IA Q&A offers some answers for parents, but other questions remain

Rick Wagner • Jun 13, 2014 at 8:10 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Current and prospective parents and students of Innovation Academy of Northeast Tennessee got a glimpse of IA's new home earlier this week.

They also got answers to frequently asked questions from Sullivan County Director of Schools Jubal Yennie concerning the STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — school that uses cross-curricular learning and project-based learning.

Yennie emphasized that IA, as a school within a school, would have a whole wing of Holston Middle School. However, some parents said they didn't get answers to all their questions, didn't like the answers they did receive or didn't like the incomplete answers they got.

"I don't think that he was prepared at all to answer the questions," said Tina Cox, a Colonial Heights parent of a rising eighth-grade daughter at IA. "I'm going to let her come only because she wants to come."

Cox said the uncertainty and lack of detail on a high school IA program also troubled her.

However, James Hayes, whose son Evan won a slot in the IA lottery and is moving from Miller Perry Elementary to IA instead of Colonial Heights Middle, said he was "well satisfied" with what he had seen so far.

"I think this is a much more central location," Hayes said, adding that it would be easier to drive his son there than to IA's home the past two years: the former Brookside Elementary building in Bloomingdale.

The meeting was advertised as an open house to meet faculty of IA and the administrators of Holston, Principal Billy Miller and Assistant Principal Leslie Fleenor, but a group of about 160 folks ended up as part of a standing-room-only crowd in a still-unoutfitted STEM lab asking questions of Yennie.

Kingsport City Schools pulled out of IA, which led to the Sullivan County school board moving it to Holston as a cost-saving measure. At Holston, IA will not have a separate principal and separate utilities overhead, among other shared things.

Among answers on Yennie's FAQ list: The school will have an official state of Tennessee school number, meaning no more separate home or base schools where sports are played and grades are recorded.

Yennie said that means IA, under athletic association rules, can field sports teams like cross country or track but likely would have to divert students to a chosen school — probably Holston Middle, based on student, parent, school administration and faculty input — for sports such as football and basketball.

But Regina Rose, the IA Parent Teacher Organization president, said transportation remained a concern for many parents.

The county school board last week approved spending $25,000 of about $250,000 in leftover federal grant money for shuttle buses for the first half of 2014-15, but local money would have to be used if the buses were to run the second semester.

In addition, unlike the just-ended year, students won't ride a bus to their home or base school and then catch an IA shuttle. Instead, parents are to take students to designated shuttle pickup points, which were to be determined after Friday's deadline for lottery winners to confirm they plan to attend IA in August.

The exception, Yennie said, is that those IA students already zoned for Holston Middle can ride their regular buses. IA will have the same 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily schedule as Holston, Yennie said.

Another issue is the lack of geometry for eighth-graders at IA or any county middle school.

Yennie said IA seventh-graders who took algebra I and are in line to take geometry as eighth-graders this fall could have a separate class if enough students exist.

"If there's no geometry because he's one of three kids, we're out" of IA, Rose said, and will be attending Kingsport's Robinson Middle, which offers geometry. Rose is an annexed Colonial Heights resident whose older daughter attends Dobyns-Bennett High School.

However, during a Wednesday night school board work session, Yennie said that the plan likely will be to bring a math teacher from nearby Sullivan Central High School to IA for geometry.

Another Colonial Heights parent with a rising eighth-grader, Dan Firth, said he hoped online was an option if there weren't enough students to comprise an eighth-grade geometry class.

In addition, his daughter made the tryout for the Colonial Heights Middle School jazz band, something Holston Middle does not have.

"We're a definite maybe," Firth said.

Another issue is the uncertainty of a ninth-grade program next year and an eventual 9-12 program.

Yennie said there are three high school options: implement a STEM program in all four county high schools; do an early college-type program in conjunction with Northeast State Community College, across the road from the new IA location; or run a virtual high school STEM program online.

In addition, Yennie said that IA students and Holston students would have separate academic classes but would intermingle in related-arts classes. IA will have a Project Lead the Way-related arts class, while Holston has the traditional related arts such as band, art and physical education.

Yennie said the initial plan was to have separate IA and Holston lunches, but he said that could change.

"We're working on that," he said.

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