Apr 12 2007
11:36 am

Unfortunately, many parents and students will look at the KCS rezoning plan from a neighborhood, or personal, point of view.

What is at stake here is larger. It is about quality of education for all of our students enrolled in public school.

Large megaschools are not as effective as smaller schools. So says the research, including the ground-breaking book, "High Schools on a Human Scale: How Small Schools Can Transform American Education."

Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates and his wife Melinda have a foundation that has committed more than $400 million in the past three years to making American high schools smaller, according to the Washington Post.

But unfortunately, Knox County only approaches these issues from an infrastructure and growth planning issue, not from the perspective of valid educational benefit to the students.

We have one high school in Knoxville sitting empty (Rule) while a new one is being built (Hardin Valley). We have growth throughout the county. Rule sits on only 7 acres of land, thus excluding it from consideration under the megaschool paradigm that is reflected in the leadership within the Knox County School System.

Using simple reasoning, if we have growth throughout the county, one megaschool built every 10 or 15 years will result in catastrophic rezoning every 10 or 15 years.

Do we want to shift 20% of our student population every 10 years, or do we want to bring the resources to their communities? That is the fundamental question.

The alternative: Build more, smaller, cheaper schools throughout the ever-growing Knox County, better personalizing the educational experience.

According to the author, several studies show "that high schools are more likely to be successful when they are small and personalized -- when they have four to five hundred students and stress long-term relationships between students and teachers, individualized attention, extra help for struggling students, and an adult advocate for every student. Smaller schools encourage stronger bonds between students and teachers and generate a level of genuine caring and mutual obligation between them that's found far less frequently in comprehensive high schools."

"Students and teachers, as a result, tend to work harder on each other's behalf. Student and teacher attendance and student involvement in extracurricular activities are higher in smaller high schools. Teacher turnover and disciplinary problems are lower. So are dropout rates. There's less tracking in smaller schools. And a wide range of studies reveal that average student achievement is as high as and often higher than that in large schools, particularly among students from impoverished backgrounds."

R. Neal's picture

Great article. Your problem

Great article. Your problem is, however, that this is a long-term approach that requires planning and forethought.

What Knox County is looking for is a quick solution to fill up a new high school that everyone said was needed but now no one wants to go to now that it has been built without much planning or forethought.

Maybe the downtown library was a better idea, after all.

Cletus's picture

Randy, you're wrong about no

Randy, you're wrong about no one wanting to go to the new school.

People just want someone else's kids to go to the new school. That's the difference.

Bbeanster's picture

Not everybody said the new

Not everybody said the new HS was needed -- at least not where it was located and when it was built.
Remember, it was rolled out there as a quick fix after the new library proved to be a drag on public opinion, and it was proposed solely for the purpose of helping Ragsdale sell his wheel tax in west Knox County.

Who knew that those folks who voted in the the wheel tax on the rest of us wouldn't want their children to go to school there?

As for Rule High, there was one proposal to use the old Rule High building, but it came from the ill-fated and prison-bound Jerry Upton (ya'll do remember the Rev. Upton, don't you?). My understanding is that it would require multiple millions of dollars worth of asbestos removal before you could even think of retrofitting it -- and then there's that difficult Lonsdale location. I hope RocketSquirrel isn't going to try and tell me that 4th and Gillers and Old North(ers) who turn their noses up at Fulton and A-E Magnet would EVER deign to send their kids over to Rule, which sits right in the middle of the city's biggest low-income housing project.

rocketsquirrel's picture

zip code politics

Betty, stop playing zip code/neighborhood politics. nice try.

There are 4G'ers and ONK'ers with kids at Beaumont in Lonsdale.

If every one of our high schools was "world class" and not one extreme or the other--either a gatekeeping megaschool or an undervalued urban school, we wouldn't have these zoning problems. Are you trying to tell me that Knox County will never again build an urban high school?

Explanation of gatekeeping below. I'm sure many Knox County kids have experienced it.

"[J]udging the school's success by the performance of the elite, rather than a broader-based group of students, leads to weaknesses like 'gatekeeping' and pyramiding.

"A national survey used the term 'gatekeeping' to mean 'faculty room jargon for offering hard courses only to the best students and finding something easy for everyone else.' New Trier ranked only 30th in this national survey on the breadth of AP (Advanced Placement) participation. Can't we encourage more 3 level students to take AP courses as other high schools do?

"The second weakness is pyramiding, which occurs particularly in interscholastic sports, but also in the performing arts and other highly competitive activities. New Trier Basketball Coach Rick Malnati in the Winnetka Talk, November 7, 2002, said 'Freshman year, the six feeder schools each have 25 of the best tryout, and we can only keep 24 or 25.' This is a reduction of the 150 potential athletes from the six feeder schools to only 25 places on the Freshman team. The situation is similar in Girls Volleyball. The students cut would often have made the varsity at many high schools around the country."

-- Robert I. Soare is a distinguished professor at the University of Chicago

edens's picture

>There are 4G'ers and

>There are 4G'ers and ONK'ers with kids at Beaumont in >Lonsdale.

And Whetsel's eldest is a Fulton alum. Although, at the same time, are all those 4G & ONK kids at Beaumont in the magnet program? If so, it sort of reinforces both da Squirrel and Betty's points.

Bbeanster's picture

Doug, I've lived in this

Doug, I've lived in this part of town a lot longer than you have, and am quite well aware of where people choose to send their children to high school. And with a few exceptions, Fulton is not the high school of choice. For every Jack Whetsel, there are dozens of parents who choose other options. Not saying it's good or bad, just saying that's the way it is.
And Rule would be even less acceptable.
**Out of curiosity, where does your son go to school?

BTW, Jack Whetsel did wonderfully well at Fulton. I think he's graduating from Davidson this year. My son Joey was salutatorian at Fulton, and is now a lawyer practicing in San Diego. otherwise, he's OK, too.

Fubonie's picture

I agree with this article to

I agree with this article to a point. These large high schools, all schools really, are nothing but baby-sitting services for our cattle. Moo! Get them in as fast, take your tax dollars(plus more money), and get them out as fast as they can. Who cares if these calves learn anything or can cope in the outside world?

If I had the money, I would place all three of mine in a private school. If I thought I wouldn't kill them (a la Andrea Yates), I would definitely homeschool. So I am stuck, but I do make myself known at each school, volunteering when I can. Most parents do not have the luxury of time.

For the record, so that you don't think I am some crazy out here. I am from NashVegas, and was bussed over 20 miles to go to a middle school downtown, where I saw my share of hookers and druggies. When I got to high school, which was just right down the street, I placed 19th out of 250, took every AP course offered, paid for every AP test($140 a pop)myself, and started college as a sophomore.

Fubonie's picture

In Knox County, do they give

In Knox County, do they give every student the chance to take harder courses? When do they have to decide if they want to graduate with a Honors Diploma?

CathyMcCaughan's picture

honors classes

Honors classes are allowed to students based on test scores and middle school performance.

Tamara Shepherd's picture

When "tracking" starts

Actually, Cathy, I'm pretty sure the "tracking" begins in 5th grade, on the basis of 4th grade TCAP scores (students have generated TCAP scores in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th, by that point), grades, and participation in competitions like Scripps Spelling Bee, National Geographic Bee, Math Olympiad, and such.

That 5th grade year, they're broken out into advanced placement reading and math classes, and the math text used in 5th grade AP actually says "6th grade" on its cover.

This group *appears* to sort of disband in middle school (not sure), as students are "changing classes" there, but an AP math program continues, routing some 9th graders into geometry, rather than Algebra I, in their freshman year. Performance in middle school science and English also dictate 9th grade placement in either Physical Science (regular section) or Biology I (AP only track) and one of four levels of 9th grade English, the highest of which is Honors English I. TCAPs, which continue through 8th grade, and the ACT Explore in 8th grade are also used in determining high school class placement.

The Talented and Gifted program for middle schools, you may know, was sliced from the county budget a year or two back, and it seems few, if any, enrichment opportunities exist at that level anymore.

In high school, two college-bound tracks exist: the College Prep (CP) track, and its superior, the Honors/AP track (AP). The Tennessee Scholars Diploma, which requires four math courses, among other criteria, is routinely promoted at open houses, in flyers, and through the guidance offices to all students. See (link...)

Knox County School Board voted to require four years of math for all high school students effective with the freshman class of 2007, in anticipation of the state requiring the same rigor very soon.

Knox Insider 007's picture


BBeanster is older and lived somewhere longer (in her opinion) she is much more qualified and knowledgable?

Bbeanster's picture

yeah, Brian/Brad/Insider

I know this 'hood.

can't you stay banned?

Pamela Treacy's picture

Big Schools vs. Small Schools

One approach to all this is large buidlings with schools within a school -- small learning communtiies. You keep the 500 or so kids together for the benefits that creates. But the reality is economics -- we can't build all the amenties for schools with only 1000 or so kids. That means no athelitc stadiums. I believe the school at the top of the top 100 list is 3000 students. I am trying to be open minded but I am not convince that small schools are better. I am of the mindset -- let each community decide. But then we have to acknowledge we have communities in knox county and preserve those communties through school zones.

I hope everyone in town learns how much we need long term planning. And educating our children is the best place to start. If you haven't checked out the workforce project report -- go to knox chamber website.

Thanks for the dialogue.

rocketsquirrel's picture

making it personal

Simple question, Betty: Will Knox County ever deign to build another urban high school?

Betty enjoys taking cheap shots, but I think it's more important to take this opportunity to enlighten some folks.

For the benefit of other readers, I'll share that my son currently attends a neighborhood school two blocks from our home. I work from home and am able to walk him home in the afternoons. It sure would be easier if we weren't zoned for a Project Grad school.

He attended a Project Grad school (Dogwood) for kindergarten, a mistake we will not make again. I have commented on that previously.

The value of smaller neighborhood schools is completely dismissed by the Knox County School system. They ignore the research. The expenditure of $50 million on one high school is unconscionable. I can tell you First Lutheran, a SACS-accredited school, 137-year-old school (pre-K through 8th) sure didn't cost that much. And it is a great, loving school focused on relationships between parents, students, and teachers.

A smaller school works great. Here's some additional research. Will Betty read it? Or will she pull a Number9 and change the subject?

The Chicago Public Schools is committed to creating and sustaining small schools as a district-wide school improvement strategy. There is almost 40 years of existing research and literature on small schools which indicates that students in small schools have higher attendance and graduation rates, fewer drop-outs, equal or better levels of academic achievement (standardized test scores, course failure rates, grade point averages), higher levels of extra-curricular participation and parent involvement, and fewer incidences of discipline and violence. The summary of research below includes data and information from this body of research, highlighting several studies for each type of measure. These studies include results from research conducted in Chicago, as well as nationally. For detailed information on these studies, please refer to the list of references included at the end of the summary.

Bbeanster's picture

I agree that small schools

I agree that small schools are better, in most situations, although Randy makes good points about the availbility of enriched curriculum in bigger schools.

But the days of neighborhood schools are pretty much over unless we have a revolution, and we have a bunch of harsh economic realities to live with, as well as thorny issues created in the aftermath of a plan implemented a decade and a half ago to get the city out from under a longstanding court-ordered desegregation plan. And, lest I forget, all of this was exacerbated by sthe county taking over dilapidated schools left over from the neglectful management of the old city system.
Centralizing and consolidating the schools seemed to be the least hurtful solution, but it did leave a bunch of neighborhoods bereft.
But I stand by my contention that your neighbors -- and mine -- are not going to embrace Rule High School. (And it was this contention that caused you to call me out in a most personal way, Doug, so don't whine about my response.) They certainly don't seem to have embraced Austin-East, even with its magnet component.
One of the problems in the revitalization of North Knoxville is the perception of these schools and the fact that the bright, relatively affluent, socially-aware parents who have moved into these neighborhoods have not, by and large, chosen to get involved in our area schools. It's a huge issue -- one that I faced in the '80s, one that doesn't seem to have been solved over time. Realtors still warn home-buyers away from Christenberry and Whittle Springs and Fulton, and parents with the financial means to send their children elsewhere still opt their children out of those schools. Change that, and you'll go a long way toward fixing the schools.
That being said, I do understand wanting the best for your kids, and trying to give them all you can provide,

**Added on edit: I don't know if Knox County will ever build a new urban high school. I'd love to see that, but it depends on demand, I guess. (see above)

Rachel's picture

One of the problems in the

One of the problems in the revitalization of North Knoxville is the perception of these schools and the fact that the bright, relatively affluent, socially-aware parents who have moved into these neighborhoods have not, by and large, chosen to get involved in our area schools. It's a huge issue -- one that I faced in the '80s, one that doesn't seem to have been solved over time.

It's an issue for us over here in south Knoxville as well.

R. Neal's picture

I went to South High. I

I went to South High. I doubt it was more than 500-600 students. We had a football field, a gym, a band, metal shop, wood shop, plastic shop, the works.

Then I went to Doyle. It was about 1200 students. We had a bigger football field, a bigger gym, a bigger band, and even more of the works (separate band building with rehearsal rooms, AV lab, auto garage/body shop, machine shops, all the other shops, fully equipped art department, you name it, and no portable classrooms except one they put out on an extra (!) parking lot for a drivers ed classroom with simulators and cars and the whole nine yards).

Meanwhile there was Young High, about the size of South.

All three were in South Knox. Now only Doyle remains.

How come you could do it back then, and not now?

CathyMcCaughan's picture

tracking (sorry, off topic)

I have five children. We run the spectrum from special ed to gifted in our family. My daughter who was ineligible for gifted in elementary, took AP classes in middle and is signed up for them in high school next year. My middle child has been in gifted through elementary and was a finalist in the school spelling bee for the past three years, but we aren't signing him up for any AP classes at the middle school next year.

Test scores and grades get you into AP classes. Grades keep you in them. You request a special diploma your Junior year.

R. Neal's picture

Randy makes good points

Randy makes good points about the availbility of enriched curriculum in bigger schools.

Actually, my point was in response to PT saying bigger is better, and that Doyle, with only 1200 enrollment, had all the great stuff that a Farragut with, what, 2500? says they have to have to offer same, and that even a school with 500-600 enrollment could have a football stadium, band, etc.

But yes, Doyle definitely had better facilities and more opportunities than South, but I'm not sure I'd want to go to a school any bigger than Doyle.

Bbeanster's picture

I thought you were comparing

I thought you were comparing Doyle to South --
Doyle was a pretty big school, back in the day.

R. Neal's picture

Yes, back in the day maybe

Yes, back in the day maybe the biggest, and I think the first county "comprehensive" vo-tech (Fulton was maybe the first, but in the city?).

But it was middling by today's standards. (Bearden may have been close, don't recall, but I do recall they kept kicking butts around town in football and whatnot.)

Sandra Clark's picture

University High

Knox County almost built a great urban high school near UT in the late 1980s, but it was killed by neighborhood groups from Fulton and East Knoxville who ranted enough to give county commissioners from the 'burbs the excuse they needed not to spend money on inner city kids. What a loss. -- s.

Pamela Treacy's picture

Betty hits the mark. The

Betty hits the mark. The reality is that there is not enough support or money to build small schools. So we have to figure out a way to make the best with what we have. We can keep kids together for four years in smaller groups.

Regarding smaller schools still being able to have bands, football etc.: I don't know how long ago you graduated but those programs take alot of dollars to fund. My son plays football and we have had to donate almost $500 to keep the facility maintained and equipment purchased. If we didn't have a large team, it would be even more per child.

With respect to band, ask an band director if it is better and more challenging experience to be in a 50 member band vs. a 200 member band.

I hope you will all attend the next Education Summitt. I believe it is planned for the fall.

djuggler's picture

small and big

What about a compromise? We keep the large schools for all they provide. We build small core-curriculum schools taking advantage of existing infrastructures (closed strip malls, etc.). Students are scheduled 3 days a week at the core-curriculum "small schools" and two days a week at the "large school" for specialty classes like wildlife management, gym, band, computers, etc.

rocketsquirrel's picture


To build on djuggler's idea...

we design more, smaller satellite schools with classrooms, an office, a decent PE playground,and a gym. Make sure they have Wi-fi and a laptop for every kid. That’s it. Get rid of half of the KCS administrators downtown. Increase the budget for mentoring disadvantaged kids and implement a truly-effective social purpose enterprise like"

Then build several hub sports/auditorium complexes throughout Knox County that are shared by multiple schools. Schedule football/basketball games on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. Make sure the hub facilities are on bus lines, and also have other after-school programs. Make the hubs one of the first bus stops for kids to go to after school. Run limited bus routes from the hubs around 5:30-6 pm for kids who need to get home to working Moms and Dads.

update: another note on College Summit: College Summit doesn't just target the highest achievers...its mission is to to support all students in making the transition to higher education--not just those with a GPA of 3.6 or above. They do it by building relationships within the community, preparing the students indvidually, and by working with colleges so that they will consider receiving the applications from even the most disadvantaged among us, not just our top perfomers.

Bbeanster's picture

I know Pat Summitt's been on

I know Pat Summitt's been on our minds lately, and she is a national treasure.

But unless these meetings are named for her, they're probaby Summits, not Summitts.

lovable liberal's picture

High school size and curriculum richness

I went to Doyle in the same era as our esteemed host. I recall it as pretty middling - no AP classes, no calculus (unless there was a student teacher), Bio II a joke (and no evolution anywhere, hell no), limited history offerings, French III and Spanish III together, and almost no college counseling for any school further away than ETSU. English did try to diversify; it had four years of required courses to fill. Music was very good, though unfortunately no benefit to me.

Doyle was big enough to offer these things, and many schools of the same size do nowadays, but in the 70s Doyle didn't.

It's also true that many high schools with under a thousand students can offer a rich curriculum without breaking the bank. This is true because the variable that matters is class size. Once you have 25 kids who want to take an AP class, it doesn't cost much if any more than teaching 25 kids something less advanced.

Furthermore, in a system the size of the Knox Co. Schools, there are lots of opportunities to do distance learning over the internet so that you can (with some scheduling headaches) make a full-sized and thus economical class out of two kids per school. And then you don't have to move the kids, only the bits.

Liberty and justice for all.

Knox Insider 007's picture


check the website. It is not Summits or Summitts, as you suggest. It is A read of the post from rocketsquirrel just prior to the post you left will reveal the real answer.

bizgrrl's picture

I went to Doyle in the same

I went to Doyle in the same era as our esteemed host. I recall it as pretty middling - no AP classes, no calculus (unless there was a student teacher), Bio II a joke (and no evolution anywhere, hell no), limited history offerings, French III and Spanish III together, and almost no college counseling for any school further away than ETSU.

Gosh, LL, you paid way to much attention to learning. You may be right about Doyle, I barely remember what was offered, but then I did major in music.

They offered Latin at Doyle. I know that. They also offered an English class focused on Shakespeare, which I dropped out of after one day. Trigonometry was available. And evolution? Who was even thinking about it? There was a war on ya know. I am pretty sure they offered Bible as a class :).

I also know with all the easy courses I took at Doyle I was admitted to UT with no problem immediately after graduation. You wanted college counseling?!?! I suppose it is a good thing there are some out there such as yourself that think past the moment. Otherwise who would go to Harvard and Yale or U of Chicago or Duke or Berkeley? Hope you got into the school of your choice!

lovable liberal's picture

Hey, bizgrrl

I do remember that Mrs. Tucker taught both Bible and French/Spanish III. I shouldn't complain. Without the mixed language class, I probably never would have dated a certain girl.

Did Mrs. Tucker offer Latin, too? If so, it must have been after I left or maybe before. Of course, I wouldn't have taken Latin. That traditionalist fad hasn't convinced me it's useful; if you want the cognates, take a Romance language, and then you'll be able to speak with someone outside of a few renegade Latin Mass Catholics.

I guess I was looking for the guidance office to have wider horizons.

And, yes, I paid too much attention to learning, but I managed to have some fun along the way, too.

Liberty and justice for all.

Rachel's picture

I came up to Knoxville from

I came up to Knoxville from middle Tennessee the summer of '68 to stay with my cousins and take chemistry in summer school because my high school had an absolutely crappy chemistry teacher.

Went to Doyle and took the class from Mr. Busse (I think that's the way you spell it). He was a good teacher; I learned a hell of a lot.

Former Knox County Commissioner Phil Ballard was in the class. I saw him recently for the first time since then. It was pretty strange.

R. Neal's picture

As I recall, Mildred Doyle's

As I recall, Mildred Doyle's sister was the guidance counselor at Doyle High. She straightened me right out in a couple of short sessions with regard to dressing up my report card if I ever wanted to get into college.

bizgrrl's picture

At the time we attended

At the time we attended Doyle the Spanish (Ms. Preston, I believe) and French (can't remember her name even though I took a class from her) teachers were not the same person. I don't know who taught Latin. The one person I knew who took Latin was planning on a future in the medical field.

djuggler's picture

Internet Learning is possible

Lovable Liberal mentions "in a system the size of the Knox Co. Schools, there are lots of opportunities to do distance learning over the internet"

Of course, if you say "Internet" and "public school" in the same sentence, someone is going to scream "not everyone has high speed Internet access." But the no Internet and no computer issue can be addressed in a variety of ways.

All that aside, Lovable Liberal makes an interesting point. What if one day a week, students who had Internet Access (and parents at home), did home based learning through an online system. Knox County already employs a system called Plato Labs which is accessible over the Internet for homebound students to get course credit. Plato Labs may be specific to specials needs..I'm not sure. IF the logistics could be worked out, and video courses or courses over cable (like at college), could be provided, conceptually, you could reduce the school population by 20%.

I'm not really proposing such a thing. The logistics would be nightmarish. BUT! It is worth noting because our children's future will be more and more virtual and online. Already colleges publish courses for anyone online. In the next 5-15 years fewer people will commute to work and more will telecommute (the US Patent Office encourages telecommuting). Virutal environments akin to World of Warcraft will become the meeting rooms of the future. It is not unreasonable to begin planning for more virtual education systems where classes are provided online and parents help guide the students through the classes.

Tamara Shepherd's picture

Technology as community busters

Personally, I fear that the increased incidence of distance learning methods will do to school communities what the automatic garage door opener has done to neighborhood communities!

For the present, distance learning is available primarily as a supplemental teaching method (and Plato is delivered to students requiring catch-up instruction). I'd like to see these methods utilized at just a minimal level, to achieve just the same purposes for which they presently serve.

Surely healthy human interaction skills will remain required learning, on into the future?

bizgrrl's picture

Of course, if you say

Of course, if you say "Internet" and "public school" in the same sentence, someone is going to scream "not everyone has high speed Internet access." But the no Internet and no computer issue can be addressed in a variety of ways.

It could also be addressed by initiating the "Internet" learning from the school, not the home. Then all would have access.

CathyMcCaughan's picture

full-service schools (off-topic)

"A full-service school, where highly trained teachers, committed parents, and invested community partners combine academic, social, emotional, and health services to minimize the obstacles that keep students from achieving challenging academic standards" could have services like a computer lab that is available to families and community members outside of school hours.

bill young's picture


In the spring of 1970 I was a sophmore going to Athens High School in Athens,Ga.

In April,to comply with the desegregation plan,the school board closed the black high school,Burney-Harris, & those students would go to,what had been a predominantly white school,Athens High,in the fall of 1970.

Many were proud of Burney-Harris & a protest march was organized.

A.P.,May;1970;Athens,Ga."police used tear gas & arrested some 75 persons,mostly black, as they broke up a protest march & some 200 National Guardsmen moved in to keep the peace."

When I went to school the next day the troops,in riot gear & with riot guns,walked the halls & surrounded the school.

The UGA campus also exploded in protest because of Kent State/Cambodia & the ROTC Building was bombed.

In the fall of '70 the school was renamed Clarke Central & was about 50% white/black.If a big fight didn't break out;It was a good day.
After the football team lost a game to knock them out of the play-offs @ practice the next week a brawl broke out.

This may not have anything to do with whats happening now.But It's what happened to me & few thousand other kids,in 1970.

bizgrrl's picture

Taking this thread a little

Taking this thread a little further off topic...

Georgia is still slow in accepting diversity. Turner County High (Georgia) is planning their first ever integrated prom.

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