For the family of Blaine Banther, honoring his life and memory means giving back to the community he called home.
Banther was 17 when he died from an accidental gunshot wound while cleaning his hunting rifle on July 8, 2017. A rising senior at South Greene High School who had plans to become a welder, Banther has been remembered for his faith, work ethic and compassion for others.
On Monday, his parents, Jen and BJ Gray, announced the launch of a new nonprofit foundation to support the programs they have been doing in his name. Announcement of the BHP Foundation — an acronym for Blaine, Hannah and Paisley, honoring Banther, his sister and niece — came on the two-year anniversary of his death.
The family’s community outreach began with a scholarship fund at SGHS in Banther’s name.
The first award went to Banther’s friend, Corey Bales, who studied to become a welder. The Blaine Banther Vocational Scholarship Fund has since helped four other county school students continue their education in trade school after high school graduation.
Each award grants a student $2,000 toward vocational school expenses. Banther’s mother, Jen Gray, said that the goal is to have one scholarship for each of the county high schools. Funds have been raised through donations as well as an annual truck rally, which also honors Banther’s love of trucks.
“I asked God for guidance and he made it clear we need to get up, get out, and give back,” Jen Gray said.
That is now the foundation’s motto: “Get up, get out, and give back.”
The family’s efforts to honor Banther through community outreach have evolved to include multiple programs benefitting students in Greene County Schools.
Jen Gray was a teacher full-time but began substitute teaching after her son’s death. “I found out where the needs were,” Gray said. She saw several and has addressed them through the creation of other programs, each funded through donations.
Through “Feed the Babies” the family is paying off overdue lunch balances. Gray said they aim to pay off all overdue balances as their foundation grows.
“Momma J’s Way” helps Tennessee Promise students get their required community service hours through projects geared toward cleaning up their school.
“We Will Ride Again” pays for bus transportation to athletic events, so that students do not have to drive themselves.
Gray said this is what God has asked her to do — and what Banther would want.
In addition to the five scholarships totaling $10,000, the family has given an additional $13,000 back to the county schools system.
The programs will all be part of the new BHP Foundation, which becomes fully official on Sept. 10, Banther’s birthday.
“I felt like something else should be born that day,” Gray said.
The emotional ceremony took place at Bachman-Bernard Chevrolet Cadillac Buick GMC.
The family originally intended to release biodegradable balloons without strings but changed plans to include a meaningful song and group prayer.
The family hopes to continue expanding the foundation and programs to help more students.
“Tennessee is our first stop and we have 49 others to make,” Jen Gray.
Donations can be made to the foundation through PayPal. To do so, log on to PayPal and under the “Send” button and search for email@example.com.
Voters in the 1st Ward have choices among candidates vying for the Greeneville City Board of Education in the upcoming Greeneville Municipal Election.
Three candidates seek two 1st Ward seats on the city school board: incumbents Craig Ogle and Josh Quillen, who was appointed to fill an unexpired term, and retired educator Pam Botta.
Election Day is Aug. 1. The early voting period begins Friday and continues through July 27 at the Election Commission office, 218 N. Main St. Hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8:30 a.m. to noon on Saturday. A photo ID is required to vote.
The three candidates recently responded to questions from The Greeneville Sun about their candidacies. Biographical information for each candidate and their responses to a series of questions follow.
Pamela Botta, 64, of 405 Hermitage Drive, is running for her first political office.
A career educator, she is currently an adjunct professor at Walters State Community College at both their Greeneville and Morristown campuses. In May 2016, she retired after a 20-year career teaching science to sixth-graders at Greeneville Middle School. While there, Botta served as science team leader, sixth-grade team leader, a member of the systemwide science team, a member of the GMS hospitality committee and chair of the legislative committee in the Greeneville Education Association. She was also honored to be a GMS Teacher of the Year and a systemwide Teacher of the Year for grades 5-8.
Earlier in her career, Botta taught at Mosheim Elementary, Sunnyside Elementary, and Doak Elementary schools in Greene County, as well as in elementary schools in New Jersey and Kentucky.
She is a 1972 graduate of Chuckey-Doak High School, attended Tennessee Technological University and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in home economics in 1975. She earned a Master of Arts in Teaching degree from East Tennessee State University in 1978.
She has been married to Angelo Botta for 42 years.
Craig Ogle, 56, of 92 Old Shiloh Circle, was first elected to the Greeneville Board of Education in 1999. He is currently chairman of the board.
Ogle is executive vice president and senior lender for Heritage Community Bank. He is been in banking since starting at Greene County Bank on his 16th birthday. He worked in banking for three years in Louisville, Kentucky, which is where he met his wife, Leslie. They have been married for 32 years.
The Ogles then returned to Greeneville to start a family. Ogle is a native of Greeneville, having attended Tusculum View Elementary School, Greeneville Middle School and Greeneville High School. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in agricultural business and a minor in finance from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.
As a school board member, he has achieved Tennessee School Boards Association Level V, the highest service level that can be obtained. He is also a member of the Greeneville Parking Authority. In addition, he is a member of the Greeneville City Schools Foundation Board of Trustees and a member of its Executive Committee; trustee of the Greeneville Lions Club and was a past president and treasurer of the organization; and a past treasurer of the Greeneville-Greene County Humane Society.
Joshua Quillen, 38, of 126 Watercress Drive, is seeking his first elected public office. He was appointed to the city school board earlier this year to fill the unexpired term of Brian Cook, who had to resign for military deployment for medical service in the Middle East. He has not served in any other public position except the school board.
Quillen is vice president at South State Contractors Inc. He has worked for South State since 1999.
Quillen has also worked as a football coach for Greeneville High and Greeneville Middle schools for a total of 16 years.
He is married to Holly Quillen, and they have two sons, Brady and Carson.
Why do you think you are qualified for this office?
Botta: I believe I am qualified for a seat on the Greeneville City School board because I am an educator to the core. My father, the late John W. Howe, was a 42-year educator in Greene County. Anyone who knows my dad will know where my passion for teaching came from. I have numerous family members with careers in education. My husband retired from the Greene County School System and two weeks later started teaching at Tusculum College, now University.
Being on the school board as an educator simply makes sense. When it comes to making decisions concerning our students, who better to do this than an educator who has worked in the schools? I loved every minute of teaching my students, and my heart is warmed when I see or hear from them. At Walters State, I am still able to interact with former students and new students. I hope to be a voice for all and to be able to share my new perspective to continue the enormous success Greeneville City Schools have achieved. My desire for children and education will be an asset in helping to serve these students, teachers, parents and all involved in a school setting. Whenever presented with a challenge, I work very hard to overcome it. If elected, I will do my very best to represent all stakeholders in the Greeneville City School system.
Ogle: Since I am a product of this community and our local city school system, I believe it makes me appreciate this position and understand how special this system is. In addition, serving as treasurer of the board for a number of years along with my current role as board chairman for the last seven years, has given me great insight in how our system runs and should be focused and directed for continued success.
I have benefited over the years by working side by side with such great former board members as Kay Leonard, Ray Smith, Dr. Mark Patterson and Mike Hollowell. I have personally worked with such great directors of schools as Dr. Ernest Martin, Dr. Lyle Ailshie, Dr. Linda Stroud and Dr. Jeff Moorhouse.
Quillen: I have worked around the schools for many years while coaching football. I have kids in the system, so I am very familiar with Greeneville City Schools. I graduated in 1999 from Greeneville High School. I feel like that I can bring a new perspective to the board because of my many years of business experience. I have spent my time on the board at the schools getting to know teachers, administrators, and staff. I wanted to hear what they had to say, and I wanted to take that information to help make me a better school board member for the Greeneville City Schools.
What is your vision for education in Greeneville?
Botta: The vision I have for education may be more student and teacher centered than my opponents. Students have been and should be first and foremost when policy and decisions are made by the Board. Teachers and staff should also be granted high regard when practices are put into place. The level of excellence in academics and programming should be maintained or increased. Greeneville City Schools should continue to be a statewide and national leader in innovation technology and a model for instructional excellence. I would like to see an improvement in the system’s state ranking in teacher pay since this has taken a dip in the last few years, especially regarding experienced teachers. Facility improvements for the elementary schools and GMS should continue to take place. Continuing and deepening the collaborative partnership between schools and homes should also be a vital part of this vision. Finally, making sure that the schools are safe and nurturing places where students can learn to their best potential is crucial.
Ogle: I want our school system to continue to be a model for excellence in the State of Tennessee. We have been leaders in technology, innovation, first to adopt best practices and ideas in a variety of academics, and we need to continue these practices. Staying on this course and making necessary adjustments as needed will continue our tradition of excellence that keeps up well above our peers.
Having a strong working relationship with our funding body, the Town of Greeneville, has also been a vital part of our success. The partnerships we have created with each other with school resource officers, the Parks and Recreation Department, and providing computer support and information technology assistance with the Police Department, are just a few of the great examples of what can be accomplished when everyone is working for the success of our children.
Quillen: First of all, we have the best school system in the state. I hope to be able to assist in continuing to maintain that status for our school system for many years to come. We have great teachers, administrators, and staff that make our system what it is. I only hope to be able to live up to the vision that Mrs. Kay Leonard had many years ago. I feel as a system that we have reached that goal, and I plan to do all that I can to continue to uphold that standard of excellence that has been achieved.
How can the Greeneville Board of Education contribute to a continued tradition of excellence in Greeneville City Schools?
Botta: The board’s role is to enact policy and procedures that support students and teachers and should work to ensure the budget supports the priorities that the community, students, and teachers say they want and/or need. The KLCO/Leadership Team should be held accountable to see that those priorities are reflected in the system’s budget. The board should ensure that principals, teachers, and parents have true input and participation in the budget process. Successful collaboration with the Board of Mayor and Aldermen to prioritize system needs and finding ways to fund them is crucial. Being able to attract/hire/retain the very best teachers will directly contribute to the tradition of excellence. A definite and vital priority of the board should be to protect the needs of the classroom, students, and teachers at all costs. The tradition of excellence that I experienced was due to the fostering of relationships between students and teachers, teachers and teachers, and teachers and administrators. Everyone felt like a trusted family member and this greatly affected the climate of the whole school and thus, the whole system. The board can make this happen by taking care of those wants and needs that are crucial to making sure students have unlimited resources and can reach their full potential.
Ogle: The board is charged with three primary responsibilities. The board is responsible for setting the budget, establishing policy and hiring a director. Our budget was recently approved in a timely manner for the next year, our policies are now being reviewed annually by the board, and we have an excellent, deep-thinking director who is committed to being with us for the long-term.
We are so fortunate to have had great board members in the past who were both visionary and focused on being the best. The late Dr. Hal Henard cast a vision of excelling in all phases of education, but especially academics. The manner in which we conduct our business is exemplary and provides for open discussion and debate.
Board of Education members have the responsibility of keeping out of the day-to-day operations of the school system, but rather are tasked with encompassing the whole picture of educating each child to the best of that child’s ability. We are advocates for the school system, both locally and regionally, communicating with our legislators the needs of our children and how they can partner with us to bring reform and additional funding to education in Tennessee. Each year we invite our legislators to come and meet with our central office personnel, principals and board members. It is there they can hear firsthand opportunities for improvement and concerns we have about pending and future legislation.
Quillen: I feel like the best thing that we can do as a board is to support our director, Mr. Steve Starnes. Since Mr. Starnes’ arrival in Greeneville, he has spent many hours and days solidifying our position as the top school system in the state. I feel it is my job as a board member to support him in any way that I can. I also feel that it is important for me to listen to the teachers, administrators, and staff to continue to bring information into our meetings so that those who are responsible for the education of our children can be heard. I want to be that voice along with my fellow board members.
An Education Savings Account program bill passed the Tennessee General Assembly this year will provide public funds for children in Memphis and Nashville to attend private schools. Do you see the program expanding to other areas, and how do you think it could affect systems like Greeneville’s?
Botta: I believe the end goal for supporters of the ESA program is to expand it to other districts in the future. I am against any program that provides public school funds to private education and decreases funding for public education. Vouchers/ESA or any other form of diverting public funds to private schools without the same level of accountability is wrong and will hurt public education. I support the state fully funding the BEP and distributing state funding equally and fairly across the state rather than throwing money at a program that has been a total failure in many other states where it has been tried. Greeneville City Schools and other districts will be harmed because of decreased funding as a result of ESA/vouchers. The state continues to push unfunded mandates and more accountability onto public schools with less and less funding.
Ogle: I believe that Education Savings Accounts are a redirection of public funds to private schools, and as a proponent for public education I feel this is detrimental to our schools. The Constitution of Tennessee requires that the General Assembly provide for the maintenance, support, and eligibility standards of a system of free public schools with no mention of the maintenance and support of private schools. Research actually shows that students who participate in voucher programs don’t perform as well as students who remain in public education. We are very fortunate in Greeneville City Schools to have a very high performing school system and one that students, parents, and the community support. I hope that the legislature will look very closely at the effects that this legislation has in Shelby and Davidson counties and hold the private schools to the same accountability standards that public schools are held to before trying to expand the program. I think the best thing we can do as a school system is continue to provide innovative programs of excellence for our students, which enables them to be successful in their chosen paths after high school. If we can do those things, I think parents within our community will continue to choose Greeneville City Schools to educate their children.
Quillen: As a board, we have discussed the ESA Program at length. I have shared my thoughts with [5th District State Rep.] David Hawk who is on board with me in the fact that we do not feel that this program would have a positive impact on the Greeneville City School System. Mr. Hawk voted against the program. Unfortunately, I do see the program expanding. However, there are many politicians fighting against this program, and I support their efforts.
What challenges do you see school board facing in the next four years?
Botta: Board challenges will be facility needs/improvements, decreasing enrollment trends, finding teachers in certain areas of instruction, unfunded state mandates, state accountability measures, budget management, and funding sources. Facility needs/improvements would be new roofs or HVAC systems that need to be replaced. The current facility needs assessment lists millions of dollars of needed upgrades or repairs or replacements. Decreasing enrollment trends are worrisome for many systems. With fewer students, funds are also less and that leaves the remainder to be paid for by city and county governments. The ESA or vouchers will only contribute to decreased enrollment in public systems. For as long as I can remember, finding teachers in certain areas such as high school math and sciences, guidance counselors, special education, and support staff have been a problem. Teachers are called to education by a passion, but should be able to earn a salary that lends itself to a comfortable lifestyle. An unfunded state mandate is a statute or regulation that requires a state or local government to perform certain actions, with no money provided for fulfilling the requirements. State accountability measures dictate that districts must increase achievement levels for all students and show significant growth in achievement for the students who are furthest behind in order to narrow achievement gaps. With the budget management and funding sources, the bottom line is [money] and where to find it.
Ogle: First is funding. While we have always been good stewards with our resources, both the federal government and State of Tennessee continue to push down new directives and mandates without providing any additional resources to pay for them. We call this an unfunded mandate, because all schools have to comply with new rules and regulations but are left to find funds from their existing budgets to pay for them.
Second is teacher salaries. As we continue to be recognized as one of the top achieving school systems in the state, salary levels for all our staff do not reflect that. We constantly monitor our rankings among our peer schools who we have identified as top performing schools, with the rational that if our expectation level is to be the best, then we should reward those individuals who make that happen. We are pleased to have built into our budget this coming year a 3% raise for our employees to recognize their efforts to be the best for our students.
Finally is maintaining our physical facilities. With over 46 acres of buildings under roof, it is hard to keep those buildings warm in the winter and cool in the fall and spring. It is also important to keep those buildings dry. In addition to our six school locations, we maintain the George Clem Operations facility and our Central Office, named after one of our late school board members, Mrs. Kay Leonard.
Quillen: In my short time as a board member, I see the biggest challenge that we face is how to properly fund all of the needs of our system. Unfortunately, there are never enough funds to cover everything. As a board, I am certain that we will do everything in our power to stretch the budget out to meet as many needs as can be met. Our city government has done a great job bringing in new businesses and restaurants to help increase the tax revenue, which in turn increases our budget.
A brief additional statement, if desired:
Botta: I feel blessed to have been a part of the Greeneville City School system. My experiences with students, teachers, administrators, parents, and other school personnel have made my life very rich and fulfilling. Now, I feel it is time for me to give back to the community by bringing a new perspective to the city school board. My knowledge of school and all that goes with it would bring a unique quality to the table. I am a strong advocate of students being able to learn to the best of their abilities and of teachers being able to teach those students to the best of their abilities. With all the problems in the world, teachers need to be the one constant and nurturing force in a child’s life. Students should be the focus above all else. I hope to continue my passion for education by working diligently for the continued success of Greeneville City Schools. I ask for your vote and support in this quest. #bottaonboard
Ogle: It has been an honor to serve on the Board of Education for the past 20 years. The position has presented great celebrations for our students and challenging times as well. I have always tried to make my decisions on what is best for our children, and I pledge to continue to do so if reelected.
I believe our school system is one of the most valuable assets in our city. Other school systems around the State of Tennessee come to visit us to see how and why we consistently outperform and excel in arts, academics, and athletics.
My motivation and desire for reelection is to continue to devote my time and efforts in what I believe is the best service I can do for all of our future. For me, that service is pouring my God-given talents and passion back into the children of this community.
I would appreciate your support in reelecting me to continue to serve the citizens of Greeneville.
My focus continues to be: Kids. First. Always.
Quillen: I want to thank everyone for their support first and foremost. I would like to that my fellow board members for their support in getting me appointed to the BOE. I would like to thank the Board of Mayor and Alderman for the appointment. I would like to thank my family for their support and willingness to allow me to take time away from them to serve our community. The warm welcome that I receive from teachers, administrators, and staff every time I walk into one of fine learning institutions lets me know that my time is appreciated. Thank you for support and please know that I will work diligently to continue the outstanding tradition of our Greeneville City Schools.
The Greeneville Planning Department is now reviewing final site plans for a proposed new free-standing Chick-Fil-A restaurant.
A few details are being worked out, but the plans should be approved in coming weeks, the Greeneville Regional Planning Commission heard Tuesday.
The restaurant’s plans have also been submitted to the Building Department for review, Planning Director Logan Engle said.
The new restaurant is proposed for 2645 E. Andrew Johnson Highway, in the Crockett Crossing Shopping Center, on a corner lot where Georgia’s Southern Table restaurant was located prior to closing.
The new restaurant would be over 4,800 square-feet with a seating capacity of 114, preliminary plans approved by the planning commission in May indicated.
With the commission’s preliminary approval, final approval will be given by Planning Department staff, and plans are not expected to be considered again by the full commission.
The preliminary plans approved in May showed a double drive-thru and an additional canopy area for expedited ordering and payment.
Engle gave an update on a proposed O’Reilly Auto Parts on the Asheville Highway after an inquiry by a planning commission member.
The developer has indicated that the store is still planned for construction once current litigation is finished, Engle said.
Ingles Markets filed a lawsuit in Chancery Court against the Chattanooga-based developer Melani LaMar-Hutton, O’Reilly Auto Parts, and the shopping center. A judge ruled in favor of the developer, but Ingles is appealing.
In action, the planning commission approved six replats and division of properties: