Action Group Hears
Key Topics, Trends
BY SARAH GREGORY
Protecting children and meeting some looming facility needs were among key topics discussed Wednesday at the first meeting of the Vision 20/20 Action Group on the topic of "Keeping Greeneville's Educational System at the Forefront."
The meeting, at the Greeneville City School System's Kathryn W. Leonard Administrative Offices, included a lengthy, informal discussion covering a broad range of subjects related to the school system.
Dr. Linda Stroud, director of schools for the Greeneville City School System, facilitated the session, which included input from 18 individuals.
Participants included school system and Town administrators, educators, and concerned citizens.
2 'STRATEGIES' IDENTIFIED
The goal of "Keeping Greeneville's Educational System at the Forefront," set by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, is part of the Town's Vision 20/20 project: the official effort to help Greeneville realize its full potential by the year 2020.
Vision 20/20 has five broad goals, including the one related to local education.
To accomplish the long-term goal in the area of education, the Town has identified two strategies:
* securing a long-range facilities plan to include funding options, and
* identifying industry needs for technical workforce skills -- working with Walters State Community College, Tusculum College and the Greene Technology Center to meet industry needs.
"Greeneville City Schools is very, very aware of strategic planning," noted Stroud at the discussion's start.
"All school districts, under the law, are required to have a five-year plan."
The school system's newest five-year plan will be presented to -- and likely approved by -- the Greeneville City Board of Education during their meeting tonight at Greene Technology Center.
There are five overall goals outlined as part of the five-year plan:
* "Provide Excellence in Programs,"
* "Provide World-Class Educators,"
* "Provide a State-of-the-Art Learning Environment,"
* "Demonstrate Fiscal Stability, Responsibility and Accountability," and
* "Cultivate Family and Community Engagement."
One topic discussed by the group concerned enrollment figures and trends within the Greeneville school system.
The school system currently has 2,847 students. Of that number, 627 who live outside of Greeneville city limits but pay a fee (tuition) to attend city schools.
Stroud noted that enrollment figures for Highland Elementary School are trending up, while EastView, Tusculum View, and Hal Henard Elementary schools are full. Greeneville Middle School is also considered at capacity.
"The area of concern for us is the capacity, the classroom teacher/student ratio number under law, and facility needs at our elementary schools," Stroud said.
TUITION STUDENTS' IMPACT
When asked by George Blanks, a Greeneville citizen, about the financial impact of tuition students on the school system, Stroud replied, "It's huge."
She continued, "it also has an impact on our achievement levels.
"Typically, these are students who are very good students and who are very dedicated students who come from families with a real interest in the education of their children."
"It's kind of interesting," Stroud added. "The tuition number of 627 is slightly lower than this time last year, by about 30 students.
"We've seen students who have moved into the city -- they were previously living in the county, paying tuition, and their families have moved into the city.
"We've also had some students who have moved out of state because of the economy and [the fact that parents are] looking for work.
"And we've had some students from families who can simply no longer afford tuition, and have gone back to their home district school," she said.
"So that's about 30 less [tuition students enrolled this year].
"But the total enrollment at 2,847 is about 30 students higher than this time last year. So that's a swing of about 60 students.
"That tells me that we're seeing a trending of people moving into the city limits of Greeneville," Stroud concluded.
NEW MIDDLE SCHOOL?
When Blanks asked about facility needs for the school system, Stroud replied, "In short, the truth of the matter is, we need a new middle school."
"Our current middle school in that plan -- and what's best for our students -- would become a grades four and five intermediate school.
"That would remove grades four and five from our existing elementaries," she added.
"It would be Pre-K through grade three in the elementaries, and intermediate grades four and five at the existing Greeneville Middle [school], and a comprehensive middle school [for] grades six through eight."
She added, "That's nothing new or nothing most of the people who are interested in that kind of thing concerning the school system have not heard many times before over a period of time.
"That continues to be our long-term goal. We've talked about it. It's just, with the economy, it's not been a possibility."
PLAN OF ACTION?
Town Administrator Todd Smith asked Stroud for further details about the process and plan of action needed for a new middle school.
"Have we done an assessment of where a potential middle school could go," he asked.
"Do we have a plan of where it should go, when it should be built, funding, how much it's going to cost, how we're going to pay for it?
"In five years, what's the middle school situation going to look like? How do we get there," Smith questioned.
"The first step is to secure the land," Stroud replied.
"That would have to be worked out between the school system and the Town," she added.
The next steps would be to determine the timeline of funding and how that would work with the Town, as well as determining if there is sufficient support to move forward with the project.
After those steps were completed, it would then be the task of the Board of Education to hire architectural and construction firms, then build the school.
"Sounds simple," Mayor W.T. Daniels quipped, eliciting laughter from administration officials.
"That's the whole issue," Stroud remarked.
"The plan has been there, and has been there, for several years," she continued.
"Are the architectural drawings in place? No. Because we've never gotten to the place where really, feasibly, together collectively as a community -- the school system and the Town -- we've all seen what happened to the economy in 2008, and we've not been able to move forward," she added.
The group also discussed security concerns the City School System faces.
Beverly Miller, the city system's assistant director of schools for administration, outlined some safety and security concerns that are on the system's list of needed improvements.
The Greeneville School System has placed a priority on capital projects that are specifically related to enhanced safety and security, it was explained.
"It's really shifting a lot of funds," Miller said.
"I will go before the board Thursday [tonight] and ask for funds we really hadn't planned for, but we've had a problem with people gaining access to the roof at Greeneville High School," Miller added.
"That's a real security issue for us. That's a significant investment that we hadn't really planned on, but we feel is necessary and appropriate."
Other security concerns the city system faces include the need for new entry doors for Highland and EastView elementary schools and a more secure rear entrance to Greeneville High School.
Miller also noted the need for upgraded locks for many classroom doors.
"There are classroom doors that can only be locked by a teacher by going outside the classroom and physically using a key," she said.
Specialty locks which solve that problem cost between $250 and $500 per door to retrofit, she said, noting, "That is an extensive project."
When asked by Lois Blanks, a Greeneville resident and a retired teacher, about enhanced security measures placing Greeneville police officers in each of the city schools, Stroud replied, "It's not the single answer. It's not a guarantee.
"We know full well," she continued, "that if someone with that level of evil intent in their heart, who is willing to die in the next 15 minutes, wants to enter one of our schools, that police officer may or may not be able to stop them immediately."
But Stroud pointed to the shorter response time of an officer already in the school vicinity as a key factor in a situation where there is an active shooter at the school.
"The difference in the number of lives lost is the response time of the person with equal force to the shooter," Stroud noted. "Without that, your children have no defense."
Stroud said that in Newtown, Conn., where 20 students and six adults were killed in December by a mentally unbalanced young man, the school "had locked front doors."
"It had a safety buzzer system with cameras. Adam Lanza [the shooter] didn't care about that. He shot through the glass door and accessed the school. He didn't hit a buzzer and ask if he could come in."
'PROTECT THE CHILDREN'
Stroud emphasized her position that only trained, certified police officers be armed to protect school grounds.
"As the person who has the responsibility of going to sleep every night thinking about this, I don't think there's a choice," she said.
"There's a lot of discussion going on, but I don't have the luxury of waiting until there are more mental health services and locks put on doors and laws changed and funding provided," she continued.
"My responsibility is to protect the children of Greeneville City Schools today.
"To me, [having a trained, armed police officer in each of the six city schools] was the most effective, reasonable, and prudent decision to make," she added.
"It's not a plan we haven't already been doing for a number of years," noted Greeneville Mayor Daniels.
"We've had a resource officer for the past five or six years or longer [at Greeneville High School] and another officer on a rotating basis that visits the other facilities," Daniels said.
"We're hoping that Representative Hawk [State Rep. David Hawk, R-5th, of Greeneville,] will present legislation for state funding, but we took that position that we're going to be pro-active," Daniels added.
It was noted in discussion that the legislation which Hawk is predicted to propose would likely require that there be a School Resource Officer (SRO) at every school, funded by the state.
Specifics of that proposed legislation, however, have not been outlined.
Moreover, it remains unclear whether or not such legislation would have enough support in the Tennessee General Assembly to win approval.
"Whether it would get out of committee and then have enough support in the [state] House and Senate to pass, I have no idea," Stroud said.
OTHER TOPICS DISCUSSED
The group also touched on several other topics during the discussion, including adult education opportunities currently being offered, the potential for partnerships with non-profit organizations to provide service-learning opportunities, and partnerships with Walters State Community College and Tusculum College to provide additional learning opportunities.
Also mentioned was a newly initiated goal by the Greeneville City Schools Education Foundation to raise $750,000 to provide students with additional technology.