The partnership between
Public Education Foundation, headed by Steven H. Prigohzy, and
the consolidated public schools in Chattanooga and Hamilton County, Tennessee
So, how have all those great plans for improving education worked out?
In 1994 Chattanooga city voters voted to turn responsibility for education
over to the county, requiring the two systems to merge. At the request
of the Hamilton County School Board, PEF surveyed 3,300 area residents
and convened 135 community members – educators, civic and government
leaders, residents, parents and students – to help shape the vision
for the new school system. When the newly consolidated system emerged
in 1997, the partnership with PEF continued.
Interestingly, Prigohzy is no longer listed as board or staff with PEF.
Maybe we should ask them why….
In the years 2005 – 2010, Hamilton County Public Schools will meet or
exceed national benchmarks for excellence with continuous, measurable
improvement in reading, mathematics, and in the numbers of students who
progress smoothly from grade to grade, graduate from high school and go
on to college or career-path jobs. Because of this sustained progress,
Hamilton County will be recognized among the very best mid-sized public
school systems in America. The community will be justifiably proud
and more and more people will understand and support the investment
necessary for great public schools. The Public Education Foundation
will be instrumental in these achievements as a champion of school
transformation and will devote its expertise and fundraising capabilities
to the Hamilton County Public Schools as a catalyst for bold ideas that
create real and positive change.
A month after the election, the board voted to ask the Public Education
Foundation to help frame the new system. The move was partly on the
advice of educators in Knoxville, who faced a raft of problems after
consolidating rapidly with Knox County eight years ago.
The foundation, one of the wealthiest local education foundations in
the country, has worked closely with educators in both the city and
county. Its president, Steven H. Prigohzy, is a dynamo with a clear
vision of where he’d like to take education in the new system.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a county
After reading Barbara Stratton’s piece about
Steve Prigohzy screening a movie about magnet schools,
I wondered, who is this Steve Prigohzy, anyway?
CUEE never showed us his resume, as near as I can tell,
and they’re a private organization, so they don’t have to.
But his tracks are all over the Internet.
With the board’s approval and support from the Lyndhurst Foundation,
a committee outlined the necessary steps to develop a Paideia school
for Chattanooga students. First, the group hired Steve Prigohzy as the
school’s planner, promoter, and educational leader. Prigohzy looked for
teachers who were lifelong learners themselves. “I would ask teachers
to talk to me about a book they were reading that I shouldn’t miss. I
wanted people who were acting out their curiosity about the world,” he
said. Prigohzy also sought teachers whose appreciation for discourse would
sustain the school as a community of learners. Limited public confidence,
especially in the city’s middle schools, influenced the planning.
CUEE still doesn’t have a plan for improving education.
When asked for any concrete examples of education improving
because of school consolidation, not one person could come up
with one: not CUEE, not the Chamber, not their invited experts.
Their invited experts established that consolidation in Troup County
not only didn’t save money, it required a bond issue.
And it took four or five years of the hardest work they’d ever done,
even though they couldn’t give any evidence that it improved education.
It was like that on almost every point: the Chamber and CUEE either
couldn’t answer the simplest questions, or even more frequently
demolished their own case.
The last question asked to give an example of any company that
had declined to come in because of multiple school systems.
Not only could nobody give an example, but someone, I believe it was
Walter Hobgood, stood up at the podium and said when he was working
for a large company he had never encountered a case where they looked
at the number of school systems.
Lanier County gained more than 30% in children under 18.
Lanier looks like the exurbs around Atlanta, except it’s even more striking.
Also visible on the map is Hamilton, County, Tennessee, home of Chattanooga,
CUEE’s favorite example of school unification:
Hamilton County showed a loss of children while just across the state line
Catoosa County, Georgia gained 15-30%.
If school unification doesn’t cause bright flight, it doesn’t seem to
Because families with children tend to live near each other,
is an increasingly patchy landscape of communities teeming with kids,
and others with very few.
Even in counties where the percentage of children grew, only 49 gained
more than 1 percentage point — many of them suburbs on the outer edge
of metropolitan areas such as Forsyth, Whitfield and Newton outside
Atlanta and Cabarrus and Union outside Charlotte.