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Ketron Elementary co-principals working through early challenges

August 18th, 2012 9:46 pm by Rick Wagner

KINGSPORT — Ketron Elementary School co-Principals Sandra Ramsey and Wendell Smith are getting lots of exercise these days, but not much rest.

Ramsey, former principal at the closed Kingsley Elementary, is the grades pre-K-2 principal, while Smith, former Ketron Intermediate principal, is the grades 3-5 principal.

They’re checking furniture and equipment deliveries, afternoon student pickup traffic, and contractors’ finishing touches, which means a lot of walking around the newly renovated and expanded school, which is serving about 750 students in the Sullivan North High School zone.

Ketron started out in 1953 as a high school and then became a middle school in 1980 and later a grades 5-7 intermediate school before closing for a year to be retrofitted to an elementary school — the only elementary in the North High zone.

But it’s just not any elementary school. It is a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) integrated school with two STEM labs and the latest technology, including new SmartBoards that have touch screens that can be used by two students at once. The project was funded with more than $15 million in low-interest Qualified School Construction Bonds to be repaid over 15 years.

The building’s play center opened for use Friday.

Smith predicted one of the persistent bugaboos of the school start-up — traffic backups during student pickup — will continue to improve.

Smith spoke while giving an impromptu tour of the building Wednesday. As he went down one side of the main stairs at the front of the building, he was met by Ramsey going in another direction on the other side.

“It’s going pretty well. We’re working around the construction,” Smith said of an arts area probably off limits another month and a main gym floor that is still a staging area for final projects but that should be cleared before the art area is.

“We’re still working with afternoon pickup,” Smith said. “We still have over 400 cars trying to pick up.”

On the first day of school, long lines blocked Bloomingdale Pike, Packinghouse Road and Ketron Drive. The school is encouraging parents and students to consider using bus transportation when practical and has opened up more space for those waiting to pick up students. Parents have complained about the waits and lines, including a call Friday afternoon from a parent who said she witnessed some near hits of students by vehicles, a near wreck on a public road, and confusion over the layout of the pickup because it has changed multiple times.

Smith said the school has opened up additional waiting areas for car pickups and is using existing areas efficiently by having two vehicle pickup areas instead of just one.

“Any time you have that many (students and vehicles), you have challenges, but we’re working through these challenges. We’re going to have a great school,” Smith said.

Smith also said he is confident technology, teachers and community support will join to help the school excel.

Although the process is streamlined, volumes will increase a bit starting Monday when all kindergarten students begin attending every day, and Aug. 27, when pre-K students start attending.

All that will increase the projected population from the 570 or so this past week to about 730, including 135 registered kindergarten students.

“Our drop-offs in the mornings are not an issue,” Smith said.

Waits were up to an hour or so for drop-offs and pickups the first day or two.

Students and others entering the front doors see metal sculptures representing the four components of STEM and a bright sun, which roughly translates to STEM equals a bright future.

At the top of the stairs are two STEM labs. Students are to visit the labs to work on STEM projects.

During each of the four nine weeks of the 2012-13 school year, students throughout the school will have a theme.

The four themes are Math Under Construction, applied math projects such as building a birdhouse; Vote is Your Voice, a hands-on presidential campaign focus with public debates and probability and statistics; Robotics, including programming robots to find a letter on a mat or, for older students, using a race car robot to draw geometry; and a Garden Project.

Fifth-graders at Ketron this year also are to build a playhouse using the “If I Had a Hammer” program of Perry Wilson used in other county elementary schools.

While pointing out the renovated school’s high-tech features, Smith lauded the work of Burwil Construction, the general contractor. But he saved his highest praise for his teachers and staff.

“Our teachers and staff need humongous praise,” Smith said.

He said teachers were not allowed into their classrooms until Wednesday. An open house announced Saturday was held Sunday afternoon, and school started with a half day Monday.

Smith said a more comprehensive open house likely will be held in October, when the school is all but completed and the faculty, staff and students are settled into it.

Aside from technology in the building, it is heated and cooled with a geothermal system mostly under the football field and partly under the softball field.

The school also has two elevators, a lift and 52 Wi-Fi points.

The original gym, home to the Ketron Wildcats basketball teams, is mostly unchanged with wooden seats and the original stage and truss-supported floor, a step back in time to when some students’ parents, grandparents or other relatives attended Ketron.

However, it is getting air conditioning and already has a large projection screen, which can be used for presentations to students, parents and the community.

Smith said both gyms, as well as the ball fields, would be used for school athletics and other activities as well as selected community activities.

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