School board passes community high school overhaul

Tuesday, May 26, 2009 at 11:51pm

School board members have approved Director of Schools Jesse Register’s proposal to overhaul adult high school programming, moving the district’s program out of Cohn Adult Learning Center.

The new program, which is based on a model Register found effective at Chattanooga’s Hamilton County Schools, would offer flexible academic opportunities for students who have trouble meeting the requirements of a traditional school day. Students with children, jobs, and other major barriers to full-time class work will have more options with the new model established, Register has said. And that would help improve the district’s drop-out rate, which has made slow improvement in recent years but currently hovers around 20 percent.

Students in the proposed program could take classes in the morning, afternoon or evening, or through their computers or independent study. Classes could be taken in shorter, more intensive periods — two courses every eight weeks to move toward earning four credits each semester — and students could schedule class combinations that fit their academic needs.

Possible sites for the new schools are the former Cockrill School building and the Opry Mills Mall Career Center. While the $1 million estimated annual budget for the new program is more expensive than the current approximately $800,000 for the programs at Cohn that would be replaced, Register said existing teachers and staff could be tapped to follow students to the program and help keep the change budget-neutral. The facility at the current Cohn Adult Learning Center would continue operating as it is now, though more space would be made available for other programs to make use of, according to Jim Briggs, associate superintendent for district high schools.

At Tuesday’s regular Board of Education meeting, school board members said they want more information. North Nashville board member Sharon Gentry wanted to know firm, numeric goals for measuring the program’s success. Setting targets for results, Gentry said, would help the board make wise decisions about funding for the program.

“If we could just put some numbers to it, I think that would help,” Gentry said. “I think it’s a good opportunity for us to get in front of what our measurement criteria are.”

The administration plans to compile quarterly data on how many credits students in the program have earned toward graduation. The program’s success should also be reflected in MNPS’s graduation rate, Register said, with a major goal of the program being to increase Metro’s annual number of “no-frills, real diplomas.”