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‘Neighborhoods’ proposed for Hardin Valley
‘Small Learning Communities’ topic at meeting


Administrators might not agree on the population of the yet-to-be-built Hardin Valley High School, but the idea of implementing small learning communities in the new school, similar to what an academy offers, is gaining large support.

Edwin Hedgepeth, director of secondary instruction for Knox County Schools and former Farragut High School principal, led a presentation Thursday, Aug. 10, at FHS detailing the small communities or neighborhoods that might be implemented at the school, which is set to open August 2008. Students would be assigned to a particular neighborhood entering freshman year, and the same teachers would teach these students throughout their four years of school, Hedgepeth said.

“There are too many students falling through the cracks and I think we’re going to have to change the culture within the school to fix that,” Hedgepeth said. “The key thing here is relationships. The idea of small learning communities is breaking it down so students feel they are connected to a small group.”

Other schools throughout the country have been able to implement small communities with the same number of staff required for a traditional comprehensive high school, Hedgepeth said.

The small community approach would potentially divide the high school into four different neighborhoods that would function as separate schools, all with different teachers and principles, Hedgepeth said.

Karen Carson, Knox County Board of Education 5th District Representative, said that small learning communities have been implemented in schools as large as 2,000 to 3,000 students in Florida and Oregon. The small community approach would be a way for students, in a densely-populated school, to feel connected to their peers and teachers, Carson said.

Administrators are also considering career academies in addition to the small communities. These academies would give students a chance to hone their skills in a particular concentration such as architecture, arts, education, health service, and marketing, Hedgepeth said.

Austin-East High School has already implemented a finance academy, and an information technology academy is available this year, Carson said. Although the finance academy will continue this year it is too early to determine how successful it is, Carson said.

The issue of zoning was discussed, but whether attendance would be voluntary, or if juniors and seniors would be required to transfer was undecided, Carson said. Students in their junior and senior year have a very difficult time transferring from their high school and that is something administrators will try to prevent, Carson said.

During the Aug. 10 discussion Knox County Commissioner Craig Leuthold reminded administrators that the main purpose of the school was to alleviate overcrowding at Karns, Bearden and Farragut high schools.

“This high school does not need to open to just a freshman class. We’re going to have to have zones,” Leuthold said. “This high school was promised to the people of Knoxville to relieve

overcrowding.”

Knox County Commissioners will determine funding for Hardin Valley High School during the County Commission meeting at 2 p.m., Monday, Aug. 28.

“Construction has started and we’re just waiting on this decision to lay the stakes and start the foundation,” Carson said.

Administrators will continue considering all aspects of the small community approach to learning and the traditional comprehensive school approach, Hedgepeth said.

“What we see here is a great opportunity because we’re doing it from scratch,” Hedgepeth said. “We make this [Small Learning Communities] a model and so, therefore other schools through a systematic process can implement this.”

 

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