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Highlighting Summer Learning

State-funded summer learning camps are underway at multiple local schools, and two of those schools were stops on the Tennessee Department of Education’s Accelerating TN 2022 tour to highlight summer learning opportunities.

Education Commissioner Dr. Penny Schwinn was joined by other state Department of Education staff and Rep. David Hawk of Greeneville in visiting Mosheim Elementary School and West Greene Middle School, which share a campus, and Hal Henard Elementary School.

This is the second year of the summer learning camps, which were implemented in 2021 as a requirement of the Tennessee Learning Loss Remediation and Student Acceleration Act, passed in January 2021. The bill aims to help students recover from learning loss associated with time out of school due to the pandemic.

“These camps are just amazing. Students are getting such great additional support, really good review from the previous year and introduction to what they will be seeing next year,” said Schwinn at Hal Henard, where students from both Hal Henard and EastView elementary schools are participating in the month-long, four-day mini-camps.

Hawk agreed and said he hopes to see the state continue to fund the camps permanently.

“I am so happy for students to have the ability to get the courses and review they need to move forward. There is such value in these programs, and we need to continue this for many years,” he said. “I would like to see more families take advantage of these programs, and I want to see the state fully fund programs like this forever.”

He said participation locally and statewide is a little over 15%.

Andy McCall, site director at Hal Henard, said that while there is plenty of learning taking place, it is still a summer camp, and that experience is an important part of it.

“This is a great opportunity for students to get some more independent attention, but it’s still camp,” he said. “They get to play and explore, we have field trips, and they get to take that into their next school year.”

Schwinn agreed that the fun of camp is crucial.

“My favorite thing to see is that engagement and energy and joy. That will absolutely translate to success for these kids,” she said.


Local_news
Appeals Court Affirms Community Corrections Sentence Denial

The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals this week affirmed the trial court’s judgement in the case of David Stewart Cowles, Jr., a former information technology officer with the Greeneville Police Department and Greene County Sheriff’s Department.

Cowles, 38, entered a guilty plea in May 2021 in Greene County Criminal Court to theft of property valued at $10,000 but less than $60,000. Judge John F. Dugger Jr. imposed a sentence of split confinement, with seven months to be served in the Greene County Detention Center and the remainder of the sentence to be served on supervised probation.

On appeal, Cowles argued that the trial court abused its discretion in imposing a sentence of split confinement and in denying a community corrections sentence.

“After review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court,” Judge Timothy L. Easter wrote on behalf of the Appellate panel.

The ruling was published Thursday.

Cowles, of Greeneville, was sentenced by Dugger to a four-year jail term. The split confinement sentence requires serving seven months in jail, with the remainder of the sentence suspended to be served on probation, according to court records.

Cowles was also ordered by Dugger to pay back more than $49,000 in restitution to his former employers. Cowles has repaid $43,000 as of this week and “has $10,000 in money in the court which will serve to pay the remaining costs,” his lawyer, Frank Santore, said Friday.

Santore said an application for permission to appeal will be filed with the Tennessee Supreme Court. The application will be filed within 60 days.

The Tennessee Supreme Court “would be the court of last resort” in the case, Santore said.

“If they grant the application, then both sides write briefs and argue same,” he said.

Cowles served as system administrator for the Greeneville Police Department and Greene County Sheriff’s Department. Cowles left the law enforcement IT positions in September 2018, when Wesley Holt became sheriff and Tim Ward became Greeneville police chief. The offense Cowles was convicted of occurred while he was still employed by the law enforcement agencies.

The Greeneville Police Department hired Cowles as a computer specialist in 2011. In 2014, Cowles also began working for the Greene County Sheriff’s Department.

“Between January 2017 and August 2018, (Cowles) purchased approximately 34 items from Amazon with a Greene County credit card. Both agencies terminated defendant’s employment in 2018,” according to the Appellate court.

Holt and Ward searched for the Amazon purchases and could not locate the items.

“The agencies also became concerned (Cowles) was ‘double-dipping in his employment,’ and asked the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury to perform an official investigation,” according to the Appellate court.

The investigation revealed that Cowles submitted receipts to the Greene County accounting office that contradicted information received from Amazon. Records from Amazon showed Cowles purchased all of the items on his personal account with the county credit card.

“(Cowles) modified the Amazon invoices to reflect that the items were shipped to the agencies when they actually shipped to his home,” the investigation found.

The Comptroller’s office investigation revealed that purchases included a hot tub, Xbox-related equipment, a drone, a train set, Dyson hand dryers, and other items all together totaling $29,554.

The investigation also showed that Cowles billed the police department and sheriff’s department for the same work hours between January 2015 and July 2018, totaling $19,490.

Cowles testified at the sentencing proceeding that he volunteered at the Greeneville Police Department until he was officially hired in 2011, and worked to update the department’s technological capabilities.

The Appellate court wrote that Cowles testified he was not appreciated at work and “at some point ... it was just enough and [he] started doing what [he] was doing.”

Cowles testified that he was sorry for his actions “and that he was not making an excuse.”

Ward testified that Cowles “prioritized his own personal gain over the well-being of the police department.”

At sentencing, Dugger applied several enhancement factors “because (Cowles) embezzled funds from two different agencies and abused a position of public trust. The trial court applied great weight to defendant’s breach of trust,” the Appellate panel wrote.

Cowles argued on appeal “that the trial court abused its discretion in imposing a sentence of split confinement and in denying his request for a community corrections sentence.

“The state responds that the trial court did not abuse its discretion. We agree with the state,” the Appellate court wrote.

Dan E. Armstrong, Greene County district attorney general, said in 2021 that Cowles “(essentially) charged both the city and the county for the same hours worked on multiple occasions, thereby receiving double pay.”

“In addition, he made unauthorized purchases for his personal benefit,” Armstrong said.

Armstrong said that he, along with both law enforcement agencies, asked the comptroller’s office to investigate.

“Their findings were ready to present to the grand jury when (Cowles’) counsel notified us of his client’s willingness to plea by information and the matter of sentencing was left to the discretion of the court,” he said.

Cowles could not be reached Friday for comment.

“It was a case of greed,” Holt said after Cowles’ sentencing hearing in 2021.

Cowles was ordered by Dugger to repay $29,554 to the Greene County Trustee’s Office, and $9,745 each to the Greeneville Police Department and Greene County Sheriff’s Department, court officials said.

Cowles was not indicted by a grand jury. He entered a plea by information, meaning he reached an agreement with the state to bypass grand jury proceedings and enter the guilty plea in Greene County Criminal Court.

“The trial court considered the purposes and principles of sentencing, the seriousness of the offense, and the overall effect of (Cowles’) actions on the public before denying a sentence on community corrections. We cannot say that the trial court abused its discretion in denying (him) a sentence of community corrections. Defendant is not entitled to relief,” the appeals court ruled.


Local_news
Details Announced For June 19 Juneteenth Celebration

The Town of Greeneville and George Clem Multicultural Alliance have announced the entertainment and guest speaker lineup for Greeneville’s first annual Juneteenth celebration.

The local event will offer free festivities for all ages from 3 to 7 p.m. on June 19, at the Big Spring behind the Greeneville-Greene County Library.

Juneteenth, which became a federal holiday in 2021, commemorates the June 19, 1865, announcement proclaiming freedom for enslaved people in Texas, the last state of the Confederacy with institutional slavery.

The celebration will begin at 3 p.m. with a welcome from Greeneville City Administrator Todd Smith, and Bill Edmonds and Angela Campbell of the George Clem Multicultural Association.

Headlining entertainment is Meloh Soul & The 865 Band, who will take the stage at around 5 p.m. This band from the Knoxville area covers a variety of musical genres including funk, R&B, soul and pop favorites, according to a press release from the Town of Greeneville.

Greeneville native Jay Davis will perform just prior to Meloh Soul. Davis has been singing since age 7 and brings a country/hip-hop style of music to the stage, according to the release.

Scripture reading and prayer will be led by Father Ken Saunders of St. James Episcopal Church. The choir of Miller’s Chapel Church of Baileyton will lead the crowd in singing, followed by a praise dance by Sarina Anderson.

Next in the entertainment lineup will be a presentation from William Isom, director of the Black In Appalachia Program.

The featured guest speaker of the event will be Dr. Daryl A. Carter, professor and associate dean of History and director of Black American Studies at East Tennessee State University according to the release.

Following Carter will be a youth poem recital of “We The People” by Amanda Gorman, the first U.S. Youth Poet Laureate.

An African drum/dance performance by West African Guinea Dance featuring Dara Benton will also be a part of the event.

In addition to live entertainment, the Juneteenth celebration will feature food and other activities throughout the day.

A Kids Zone will feature inflatables, face painting, a visit from a fire truck and many other activities.

Attendees are asked to bring their own chair or blanket.

According to the release, admission to the celebration is free thanks to event sponsors: Heritage Community Bank, Atlas Books, Andrew Johnson Bank, Greeneville Federal Bank, Apex Bank, Towne Square Package Store, Mayor W.T. Daniels, Greene County Democratic Party, United Way of Greene County, Greene County Partnership, C&C Millwright, and Friends of George Clem Multicultural Association.

More information can be found on the “Greeneville Juneteenth 2022” Facebook event page or by visiting www.greenevilletn.gov.

Anyone who would like to become a sponsor of Greeneville Juneteenth can contact Carla Bewley at 423-639-8322 or csbewley@gmail.com.


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