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Grants To Aid Merger of Chattanooga, County Districts

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Grants totaling an estimated $7.5 million will help pay for a planned merger of two Tennessee school districts and reform measures for the combined system.

The Annenberg Foundation announced last week that it will give a five-year, $2.5 million grant to the Chattanooga Public Education Foundation to support a new school system to be created from the Chattanooga and Hamilton County school districts.

The Annenberg money will be matched with a $2.5 million gift from the Chattanooga-based Lyndhurst Foundation, and an additional $2.5 million is expected to be raised by the community.

Last fall, residents of Chattanooga voted to dissolve its 20,100-student school system and merge it by 1997 with the neighboring Hamilton County schools, which serve 24,000 students. (See Education Week, 11/16/94.)

But community leaders say they hope to accomplish more in the consolidation than just creating a new district.

They say they are aiming to build a system that will incorporate reforms to best serve both city and county children.

Starting From Scratch

The $2.5 million from the Annenberg Foundation is the latest contribution to be announced in the "Annenberg Challenge"--started in December 1993 when the retired publisher Walter H. Annenberg pledged to give $500 million over five years to support reforms in public education.

The gift to the medium-sized Chattanooga metropolitan area, which has a population of 280,000, is not a part of Mr. Annenberg's initiative for large urban areas.

To date school systems in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and the San Francisco Bay area have received grants ranging from $25 million to $53 million as a part of this pledge.

Nor is it a part of a planned Annenberg initiative for rural areas, an effort the Lyndhurst Foundation is helping coordinate in the Southeast. (See Education Week, 12/14/94.)

But like the urban grants that have been announced, the Chattanooga grant will be used to support networks of schools.

The grant also will support efforts in Chattanooga to incorporate the strategies of ongoing reform efforts. Among other approaches, those strategies emphasize an untracked curriculum that relies more heavily on original works and student-generated research than on textbooks, teaching practices that emphasize the Socratic method and active learning, high academic standards, and parental involvement in school-level decisionmaking.

"We're really starting from scratch," said Steven Prigohzy, the president of the Chattanooga Public Education Foundation. "We're going to have a new school board, a new set of standards, new benchmarks."

"I have never seen in my 10 years here," he added, "this level of excitement or engagement when it comes to something in public policy."

The local matching money may come entirely from foundations and corporations, or some funds may be contributed by local government. "There is great interest by the private sector in contributing to this," Mr. Prigohzy said.

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