Closure of Cedar Grove may force seventh-graders to Sullivan North

Rick Wagner • Feb 17, 2009 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — If Sullivan County school officials close Cedar Grove Elementary, Director of Schools Jack Barnes says the county may have no choice but to move the seventh grade from Ketron Intermediate School to Sullivan North High School.

In other words, proposed North zone changes may be a package deal instead of individual proposals to be voted on at the Sullivan County Board of Education’s March 2 meeting.

Despite vocal opposition from the community to making North a 7-12 school, Barnes said Ketron may not be able to handle the extra special needs and special education students with its available space.

“I’m not sure that can happen,” Barnes said after a community meeting held at North Tuesday night. “The concern is the special needs program — having enough rooms for the special needs program.”

BOE member Jim Kiss of Bloomingdale during a Feb. 12 school board meeting asked the Central Office staff to look at the possibility of leaving North an 8-12 school even if Cedar Grove is closed.

Barnes said after the meeting that option is not completely out of the question. But during the meeting he likened the North proposals to a series of dominoes.

“If one of these can’t happen, the proposal can’t happen,” Barnes said.

During a Jan. 14 retreat, the Central Office staff presented the scenario of closing Cedar Grove and splitting its K-3 children between Brookside and Kingsley elementary schools — all within three miles of one another in the Bloomingdale area.

The plan was to move fourth-graders from all these schools to Ketron and then move the seventh grade to North for a 7-8 “school within a school” with a separate starting and ending time and principal but sharing gymnasium, band and related arts space with the older students.

Dee Williams, president of the Cedar Grove PTA, presented the school board a petition opposing the Cedar Grove closing she said had 1,262 signatures.

“We’re not going down without a fight,” Williams said.

The countywide proposals — which include closing two other schools and rezonings, including the shift of more than 120 students from Colonial Heights Middle School to Sullivan Middle School — would save just less than $1 million.

But BOE member Jack Bales of Sullivan Gardens — in 2004 a proponent of making North a K-8 school — said at the Feb. 12 school board meeting the school system needed to look more in the neighborhood of cutting $6 million to $7 million.

County Commissioner Wayne McConnell of the Lynn Garden area said after the meeting he’d heard commissioners talking about a $6 million cut.

However, McConnell said that was unreasonable, unworkable and would violate Tennessee’s maintenance of effort law — putting all state funding for the county school system at risk of being withheld.

Tuesday’s North community meeting drew a crowd Principal Richard Carroll estimated at 1,500, including North graduate and Eastman Chemical Co. technical manager of specialty plastics Kenneth Breeding Jr.

The lifelong Bloomingdale resident suggested the BOE consider rezoning Central Heights Elementary from the Central High School zone to the North zone and putting the eighth grade back at Ketron.

Cedar Grove parent Ami Corbett agreed, adding that she believes fourth- and fifth-graders have no business at Ketron.

“Our (elementary) children need to be around children who believe in Santa Claus and the tooth fairy,” Corbett said.

With concerns over Kingsport’s future annexation plans in Colonial Heights and Rock Springs, Breeding said the city and county school boards and other leaders need to form a task force to work together on strategic planning.

Jim Moneyhun, another North graduate, blasted the idea of closing all other schools in the North zone, making North a K-8 school, and splitting the higher grades between South and Central high schools.

County Commissioner Sam Jones of Colonial Heights last week said the idea of North as a K-8 school was gaining traction in the public, although folks at the North community instead suggested making South a K-8 if Kingsport continues to annex in that area.

Moneyhun’s son, Curtis, is a North freshman special needs student and has been accepted as family there, and family was a description used repeatedly during comments about North and Cedar Grove.

“This school’s future is not as a middle school,” Moneyhun said. “I know you say it’s not been brought up, but it’s in the paper.”

With fewer than 800 students, including the eighth grade, North is the smallest high school in the county. But Moneyhun said studies — including one by the University of Michigan — have shown that high schools of 600 to 900 are more successful and have higher test schools, especially in math, than larger or smaller schools.

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