital Maintenance Fund. This amendment anticipates an increase in sales tax revenue of $1,500,000, and provides that this revenue increase be allocated to the Capital Maintenance Fund for facility upgrades.

Administrative and Business Matters:

  • Board Policy 6.503 Homeless Students- Second and Final Reading: This policy ensures full compliance with the Every Child Succeeds Act. Revisions include that homeless students will be automatically enrolled in school even if they are not able to produce records normally required for enrollment, placement in a school shall be determined based on student interest but also preference is given to a student’s school of origin (school they were enrolled in when last holding a residence), and schools shall keep records on homeless students.
  • Board approval is sought to renew the Community Eligibility Provision in the nutrition program for 2017-2018 school year, ensuring free cost meals be provided to 19,624 students across the District (45.2% of total student enrollment). It is recommended that the same 39 CEP schools served this year will continued to be served next school year.
  • The Principal at Normal Park Lower is seeking approval to build a gym stricture on the back of the current campus property. Parents, students, teachers, and staff have worked collaboratively and desire a gym so students will have the opportunity to take P.E. classes in an adequate space, since currently, classes are being taught on the auditorium stage. Currently, the school has raised over $160,000.00 to build the new gym space and is in the process of obtaining permit approval.
  • Request for approval to submit the special course application for Soddy Daisy High School Study of Hispanic Cultures course to the State Department of Education for 2017-2018 school year. This application is required for requesting approval of all secondary education courses that are not already approved by the State Board of Education.
  • Christina Henderson from Hixson High School and Laurie Clifton from CSLA are teachers who have become eligible for tenure.
  • Legal Services: For the month of April, a total of $39,976.96 was spent on legal services from Leitner, Williams, Dooley & Napolitan PLLC, Markel, von Kessler, & Cox, and Spears, Moore, Rebman & Williams. .

Important Dates and Events

  • May 19th-May 20th, 2017: Graduation Ceremonies at the Tivoli and the Memorial Auditorium
  • May 25th, 2017: Half Day for Students
  • May 26th, 2017: Last Day of School/Report Cards (Buses will not run)
  • May 29th, 2017: Memorial Day (Central Office closed)
  • May 30th, 2017: Begin Four-Day Work Week (Central Office and Schools closed on Fridays)


Letters to the Editor Guide

How to Send a Letter to the Editor

Have a perspective on public education that you want to share with the community? Write a letter to the editor! Here are some guidelines to help get you started.

A few pointers

  • Several letters on the same topic or issue can be a strong indicator to our local policymakers and elected officials, so encourage your friends to share their voice too.
  • State why you’re writing in your first sentence.
  • Effective letters focus more on issues than personal attacks.
  • State what you’re calling for (or demanding, if you feel so bold!). Whether it’s for the school board and county to vote to increase funding, or for the creation of a long-term plan for new school construction and additions, or for a multi-year budget that helps spend our education dollars more efficiently — tell the community or your elected officials what you want to see happen.
  • Keep it focused on one or two key points.
  • If you’re responding to an action or event, respond quickly! Timely comments are the most newsworthy.

Submission guidelines for local publications

Times Free Press

  • Keep it topical, short, legible, and not more often than one every 30 days. Letters may be edited by the Times Free Press for clarity and length.
  • Word count limit is 200 words!
  • Must be signed with name, address and telephone number.
  • Send to: Editorial page editor (either Times or Free Press), P.O. Box 1447, Chattanooga, TN 37401; fax: 423-757-6383; or e-mail:

  • The site publishes longer form letters than the newspaper is able to. There is no word limit (but if your article is too long you may lose your reader).
  • Must include your real first and last name and contact information.
  • Email to

Topical prompts

The topic of the moment is school funding. Want to share your thoughts on funding with the community? Here are a few ideas to get you thinking on what to write about.

  • Talk about a specific program that is under- or unfunded in your school and the impact to students.
  • Give examples of unacceptable maintenance issues that aren’t being addressed in your school.
  • Explain your perspective on the problem with HCDE not having a multi-year budget.
  • Paint the picture of what you think our community will look like in 30 years if we don’t start investing more in our schools now.
  • Explain why it’s a problem that HCDE and the county don’t have a long-term plan for building new schools or expanding school facilities.
  • Talk about the impact of underfunding technology in schools (not enough devices for each child to have access).
  • Explain what underfunding our schools says to you about our values or actions as a community.
  • Explain what it says to you about our county government that schools are not the top priority in the county budget.
  • Offer your perspective on what students deserve that they aren’t getting due to lack of funds.
  • Anything else that you care about related to funding in our schools!

Need help?

Feel free to contact our communications director, Natalie Cook (423-991-7790,, with any questions or if you need a boost in the writing process! She’s also happy to help you brainstorm a topic or give a proofread if you want it. 

If you submit by email, feel free to copy She can follow up with the publication to draw attention to your letter.


Letter to School Board Chairman Steve Highlander: Where’s the Plan for Superintendent Search?

The following letter was sent to Board of Education Chairman Steve Highlander (copying all members of the Board) on May 5, 2017.

To: Chairman Steve Highlander

CC: Joe Galloway, Karitsa Jones, Kathy Lennon, Tiffanie Robinson, Joe Smith, David Testerman, Rhonda Thurman, Joe Wingate

Dear Chairman Highlander:

UnifiEd calls on the Hamilton County Board of Education for the immediate release of its plan for the school superintendent search and selection process. This call comes after the board’s move this week to trim the list of candidates with input through private email and a decision process based upon criteria that have not been made public.

In the absence of a public plan for the search and selection process, the community is left without a transparent view of the process. It also creates a lack of accountability on the board for its actions.

We call for the restoration of transparency in this process going forward. The community deserves to know how candidates are being evaluated, when decisions will be made, and how they can be involved in this important decision impacting the future of our public schools.

Four recommendations emerged from public meetings UnifiEd held in every district in Hamilton County in 2016 on the topic of the superintendent search. For more than a year, we have called for the following elements to be included in the board’s search and selection plan to ensure community involvement in this important decision:

  • Live streamed public interviews of potential candidates
  • Public access to finalist candidate resumes online
  • Open forums for community members
  • The creation of a community advisory council

At the October 2016 school board meeting, you committed to creating a plan to involve the community in the process and indicated that the search firm’s first task should be the creation of a plan for engaging the community. You also asked that the board’s policy committee draft a plan. To our knowledge, none of these recommendations was implemented.

Now is the time to release your plan for this process that includes a community involvement component. On behalf of our community, UnifiEd looks forward to seeing this position filled by the most qualified candidate after a thorough and transparent search that takes into account perspectives as diverse as our population.

Best regards,

Jonas Barriere
Executive Director, UnifiEd