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A Community Pitches In

When nine of Chattanoogas schools were listed among the lowest-performing in the state, local foundations teamed up to work with the school system to provide professional development, stabilize the faculty, and improve student performance. Included: Examples of how community organizations worked together.

Courtesy of The Achievement Alliance

When test score data were used to publish a ranking of all Tennessee schools in 2000, Chattanooga claimed the dubious honor of having nine of its schools listed among the 20 lowest-performing elementary schools in the state. This came as something of a surprise to the citys residents. Why, many asked, does Chattanooga, instead of the larger, poorer cities of Memphis, Knoxville, or Nashville, dominate the list of Tennessees worst schools?

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That question launched what eventually became one of the exemplary reform efforts in the country, an effort that has addressed many of the obstacles faced by schools serving poor children and children of color.

What made the difference was funding from outside organizations, including the Benwood Foundation, a private organization dedicated to strengthening the Chattanooga community. After the report about the rankings of the Chattanooga schools was released, the foundation became convinced that the school system and the Chattanooga Public Education Foundation (PEF) had developed a plan to substantially raise student achievement.

Benwood agreed to spend $5 million over five years, and the PEF another $2.5 million, on the nine lowest-performing elementary schools in Chattanooga, which became known as Benwood Schools. The Benwood Foundations support, however, was very outcome-oriented. It was paying to increase the percentage of third-grade students meeting proficiency on state reading tests. If foundation leaders didnt see improvement, they would stop payments.

While the rates of improvement have been uneven, all of the original worst in the state schools have improved, some quite dramatically, and the school that was once the at the absolute bottom of the state was identified in 2005 as the fastest improving school in Tennessee.

SOURCE: The Achievement Alliance

To read the full story, see Its Being Done: The Benwood Initiative; Chattanooga, Tennessee