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published on 10/01/2006

The Signal Mountain School Academics


The Signal Mountain School; what kind of academies will we have?

When Signal Mountain’s new high school opens its doors in August, 2008, it may not look anything like the schools that most of us attended. Sure, the classrooms, the cafeteria and the gym will be there, but the curriculum may not be familiar to any of us.

High schools across Hamilton County have adopted the “academy” concept - part of an effort by educators across the country to make high school more relevant to 21st century employers, and to better prepare students for college study.

For example, in East Ridge, John goes to the Construction Academy. He wants to become a home builder. Jill attends the Engineering Academy in Ooltewah. She’d like to work in the energy industry. Mary Ann is a student in the Health Careers Academy at Red Bank and wants to become a pediatrician.

Academies, or small learning communities, are part of a larger overhaul of high schools which got underway in the Chattanooga area five years ago. High school reform will no doubt affect the middle/high school planned for Signal Mountain. But what kind of school does our community want? What kinds of academies will suit our community? These are some of the questions we should consider over the next months and years as plans for our school get underway.

Academies usually enroll between 100-200 students from grades 9 through 12 who take all the required college prep courses, but with a focus on a particular area of study. They have a connection to the community. Some Hamilton County schools house just one or two academies, while others, such as Red Bank or Brainerd High School already have four or five. The themes range from distinctly technical to the advanced sciences and the liberal arts. Every Hamilton County high school already has a separate academy for ninth graders. And students are not required to be part of an academy, except as freshmen.

High school reform and academies are already showing positive results, according to Chattanooga’s Public Education Foundation. Fewer students are dropping out, more students are taking college entrance exams and business and community leaders are getting involved in schools.

Some observers have suggested a law academy at the Signal Mountain school might be successful. Others say a financial services academy would work. County Commissioner Richard Casavant says he favors an academy for students taking the International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma. The IB is an intensive academic program that is gaining popularity across the United States and around the world for its high standards and international perspective.

The education department’s associate superintendant agrees: “It may not be for everyone, but I think an IB academy would thrive on Signal Mountain,” says Sheila Young.

The next step in establishing the new school is to hire a principal, Young says. That is expected by next spring. Young says whoever is selected will be key in helping the community figure out what sort of academies it wants.

To find out more about academies or the International Baccalaureate go to www.Founders

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