BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
When it comes to the education of Greene County's students, County Board of Education Chairman Roger Jones is encouraging a newly-formed Long-Range Planning Committee to dream big.
The committee met for the first time on Tuesday afternoon to consider what topics will be vital for future discussion and consideration.
Jones organized the committee with the intent of developing material for what he said will later be a full board workshop and public hearings throughout the community.
Serving on the committee along with Jones are board members Tommy Cobble and Nathan Brown. However, Jones has encouraged all board members to attend as they are able to do so.
On Tuesday, board members Kathy Crawford, Deborah Johnson and Tommy Cobble were also present, along with Director of Schools Dr. Vicki Kirk and County Schools Transportation Director Clark Justis.
Three key areas for long-range planning emerged from Tuesday's meeting -- facilities, enrollment and programming.
Of these, Jones encouraged the committee to focus primarily on programming, which he defined as everything that is being taught and how it is being taught.
"Being a retired educator, the thing that I want to see more than anything on this committee is what we think the programming future is going to look like," Jones said.
"Then we can come back and look at the facilities and see how the programming is going to fit the facilities -- then how we can ... be able to afford that adjustment.
"If we adjust the programming, is there going to be a cost to that, or do we save anything by adjusting it?
"The programming is the most important thing we do."
Board member Nathan Brown also encouraged the committee to take a serious look at the future of technology in the county school system as a part of their look into programming.
As for enrollment, Dr. Kirk provided the committee with per-school enrollment figures and state-mandated class-size requirements, as well as the number of teachers in each grade level and an analysis by principals of whether each school could add a classroom if necessary.
The committee noted residential growth in Mosheim and the western end of the county, limited growth due to large farms in the northern part of the county, the mostly-already-full development of the southern part of the county, and the significant growth in the eastern part.
Jones requested that Kirk also provide historic enrollment data for the past 10 years in order to consider population changes and look to future growth.
Any planned annexation by the Town of Greeneville will also need to play into that discussion, Kirk added.
She also provided the committee with floor plans of every school except Chuckey-Doak High School. She explained that the system only has large floor plans that are currently being reduced in size for copying by W&W Engineering.
"Our facilities overall are in pretty decent shape," Jones said, highlighting safety improvements and maintenance as the top facility needs.
"Hopefully we'll have the safety part of it more and more in line," he added.
Kirk, however, expressed some concern for the situation at Chuckey-Doak Middle School.
There, she said, students are in an older building with crowded hallways and classrooms, as well as having two mobile homes being used for four additional classrooms.
'NEED TO DREAM'
This discussion prompted somewhat-joking comments among the board members that building a new middle school may in fact be dreaming too big.
"That's one of the things that a Long-Range Planning Committee needs to do, is to dream," Jones said.
"We've got to dream, and we've got to have some vision to sort of see where we want to go. Once we do that, then we have to start to try to work that plan," he added.
"Then we'll come back into reality of what we can do and what we can't do.
"If you don't dream, you'll never grow."
USE OF RESOURCES
Newly-elected board member Deborah Johnson encouraged the committee toward focusing on building programming in "creative" ways such as through distance learning.
This approach allows students to take courses through video conference technology and may feature a teacher from an entirely different school system offering the course.
"That's a good way to leverage your resources," Kirk agreed.
The director noted that the system also has a goal to increase Advanced Placement offerings, dual credit courses with Walters-State Community College, and Career and Technical Education courses.
"I think you have to look and see what we need in education moving forward to teach our kids," Brown said in considering the need to "dream" before tailoring programming to finances and facilities.
"It may be 'x' amount of dollars that we don't have, but until you put it out there and test the waters and see what the public feels about it and if they're behind it and if it's something that they want for their kids, then the money will come. If they don't, then it won't."
Jones agreed, but Johnson encouraged the committee to consider both methods and possibly also consider financing first.
"It's also very successful for some schools that have looked at their finances and then become very creative in how to fit it," she said.
"If we have an insight into, financially, how big could we ever get, knowing all of our debts and our bonds, and then working that way.
"I can see the value of both."
Jones praised the committee for its comments and scheduled the next meeting for 3:30 p.m. on Feb. 13.