BY SARAH R. GREGORY
Students, teachers, alumni, parents, administrators and other supporters marked Highland Elementary School's 80th anniversary Friday afternoon.
A special celebration, held in the school's gymnasium, included history about the school, a proclamation from the Tennessee General Assembly, songs, inspiring words and refreshments Friday afternoon.
In honor of the occasion, Greeneville Schools In Action (GSIA), the Greeneville City School System's parent/teacher organization, provided special matching green t-shirts for all Highland students and teachers.
The celebration started with a welcome from Principal Brenda Ottinger, who thanked guests for their attendance, and introduced two students, Bryce Foshee and Christian Johnson.
Foshee and Johnson then shared some information about the history of Highland Elementary School, which is Greeneville's oldest elementary school still in operation.
It was founded as a first-through-third grade school in 1933 in a private residence at 205 Highland Avenue.
In 1939, the school grew to four rooms in a renovated home at 208 Highland Ave.
In 1953, the school hired its first full-time principal, and construction of a new school was completed in 1959.
The building was expanded in 1959, and by 1973, the school reached enrollment of more than 300 students.
In 1996, the school adopted the year-round calendar, on which it remained until fall 2012.
In the last year, Greeneville City Schools has invested in the Highland Elementary School building, renovating bathrooms and supplying new carpet and paint, along with other improvements.
The school's academic growth and achievement scores hit their highest yet in the State Department of Education's recently released Report Card, with B's in achievement and A's in growth for all subject areas.
As the program Friday continued, students Ashlyn Tipton and Debbie Cutshall recognized a number of special guests in the audience -- including GSIA members, school system administration, Highland Elementary alumni and others.
Highland's principals -- Louise Donaldson, Roy Reynolds, A.C. Duggins, Louise C. "Chuck" Chamberlain, Terry Sams, Dr. Brenda Thompson Gulledge, Larry Neas and Brenda Ottinger -- were recognized.
Highland alumna Mauriel Rodriguez, who works for Greeneville City Schools in Hal Henard Elementary's Extended School Program (ESP), was the special guest speaker.
Rodriguez, born in Germany and soon to study at the University of Syracuse seeking a Master of Arts in Art Education, urged the students to never give up on their dreams.
She said she was excited to be in the school to "celebrate 80 years of Highland's awesomeness," and told the audience that the school was where she "learned to love learning."
After Rodriguez' remarks, state Representative David Hawk, R-5th, of Greeneville, presented a proclamation from the Tennessee General Assembly recognizing Highland's 80 years of service in education to Greeneville students.
Kindergarten students then performed a special "Happy Birthday" song, and first-through-fifth-grade students delighted guests with a special preview of a humorous song from their upcoming Christmas play, "Crazy Christmas."
The celebration concluded with birthday cake and other light refreshments and tours of the school, hosted by fifth-graders.