Focus on Early Post-Secondary Options Shows Early Improvement
Posted on 06/26/2019
Hailey Fookes, a 2019 graduate of Signal Mountain High SchoolThe five-year strategic plan Future Ready 2023 adopted last year focused improvement on more students taking early post-secondary options and that effort is showing early results as 916 more students enrolled in one of the advanced academic courses last school year. During the 2017-2018 school year, 1,951 students enrolled in an early college course. For the 2018-2019 school year, that number increased to 2,867 students getting an early start on college. These numbers represent the students taking advantage of the courses available to them. Many of those students are taking more than one course, so the total number of courses taken is even higher. Over 5,000 early post-secondary option classes were taken by high school students across the district during the 2018-2019 school year.

An early post-secondary option could be an Advanced Placement (AP) course, dual enrollment course, International Baccalaureate (IB), or a student earning an industry certification or credential. The advanced courses earn early college credit for students to provide graduates a head-start on post-secondary education. Studies show that students who take early post-secondary options are more likely to enroll in a college or university and more likely to complete a degree program.

The proposed budget under consideration by the County Commission includes additional funding to guarantee every student in the district the ability to complete up to five early post-secondary opportunities while in high school at no cost to the student’s family. The availability will not only save money with college credit already earned while in high school but will also provide more opportunities for success for graduates as they will enter college better prepared. The focus on early post-secondary is a key part of the new Hamilton County Promise. The pledge to the community includes more technology to make sure each student in grades six through twelve has an electronic learning device. A full-time college and career advisor available in every high school is also part of the promise, along with making sure students are Future Ready with access to Future Ready Institutes in our high schools as well as internship programs like Gestamp, VW Akademie, and Polytech.

“We want to graduate teens prepared for success after high school and give them opportunities to map out a focus for their future with access to these programs,” said Dr. Bryan Johnson, superintendent of Hamilton County Schools. “A major priority of our strategic plan is to provide access to advanced courses, dual enrollment options, and industry certifications. Early post-secondary opportunities are also an area of investment in the proposed budget for next school year.”

The total number of students enrolled in Advanced Placement (AP) courses was 2,214 for 2018-2019. East Hamilton had the most students enrolled with 363, followed by Chattanooga High Center for Creative Arts with 320, The Howard School, 317; Ooltewah High, 161; East Ridge, 154; and Signal Mountain High, 143.

The number of students taking courses in high schools across the district shows success in getting students to enroll in the advanced courses but indicates more opportunities are needed. Red Bank High had only five AP classes available for students last year, Signal Mountain High, two; Tyner Academy, two; Central High had three, and Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences had only AP Computer Science Principles. East Hamilton High had the most classes available with 11.

Students enrolled in dual enrollment classes were also up last school year. With the school’s unique arrangement on the campus of Chattanooga State Community College, Hamilton County Collegiate High at Chattanooga State had the highest numbers of dual enrollment courses taken with 382 of the district’s 1,673 enrollments in a dual enrollment class. Soddy Daisy had a high number of students enrolled in dual enrollment classes with 351, Chattanooga High Center for Creative Arts, 183; Sale Creek, 172; East Hamilton High, 166; and Ooltewah High, 134.

Signal Mountain High and Ooltewah High led the district in International Baccalaureate (IB) courses. Signal Mountain had 800 enrolled in an IB class last year. Ooltewah High had a total enrollment of 320 in IB courses. Jonathan Cawthon, a 2019 graduate of Ooltewah High, received the ECCE Quam Bonum Scholarship from Sewanee. Cawthon was selected due to his participation in a high-level curriculum like International Baccalaureate.

Hailey Fookes, a 2019 graduate of Signal Mountain High School, has benefited from advanced courses and will be on her way to Mississippi State soon where she plans to major in education. She would like to teach high school math. “At first I thought about engineering because I was worried that a teacher’s salary would not be worth the cost of college,” said Fookes. “One day, one of my favorite teachers shared that he decided to teach instead of becoming an engineer because he wanted to feel like he was making a more direct impact. From then on, I was determined to become a math teacher.”

Fookes will attend Mississippi State on a full scholarship that will take care of tuition, room, board, books, food, and it also provides a technology stipend. “I won’t have to worry about anything for the next four years,” said Fookes.

Additional opportunities to take advanced courses (AP) and earn college credit while in high school in dual enrollment classes are part of the budget plan for next school year now being considered by the Hamilton County Commission. The budget includes approximately $10 million in additional investment to provide more access to advanced courses, dual enrollment, improved technology, college and career advisors, digital fabrication labs, improved access to STEM, innovative learning programs, and industry certifications for students. The action area Future Ready Students in the Future Ready 2023 five-year action plan includes how the district will address better preparing graduates for success after high school. There is also a Focus Five performance target in the plan that includes additional AP and dual enrollment opportunities. The increased opportunity for teens to take advanced courses will allow more future graduates to walk across the stage with five or more advanced courses, dual enrollment classes, or industry certifications.

“Preparing graduates for success after high school is vital for the future of graduates, their families, and our community, and why it is important to improve access to advanced courses across the district,” added Dr. Bryan Johnson, superintendent of Hamilton County Schools.

Photo: Hailey Fookes, a 2019 graduate of Signal Mountain High School