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Academy vs. Comprehensive:
direction of new high school still topic of School Board discussion


The site for the new Hardin Valley high school has been selected, but so far construction hasn’t started.

Before the new school opens in 2008, before students can be zoned to the school, one question needs to be answered: will "HVHS" be a regular “comprehensive” high school, or an “academy” school?

The decision-makers include school board members who represent West Knox County. Charles “Chuck” James’ 6th District seat (Farragut) is up for grabs. Three men are vying for the seat he’s vacating. Ultimately one of the three —- Thomas Deakins, Fred Dillon or Lee Martin —- will win and help influence the future of the Hardin Valley high school.

Knox County Schools Superintendent Charles Lindsey “wants to talk about the merits of an academy,” for the new high school, said Russ Oaks, spokesman for KCS system. “That’s a discussion that I think the superintendent wants to have in the coming months. He has not made a recommendation at this point,” Oaks said.

The concept of an academy or specialized part of a school is not new to Knox County, said Farragut High School principal Michael Reynolds.

Austin-East High School currently has a finance academy, Reynolds said. He added that he would like to establish a science and math academy at FHS, and hopes to partner with ORNL, UT, Pellissippi or Lincoln Park. He and science teachers at FHS have had discussions with ORNL, and plan to begin a mentoring program with the national lab in the fall.

In addition, FHS will offer a course in electronics next year, Reynolds said. “We’re hoping to combine it with the engineering piece — we already have an engineering lab. We hope to develop a program for the advancement of studies of electricity and engineering.”

He said he would be in favor of a new academy high school “if it’s set up and done right. … It depends on how it’s done. ... If it hurts FHS, I’m not for it.”

Karen Carson, 5th District Board of Education representative, said she would like to see the new school be a four-part academy. As previously reported in farragutpress, Carson serves on a task force that has visited academy schools in New York and Miami. She said she wants the public to understand that “academy” does not mean “magnet.”

Carson said the school is being considered for both a traditional high school and an academy high school, and zoning for an academy would be a little different than zoning for a traditional school. She said she wants the public to be familiar with what an academy is, and how it differs from the magnet schools Knox County already has.

“The magnet schools in Knox County were originally set up to address the requirements of the Office of Civil Rights,” Carson said.

“One of the goals of going to a small learning academy is to address the rigor, relevance and relationship in our high schools,” she said. Carson defined rigor as meaning the school can offer more Honors and Advanced Placement classes. Relevance is getting students prepared for the work they’ll do after high school, she said. Relationship means engaging the kids, which will affect the graduation rate.

“We want every child to be known by an adult in that high school,” she added.

Thomas Deakins, father of four, said he likes the concept of an academy, but said, “I don’t have enough information on it to tell you whether I think it’s a good idea or a bad idea.”

He said he has concerns about overcrowding, and how the academy or comprehensive high school would affect that.

“My understanding is that if it were a regular high school, Farragut would [still] be overcrowded,” he said.

“I do like the concept [of an academy] ” he said. “I’m a very big proponent of our children when they get out of high school, being bilingual.”

Deakins added for that to happen, language education needs to start before high school. “I’ve designed solutions for a living,” Deakins said. “I’ve always looked at the resources you have. Just because you have an idea doesn’t mean it’s a great idea.”

Fred Dillon said he’s given the academy issue some thought.

“That question was brought up during the public forum they had at Hardin Valley Elementary,” he said. “There’s no way the new high school can be an academy because of overcrowding at Farragut, Bearden and Karns. I just don’t see this being an academy down here in Hardin Valley.”

Dillon said the current problem is overcrowding and numbers in classrooms need to be reduced.

“If you have less kids in the classrooms, the kids are going to get a better education,” he said.

Dillon is a lifelong resident of Ball Camp and has a 14-year-old son at Karns High School. He said KHS is currently accredited through Pellissippi State Technical Community College to offer college credit in foreign language.

He said he thinks the school is trying to offer the same college credit in other subject areas. “I think this is kind of like a test and later on there may be other curriculums they can do this with.” Dillon said he could understand creating an academy in an existing high school.

Lee Martin said he would be in favor of an academy high school if it were a science, math or technology academy. If not, it would be a no-go with him.

“Just to say we want it to be an academy is a little too nebulous for me,” he said. The current overcrowding in area high schools could “absolutely” be worked around with an academy, he said, adding that the school could pull students from Farragut, Bearden and Karns high schools, and even further away. Martin said he also would support an academy at FHS.

“My feeling about it is pick one or the other — either the new high school or Farragut.”

He added that he would like to see area schools take advantage of the Distinguished Professor program that allows professionals to become certified through a 50-hour course to teach technology, science and language classes.

 

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