Colonial Heights Middle to stay with county; Innovation Academy joint operation may end after coming year

Rick Wagner • Jun 30, 2013 at 4:41 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — Colonial Heights Middle School will remain a Sullivan County school under county operation when school resumes in August, Director of Schools Jubal Yennie said Saturday.

But the 2013-14 school year could be the last year Innovation Academy of Northeast Tennessee operates as a joint county-Kingsport venture, Yennie said and county Board of Education members indicated.

Kingsport Superintendent Lyle Ailshie during a June 20 city BOE work session said the city system would be interested in assuming operation of IA as a streamlining measure.

At the same work session, he said the system would be willing to assume operation of Colonial Heights Middle immediately, in time for the start of school in August.

“We haven’t seen anything from the Board of Education over there about Colonial Heights,” Yennie said after a budget work session.

“We appreciate their interest. We appreciate their concern,” Yennie said. “Colonial Heights is certainly not going under any type of new ownership this fall.”

As a practical matter, Yennie said it was too late to change operation of the school for 2013-14, although he predicted that topic and other school facilities questions between the city and county would be discussed at joint meetings of the city and county school boards later this year.

The city has annexed much of Colonial Heights and has plans to annex more, although a moratorium passed by state lawmakers this spring forbids annexation of residential and agricultural property for a year. All told, Yennie has said about 1,000 city-zoned students are in county schools.

“We appreciate that they have an urgency,” Yennie said. “The good folks out in Sullivan County really need an answer from both BOEs.”

As for Innovation Academy, a science, technology, engineering and math middle school, during a review of the proposed IA budget for 2013-14 it became apparent change may be afoot.

BOE member Randall Jones said potential future sites for the school more centrally located for county students could include Holston Middle, North Middle and Blountville Middle schools instead of the current site in the former Brookside Elementary School.

“The only thing that precludes that movement now is the agreement with Kingsport,” Yennie said. The city and county signed a two-year contract with the Battelle Memorial Institute, which administers the funding of IA and other platform STEM schools that opened last year with federal Race to the Top start-up funds.

Jack Bales, vice chairman of the IA Governing Board and the county BOE, and Yennie said more grant money may be forthcoming from Battelle.

Under a two-year contract, the city and county won $1 million in Race to the Top money for the start-up of IA, and East Tennessee State University won $500,000 to be a hub for the school, promoting its best practices and supporting it. Teacher and staff pay is split between the city and county, as are the 240 students in grades 6, 7 and 8 to attend the school this fall.

After the work session, Yennie said that the county system — which plans to plug a $4.5 million budget shortfall with $2 million in fund balance and $2.5 million in cuts that include layoffs, no raises and reductions in hours for some employees — is about to approve a budget with a related arts teacher for multimedia music and art, as well as time from existing county teachers for band and five days of physical education and wellness.

Initially, the city system was going to provide two days of PE.

In contrast, the city system’s budget does not include a related arts position at IA for Project Lead the Way (PLTW), an engineering program that IA Principal Sandy Watkins and Jack Rhoton, leader of the ETSU hub, have said is crucial to the STEM school.

Yennie said the IA Governing Board can’t force the county or city BOEs to appropriate money to IA, but he said surely the city BOE could come up with money for one related arts teacher if the county is paying for a related arts teacher and providing the time of two other teachers for IA programs.

“We’re looking to Kingsport (the Board of Mayor and Aldermen) or the BOE to say, ‘Where are we on this thing,’” Yennie said.

“There’s certainly is a lot of speculation. Are we going our separate ways next year? Are we adding (grade) nine next year?”

Yennie said another idea that has been floated are separate “east” and “west” programs.

“How do we expand it and serve the most kids, or do we expand it?” Yennie said.

City BOE members, in cutting IA’s PLTW, said it was only fair since schools across the city were affected by cuts in proposed increases and new positions. Unlike the county, which is seeing a decrease in funding, the city system got about $1.5 million in added funding plus $250,000 more in city funding and a promise of $200,000 more if property taxes produce it.

Yennie said Holston Middle “mothballed” its PLTW program after its non-tenured teacher was laid off, one of 24 non-tenured positions cut last month.

Ailshie, in proposing the Kingsport operation of IA, said business partners of the school had indicated concern about an earlier BOE discussion about streamlining, which did not indicate which school might operation IA.

Ailshie cited complex measures required to track teacher evaluation data from students in two systems, but Yennie said those calculations are no big deal.

Eastman Chemical Co., Wellmont Health System and the Domtar Paper Co. are the main community partners for IA.

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