North High zone residents propose wider scope for rezoning, closing plans

Rick Wagner • Mar 31, 2013 at 1:45 AM

KINGSPORT — As the public and Sullivan County school officials ponder the fate of proposed school closings and rezonings, the discussion has enlarged to all four county high school zones.

Recent public meetings have focused on the proposed merger of North and South high schools in the fall of 2014, a recommendation of Director of Schools Jubal Yennie.

But the discussion, at least in the minds of some folks from the Sullivan North High zone, should be truly countywide. Chase Minnick of Bloomingdale and some friends have put together the idea of leaving the North zone as is but basically doing in the South, Central and East zones what has been done recently in the North zone: close and merge schools.

Not counting the Kingsport-Sullivan County jointly operated Innovation Academy of Northeast Tennessee in a former county elementary building, North has two active school buildings left, the grades pre-K-to-5 Ketron Elementary, and North High, which also houses North Middle as a “school within a school.” So instead of merging North and South and using whichever building is not used for a high school as a middle school, Minnick met with Yennie Thursday to expand on a proposal he made at a Monday community input session at North High.

The two scenarios Yennie presented but did not recommend were: close Central Heights Elementary and Blountville Middle in the Central High zone and move those students to Blountville Elementary and Holston Middle, respectively; and close Colonial Heights Middle and the middle school part of Sullivan Gardens K-8, moving the sixth grade to elementary schools and the seventh- and eighth-graders to South High. Each of these scenarios would save less than $900,000 a year, compared to saving $2.8 million by the North-South merger.

But instead of having only one middle school for North and South — closing Colonial Heights Middle and the middle portion of Sullivan Gardens K-8 — Minnick is proposing sweeping changes in the other three high school zones. Combined, that would save $3,690,560, $5,494,050 or $4,044,400 in all three zones, depending on which of three Central High zone options was chosen.

“There’s a lot of potential ways we could go, and none of them easy,” county Board of Education Vice Chairman Jack Bales said. Central zone proposals

In the Central High zone, Minnick has presented three options:

•Close Holston Middle, leave elementary schools in the zone as K-5 except make Blountville Elementary a K-4 and move grades 6 and 7 to Blountville Middle and move 8 to Central High, saving $1.442 million.

•Close Central Heights, Blountville and Indian Springs elementary schools, making Holston Elementary and Middle into a K-3 campus and Blountville Middle a 4-7 campus and Central High an 8-to-12 school, saving $3,245,550.

•Close Blountville and Indian Springs elementaries by rezoning Central Heights Elementary from the Central to North high zone, making Holston Elementary and Middle a K-4 campus with 1,005 students, Blountville Middle a 5-7 school, and Central an 8-to-12 school.

That would save an estimated $1,795,900.

“I would look at all of them,” BOE member Randall Jones said Friday of the proposals. “My initial statement is you would not want 1,000 students in one (elementary) building.”

Also, he said Indian Springs Elementary is in good shape and well utilized. “This whole thing is more than about numbers. It’s about the future,” said Jones, who has emphasized he wants to look at data and costs in the process.

He predicted the BOE would not address rezonings and closings until the fall after enrollment for 2013-14 is known, and board Vice Chairman Jack Bales said it would be at least a month until any scenario is considered by the board.

South zone proposal Minnick’s South zone idea is to close Colonial Heights and Sullivan Middle buildings, moving grades 7 and 8 to South and 6 back to elementary schools, saving $1,023,500.

Colonial Heights parents at community meetings have complained about lax maintenance at that school, and community members from both Colonial Heights and Sullivan Gardens have spoken out in support of their schools.

“There’s several schools we have not put money in because we haven’t had it,” BOE member Jerry Greene of Bristol said Friday, naming Colonial Heights Middle, Mary Hughes and Bluff City Middle.

East zone proposal For the East High zone, Minnick proposed closing Holston Valley and Bluff City middle schools, moving the seventh- and eighth-graders to East High and the sixth-graders back to elementary schools.

Mary Hughes School, a K-8, would remain. That proposal would save an estimated $1.225 million.

“That’s not fixing your problem when you try to make one for somebody else,” BOE member Betty Combs, who represents part of the East High zone, said Friday. “We closed Akard and Valley Pike (elementary schools in the East High zone) in the past couple of years, so they’re (North) not the only ones” to have school closings.

Greene said he’s looked at the Minnick proposal and others received by school officials. “I didn’t see that much new that I haven’t seen for years,” Greene said. “I’m not committed. I just listen.”

Instead of the eastern end of the county, Greene said the impetus for change is in the western or Kingsport end where city annexation has eaten into the North, South and, to a lesser extent, Central zones.

He said some light on Kingsport annexations into the South High zone should come at an April 15 joint meeting of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen and Regional Planning Commission, to which the city and county BOEs have been invited.

“I think change is inevitable,” Greene said. BOE Chairman Dan Wells is recuperating from a heart attack, and member Robyn Ivester of Piney Flats could not be reached for comment Friday.

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