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Keplar, McPheeters Bend residents tell Hawkins BOE not to close their schools

Jeff Bobo • Dec 4, 2015 at 8:59 AM

ROGERSVILLE — The Board of Education won’t start discussing the future of Hawkins County’s two oldest and smallest schools for about five weeks, but residents of both communities were out in full force Thursday letting school board members know where they stand.

Keplar Elementary and McPheeters Bend Elementary (MBE) are also two of the most celebrated schools in Hawkins County academic achievement and state report card scores.

Due to impending renovation costs estimated around $400,000, however, next year the Board of Education may be faced with the prospect of closing MBE, which serves 82 students 2.5 miles south of Church Hill.

The same fate may await Keplar Elementary, which serves 100 students eight miles south of Rogersville and is slated for more than $800,000 worth of renovations in the next 3-5 years.

The BOE’s Buildings Committee has scheduled a Jan. 14 meeting to study the figures and possibly make a recommendation to the full board on both schools.

There was standing room only for Thursday’s regular monthly BOE meeting as representative from Keplar and McPheeters Bend were given an opportunity to tell the board what they think.

Patti Crawford who lives on Burem Road, handed director of schools Steve Starnes a petition with 1,710 signatures opposed to the closing of either school.

Crawford, who represented Keplar, received an ovation from the crowd as she told the BOE that voters would make sure they weren’t re-elected if their schools were closed.

Crawford pointed out that Keplar scored two A’s and a B on the 2015 state report card, and is the only school in Hawkins County that has both an after school program and a summer program.

“Our school has an opportunity to work one-on-one that you do not get at the larger schools,” Crawford said. “Some kids have come from other schools in the county to our school because they get the extra help.”

She said Keplar students score high in state testing despite the fact that 81 percent of the students fall below the poverty line.

Crawford also noted if Keplar is closed, the bus ride for many students would be more than 40 minutes each way.

“Would this not be discrimination against our kids, busing them for such a long time,” Crawford asked the board. “ ... Placing them in larger schools with less individual attention is punishing them for living in our community. That’s how our children feel.”

She added, “I’m afraid if you split all these kids up in different schools it’s going to affect our children’s grades, and right now they’re doing fabulous.”

Amber Williams-Fisher, who resides on Mountain View Road, was on the verge of tears spoke on behalf of MBE.

Williams works at the school, and her children attend the school. She told the BOE students receive the individual attention they need at MBE.

“The proof is in the numbers,” she said. “We’re an award winning school. Some of the top students to graduate from Volunteer have been from our school. They were talking about the poverty rates at both of our schools, and then you look at the awards we have received and the level of achievement these students have reached.”

Williams-Fisher asked the board to investigate other options before closing the school.

She added, “I’ve been in larger schools’ I’ve been in smaller schools. There is a difference. You can’t know 400-500 kids when they walk through the door at a larger school, but at a school like us you know them from day one until the day they leave. You become a family.”

Sandra Smith of Gray Road asked why both schools hadn’t been better maintained up to this point. 

Board chairman Chris Christian said the board wouldn’t be answering questions or discussing the Keplar/MBE issues at Thursday’s meeting, but he thanked the communities for demonstrating “passion” for their schools.

“There’s still a difficult task ahead of us,” Christian said. “It’s going to be an emotional task. There’s going to be a lot of calculators needing new batteries moving through this process.”

He added, “We will take this issue up again on Jan. 14. We are investigating. We are gaining knowledge as we go. We’re looking at facts and figures, and we’re going to answer these types of questions as we move along.”              

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