South senior earns pilot license over summer

Rick Wagner • Aug 8, 2018 at 8:00 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan South High School Air Force Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps cadet Colt Nichols just started his senior year, but he’s already earned his private pilot’s license.

During Tuesday’s Sullivan County Board of Education meeting, Nichols received his wings from retired Lt. Col Lindy Williams, senior AFROTC instructor at South, although Nichols’ mother did the honors of pinning them, earned from the Flight Academy over the summer, on her son.

Nichols flew a Cessna 172, a single-engine, four-passenger plane, for 46.7 hours over two months at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., to earn his license.

“This is the most outstanding opportunity I’ve been given,” he said. “I’ve gone from a tiny, little eighth-grader who didn’t know what he was doing” to a cadet given the chance “to lead, succeed and fail.”

He thanked Williams, retired Air Force Master Sgt. Don Shawver, the junior AFROTC instructor at South, and his parents, David and Angela. Nichols found out in January he was one of 120 people nationwide chosen for the first-ever Air Force Flight Academy and was the only one from Tennessee. More than 750 applied. Williams said next year the Air Force plans to expand the program to 250 students.

“Sullivan County will continue to send quality members to the U.S. Air Force,” Williams said. 

Graduates of the program who earn their private pilot’s license do not incur a military commitment to the Air Force or other branch of service, nor does completing the program guarantee acceptance into one of the military’s commissioning programs. The Flight Academy Scholarship Program, worth an estimated $20,000 per student, is a new Air Force-level initiative, done in collaboration with the commercial aviation industry to address the national civilian and military pilot shortage.

Nichols started pursuing his flying credentials with retired Air Force Lt. Col. Bill Powley, who operated the nonprofit FLIGHT Foundation. He flew 8.4 hours with Powley out of the Greeneville airport and then soloed. Powley has helped thousands of teenagers from Northeast Tennessee fly and is a former AFJROTC senior instructor.

The board at its Sept. 4 meeting, at the request of member Jane Thomas, will ask Powley to attend and is to discuss the 2018-19 budget decision to cease paying insurance costs for county students in Powley’s program and to stop allowing them to participate in it during the school day, although they can continue doing so before school and on weekends.

In voting action Tuesday, the BOE:

— Allowed an exception for the school system’s nepotism policy, but only for a specific situation involving an interim principal.

The board voted 6-0 with Dan Wells absent to approve the nepotism exception and allow Sullivan East High School Assistant Principal Mark Pendleton to become interim principal at Indian Springs Elementary, even though his wife is a teacher there and it normally is not allowed for someone to be a direct administrator over a direct family member. Director of Schools Evelyn Rafalowski said she normally wouldn’t ask for an exception but that the other assistant principal at East also has a spouse working at Indian Springs and no other assistants can be spared.

In the latter part of the 2017-18 school year, Sullivan South Assistant Principal Aaron Flanary became interim principal at Indian Springs. However, he was recently named career technical education/early postsecondary facilitator, a central office position. That leaves a South assistant position not filled. Rafalowski said that Indian Springs Principal Jeff Hickam hopefully will be back in eight to 10 weeks, but the board approved the policy exception for Pendleton for the whole school year. He will not evaluate his wife’s teaching performance, Rafalowski said.

— Approved new contracts with one-fourth of the private bus contractors for 51 bus routes at a rate of $270 per route per day, with a fuel escalation clause kicking in when fuel reaches $3 a gallon. Other terms of the contracts remain the same, Rafalowski said.

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