Save Project GRAD, Magnets, G/T

The current Knox County Schools (KCS) Board of Education (BOE) budget proposal for 2018-2019 included major funding cuts to three important programs in our community.  The budget cut $1 million (a 74% drop) in funding for all magnet schools (we have 9 magnet schools) and suspended all magnet activities at Sarah Moore Greene and Green Magnet Academies.  The budget also called for a reallocation of $1 million for Project GRAD and use the reallocated money on reading coaches and social-emotional support services.  Finally, the budget also cut $500,000 from the Gifted and Talented program which would take the staff down to 8 and ask them to serve 50 elementary schools.  The Emerald Charter School will get a 36% budget increase of $1 million to expand two grade levels.  Essentially, the BOE has decided that they do not think Project GRAD is worthwhile and they want to end their obligation to that program.  They have also decided to take money for public schools (magnet schools) and give it to a Charter School.  The reasoning to cut G/T is still not clear.

{Source: Nelson, K (2018, April 10). Hundreds protest proposed magnet, Project GRAD cuts in 7.5 hour school board meeting. Knoxville News Sentinel. Retrieved April 18, 2018 from https://www.knoxnews.com/story/news/education/2018/04/10/hundreds-protest-proposed-magnet-project-grad-cuts-7-5-hour-knox-county-school-board-meeting/501559002/}

Project GRAD was started in our community as a response to the hopelessness and low expectations that many students in our urban schools experienced.  Their goals were to “Increase K12 knowledge of postsecondary options/access/pathways, increase high school graduation rate, increase postsecondary enrollment and completion rate.” The team found schools within an “Empowerment Zone: under-performing, high-poverty, low graduation rates,” and focused attention on those 14 schools. The program offers, “activities, opportunities, experiences, exposure, awareness, while addressing personal and social barriers to academic progress.”

Here is a list of their results:

  • The combined high school graduation rate for AE/Fulton increased from 50% to 78%*
  • The percent of students entering higher ed from AE/Fulton has increased from less than 30% to 58%
  • GRAD Scholarship recipients are completing higher ed at a rate that exceeds the national average for similar students: 48% for AE/Fulton combined compared to less than 10% nationally (cohorts 2005-2011). Presently, there are four KCS/GRAD program alumni on the PGK staff (graduates of Carson-Newman, Tennessee State University, and UT Knoxville)
  • Tens of thousands of social service referrals have been handled, saving instructional time
  • Systemic change is also occurring: there is a growing college-going culture in urban communities and the number of graduates attending the University of Tennessee Knoxville and Pellissippi State Community College from A-E/Fulton has shown significant increase
  • The work of GRAD’s Student/Family Support helped pave the way for the Community Schools initiative in Knoxville

List of Schools in Project GRAD

Austin East, Fulton, Green, Sarah Moore Greene, Vine Middle, Belle Morris, Christenberry, Spring Hill, Whittle Springs, Dogwood, South Knox, Beaumont, Lonsdale, Maynard.

{Source: ProjectGRADKnoxville.org, Why GRAD? Retrieved April 18, 2018 from http://www.projectgradknoxville.org/about-us/why-grad/}

The school board recommending cutting funding for Project GRAD because college graduation rates are not high enough.  College graduation rates are only 1/4th of the mission of Project GRAD.  If the entire program was underperforming in all 4 of its goals then perhaps a discussion about the direction of the program would be necessary.

Magnet Schools were created as a direct response to a complaint filed with the Office of Civil Rights by the NAACP.  The Magnets were supposed to draw more white students into the inner-city schools.  The school board’s reasoning to end magnet school funding is because reading scores are not high enough.  That is not the reason for the magnet schools and that should not be the reason to end funding for the magnet schools.  We have great magnet programs!  Austin-East has a performing arts program! Fulton has a communications program! Career Magnet lets students graduate from high school with several associate’s degree courses already under their belts! Beaumont has a Gifted and Talented program! West High School has an International Baccalaureate World Program! Vine Middle has a STEAM program! Sarah Moore Greene has a Media and Communications program! Green Magnet has a STEAM program! And we have our very own STEM Academy, L&N! Why would anyone want to take money from these excellent programs?  We should give these programs more funding, not less!

Gifted and Talented program will have been cut by 60% since November if the budget proposal holds.  Knoxville is bookended by a Tier 1 Research Institution (University of Tennessee) and a National Laboratory, (Oak Ridge National Laboratory).  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that we should probably teach our students higher-level thinking so they can work at UT or ORNL!  The BOE has not given an explanation for cutting G/T services.

Emerald Charter sounds like a great school and all of our schools should be able to do what Emerald does.  Emerald can be free to be innovative! They offer longer schools days, summer school, adjust curriculum to meet student needs, create unique cultures like STEM, performing arts, college prep, career readiness, language immersion, and problem-based learning.  They can make innovative uses of technology and rethink the definition of classroom.  Why can’t our public schools be like this?  What is wrong with our state standards that our public teachers can be free to be innovative and creative?  We already have schools with “unique cultures,” see above about our Magnet Schools!  The description of this charter school sounds like a description of a private school.  Therefore, one could easily think that our money is being taken from our local public Magnet Schools and being given to a private school AKA Emerald Charter.

{Source: EmeraldCharterSchools.org}

Conclusion

The community believes that our school board was unable to fund the two new middle schools and has decided to make program cuts to fund the new schools.  I have not come across an official statement acknowledging this yet.  There does appear to be a direct correlation between cutting $1 million from Magnet Schools and providing $1 million for Emerald Charter.  The schools serve students from similar areas.  I really don’t understand why we would take money from our public schools to give them to a private “charter” school.  I have not come across a statement regarding why the G/T program was cut.  $1 million for Project GRAD will be re-allocated but still provide the same services.  This seems suspicious. Why end a proven program with accountability for a hodgepodge of random, unconnected services and staff to do the same thing?  It sounds like a million dollars will just be floating around next year without much oversight.  If I was on the BOE, I would be very concerned about this.

The bottom line is this, if the BOE can’t afford the new middle schools then it is time to talk with county commission about raising taxes or giving the school system more money. The BOE should also be honest with the public about where the money for ProjectGRAD is actually going.  We should NOT take money from magnets to give to a charter school.  We should also not cut Gifted and Talented for no reason whatsoever.

We have 57,000 students in Knox County Schools.  Why are we ending programs that make them feel challenged, special, and motivated to succeed?  What will the BOE decide to cut next year? Music? Art? Take a stand now Knoxville and don’t let unnecessary cuts take us back to the 20th Century.

 

 

 

One thought on “Save Project GRAD, Magnets, G/T

  1. Pingback: Perspectives on Gifted Education | Coleen Martinez for TN HD 89

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