Cedar Grove supporters plead case to save school

Rick Wagner • Jan 30, 2009 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — Cedar Grove Elementary School is a team, a family and a community center that should not be closed, impassioned supporters said during a community meeting Friday night.

Supporters touted the 243-student school’s academic achievements, including above-average math and reading scores, which former librarian Judy Sutton said were the result of a well-oiled “team” of teachers and others.

“This school is the heart of this community,” Jerry Lane said while standing before a crowd of about 200 with his three grandchildren, two enrolled there and one slated to be. “Shutting down schools is not the answer for these little children.”

Sullivan County Board of Education members Dan Wells of Lynn Garden and Jim Kiss of Bloomingdale — two on a seven-member school board — said they oppose closing the school. County Commissioner Elliott Kilgore echoed the sentiment.

However, Larry Hall, a county commissioner and the school system’s human resources director, said the school board has tough choices since folks don’t want their local school closed or their county property taxes to go up.

“I feel like it is (a foregone conclusion the school will be closed) but we’re going to fight to the very end,” Cedar Grove PTA President Dee Williams said before the meeting.

Williams said the school was more of a home than a school for most students.

Many arguments for keeping the school were emotional. Parent Tina Williams said the teachers of her children cried with her when her father died of cancer in 2006. Others spoke of how their families attended the school — built in 1928 and remodeled in later years — through generations.

However, in an outside assessment of schools countywide, Cedar Grove’s building was ranked 60 on a scale of 0 to 100. Kingsley got a 59; Brookside 71.

“It’s not about buildings. It’s not about budgets,” a man from the audience said. “It’s about the children.”

If Cedar Grove closes, its K-3 students would be split between Brookside and Kingsley elementary schools and its fourth-graders would go to Ketron Intermediate School under a scenario the school board will consider at its March 2 meeting.

Two other county elementary schools would also close, and other students would be rezoned to different schools.

All told, the changes as proposed would save more than $900,000, according to school system estimates.

In opposing the closure, Cedar Grove supporters even used the location of Friday’s meeting — a gymnasium — to drive home their point. Kingsley and Brookside have combination cafegymatoriums instead of separate gyms.

And Cedar Grove parents Roger Good, Dustina Buckles and others said Brookside traffic before and after school is already dangerous and questioned adding more cars and buses to the mix.

Others said the increased traffic at Kingsley and Ketron also would be a problem.

As for the part of one scenario that would shift seventh-graders to join the eighth through 12th grades at North High School, Buckles said the school board needs to be more concerned that 22 students were pregnant at North last school year.

School board member Kiss has said he opposes the seventh grade move because of potential interaction with older students, even though the proposal is for a “school within a school” at North.

North High has just fewer than 800 students, while the county’s largest high school, Sullivan Central, has more than 1,000.

Parent Lorna Hensley said putting her 9-year-old daughter at Ketron has made her act more like 14, and putting the seventh-graders at North would force them to “grow up so fast.”

Cedar Grove parent Victoria Matlock she her family moved to the area specifically for her daughter to attend Cedar Grove, and they would move if the school closed.

Another parent, moderator Lisa Broadwater, said after the meeting that closing the school would make that area of Bloomingdale less attractive to young married couples.

Another concern was the effect of school closings on property values.

Unlike recent meetings at the other schools targeted for possible closure — Akard Elementary in the Central High zone and Valley Pike Elementary in the East High zone — Director of Schools Jack Barnes did not attend Friday night.

But school officials said Barnes and other Central Office staff would attend a meeting at Cedar Grove in February. Those with questions specific to Cedar Grove were asked Friday night to submit those in writing for the second meeting.

Also, public comment will be taken on all scenarios at Monday’s BOE meeting, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at the Central Office in Blountville.

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