Sullivan County board to discuss closing schools

Rick Wagner • Jan 27, 2009 at 12:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County school officials Thursday will continue to ponder closing three county schools, including Cedar Grove Elementary near Kingsport, and making a “school within a school” at Sullivan North High School.

Those two proposals will take center stage at a community meeting at Cedar Grove set for Friday night.

Other scenarios under consideration would rezone students from Colonial Heights Middle School to Sullivan Middle. All told, they would save the system almost $1 million.

They are based partly on data from a recent $50,000 study funded by the County Commission and conducted by the Knoxville/Knox County Metropolitan Planning Commission and Knoxville/Knox County Housing Authority, which looked at the condition of the system’s buildings and enrollment projections.

The Board of Education will meet at 3 p.m. Thursday at the Central Office in Blountville for the work session. Work sessions, like regular meetings, are open to the public, but board Chairman Ron Smith of Blountville said the work session will not include votes or public comment because it is not a regular board meeting.

The board will not take any action on the scenarios until March, Director of Schools Jack Barnes said Tuesday.

So far, the proposals that have drawn the most comment in the western part of Sullivan County are the scenario for seventh-graders to join eighth-graders at North near Bloomingdale.

Cedar Grove parents have scheduled a meeting with school officials at 6 p.m. Friday at 100 Coley St. in the school’s gym.

“We didn’t want the eighth-graders going to North, much less the seventh-graders,” said Dee Williams, chairman of the Cedar Grove PTA. “They say that they can keep them separate and not interact. I don’t believe that’s possible.”

She said parents also aren’t anxious to lose Cedar Grove.

Parents at Akard Elementary — also proposed for closure — have met with school officials. And parents of Valley Pike Elementary — the other school proposed for closure — are to meet with school officials Wednesday night.

Parents at Mary Hughes Elementary and Middle School, which is proposed to have middle school students rezoned to either Bluff City or Holston middle schools, also have met with school officials.

Under the North zone plan, Cedar Grove would close, and students would be shifted to Brookside and Kingsley. Ketron Intermediate would pick up fourth-graders from that zone’s elementary schools and lose seventh-graders to North.

At the high school building, the seventh- and eighth-graders would be in a separate section of the building with a different schedule, separate principal and office staff, although they would share cafeteria, gym and other commons space with the high school.

Currently, the eighth-graders are integrated into the North building.

In the South High zone, students from the overcrowded Colonial Heights Middle would shift to the underutilized Sullivan Middle. School officials said no other changes were proposed because of the uncertainty of how many annexed students from now until 2011 would choose to stay in the county system, as allowed under a policy revision in 2006.

After the school board addresses the proposals, Barnes said he hopes the board and school system immediately begin planning for a long-term renovation and construction program.

The County Commission has gone on record in support of the idea to issue $50 million in bonds for school construction and renovation. Late Commissioner Ralph Harr of Bristol spearheaded that vote.

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