Large crowd expected at North school zone meeting

Rick Wagner • Feb 16, 2009 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — The Sullivan North High School community Tuesday night has the chance to speak out about proposals to close Cedar Grove Elementary School and shift students around to other schools in the North district.

The Sullivan County Board of Education, Director of Schools Jack Barnes and Central Office staff are to meet with the community from 6 to 7:30 p.m. in the Little Theater of North.

“I will be disappointed if there’s not a very large crowd,” North Principal Richard Carroll said Monday, predicting the meeting may have to move from the 400-seat Little Theater to the gym because of turnout.

He predicted many students will attend because of discussion last week about the idea of making North a K-8 school, closing all other North zone schools, and moving high schoolers to South and Central high schools.

“Our school was absolutely in turmoil,” Carroll said of the K-8 comments by County Commissioner Sam Jones of Colonial Heights, which mirrored a 2004 proposal supported by BOE member Jack Bales of Sullivan Gardens, also in the South zone.

Asked about Jones’ comments and the idea of Kingsport buying North for a freshman academy, Carroll said he hears speculation about Kingsport being interested in buying South High School and taking over its feeder schools if annexation in the Colonial Heights area continues after the 2010 moratorium ends.

Kingsport City Manager John Campbell said Kingsport is not actively involved in the discussion regarding North High School.

“It’s important at some point in time for the city school board and county school board to get together and try not to overlap or duplicate,” Campbell said. “I don’t know if they’re really formally talking about it. I think it’s important, as a Sullivan County taxpayer, that they try and get together and work out what they can, if there is some common ground.”

The North meeting follows a Jan. 30 meeting at Cedar Grove Elementary. The school board is to vote March 2 on a group of proposed changes including whether to close Cedar Grove and set off a chain reaction that would shift its kindergarten through third-graders to Kingsley and Brookside elementary schools and move all three schools’ fourth-graders to the 5-7 Ketron Intermediate School.

The board also is to decide whether to move the seventh-graders from Ketron to North or leave North an 8-12 school.

Dee Williams, president of the Cedar Grove PTA, said seventh-graders have no business at North because of the chance of commingling with older students.

But she said Cedar Grove parents had hoped the full board and Central Office staff would come to Cedar Grove like they came to other schools proposed for closure.

“Jack Barnes refuses to come to our school. He says there isn’t enough time,” Williams said Monday. “We could have scheduled a meeting at our school like the others.”

Barnes and BOE Chairman Ron Smith said North was chosen because of the large crowd expected.

The Jan. 30 meeting at Cedar Grove, organized by the PTA, drew about 250 people, including North zone BOE members Jim Kiss of Bloomingdale and Dan Wells of Lynn Garden, and Larry Hall, a county commissioner and the school system’s human resources director.

Williams said because of the time constraints of Tuesday night’s meeting and because it seeks input from all the North zone schools, a PowerPoint on Cedar Grove couldn’t be presented in its entirety.

“We do not want the focus just on our school,” Williams said.

The school board also is looking at closing Akard Elementary just west of Bristol and Valley Pike Elementary just east of Bristol, as well as rezoning more than 120 students from overcrowded Colonial Heights Middle School to underutilized Sullivan Middle School in the South High zone.

Middle schoolers from Mary Hughes Elementary and Middle School were proposed to be split between Bluff City and Holston middle schools, but that appears to be a moot point since the Mary Hughes administration has agreed to quit using four modular units there, and the BOE voted Feb. 12 to remove all modular units from Mary Hughes.

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