Sullivan superintendent finalists have deep roots in area

Rick Wagner • May 5, 2019 at 8:51 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — The three finalists for Sullivan County director of schools are no strangers to the Tri-Cities in general and Sullivan County in particular, and they’re not complete strangers to one another either.

Allegany County, Maryland, Superintendent David Cox, Greeneville High Principal Patrick Fraley and Elizabethton Superintendent Corey Gardenhour all have roots in the area, something consultant Wayne Qualls said was important to the Board of Education in choosing finalists.

On Tuesday, the BOE will interview all three for an hour each in the first-floor meeting room of the school and health building, 154 Blountville Bypass: Gardenhour from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m.; Fraley from 5:45 to 6:45; and Cox from 7 to 8.

Then, at the rescheduled monthly meeting at 5 p.m. Wednesday in that same room, agenda items include choosing one of the three for the job. Assuming the top choice accepts an offer and a contract is signed, that person will succeed Director Evelyn Rafalowski, who plans to retire June 30.

The new director will inherit the first new school building projects since 1980. School officials plan for the new Sullivan East Middle School to open in January 2020 and the new West Ridge High School to open in August 2021.


Cox said he’s always wanted to return to the region where he last worked a quarter of a century ago. The Hawkins County native is a 1979 graduate of Surgoinsville High School. He is in the second year of his third four-year contract with Allegany County Public Schools but has kept up with the Tri-Cities and believes Sullivan County has a “terrific school system.”

Cox, the 2016 Maryland Superintendent of the Year, has been superintendent in Allegany County since 2009 and also was superintendent of Culpepper County (Va.) Public Schools and Pulaski County (Va.) Public Schools. He worked in Dodge City, Kansas, as an assistant superintendent and elementary principal. He also was an assistant principal at Church Hill Middle School from 1989 to 1993, assistant director and then band director at Cherokee High from 1985 to 1989 and director of choral music at Appomattox County (Va.) Public Schools from 1984-85.

He earned his bachelor’s in music education at ETSU in 1984, his master’s in education in supervision and administration there in 1987 and his doctorate of education in educational leadership there in 1994. 

“That (coming back to the region) was the immediate draw. I still have a lot of family in Kingsport,” Cox said. “That was kind of always part of my plan to end up back there.” 

He also was an interim D-B assistant band director in 1993-94 and principal in Kansas at a technology-focused elementary school in 1994-97. In addition, Cox oversaw the recent replacement of a 1926 building with a new high school in Allegany County. Moreover, he was superintendent while the Culpepper County system built a new high school, middle school and elementary school due to enrollment growth.


Fraley has a direct connection with Sullivan County, having taught and coached at Sullivan South High and Colonial Heights Middle. 

“I have a little history there,” said Fraley, a 1986 Cherokee High School graduate. “ I really enjoyed the time I was there.”

He has been principal at Greeneville since May 2012, and before that he was principal at Cherokee from 2008 to 2012. He worked as a coordinator in the central office in 2007 and 2008 and was assistant principal at Cherokee from 2002 to 2007.

Before that, he was a social studies teacher and head football coach at South from 1999 to 2002 and a social studies teacher and assistant football and head track coach there from 1997 to 1999. He also was a teacher and coach at Colonial Heights Middle and Volunteer High School. Before that, he worked at Tennessee Wesleyan College, now a university, from 1989 to 1992.

He has a bachelor’s of science in secondary education in social studies from Tennessee Wesleyan, a master’s of arts in education with a K-12 concentration from Tusculum College and an education specialist degree in education administration and supervision from Lincoln Memorial.

“I’m at the point in my career I’m ready to look at other things,” Fraley said of moving into school systemwide administration. “I feel honored to be in the (finalist) pool,” he said.

Fraley worked in McMinn County and then Volunteer as a teacher and coach before going to Sullivan County, then coming back to Hawkins as an assistant principal and then principal at Cherokee. He taught Rafalowski’s two children.


Gardenhour is a native of Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, but came to the Tri-Cities after high school graduation in 1994 to attend Milligan College and has stayed in the region ever since.

He has been director in Elizabethton the past four years and worked in the central office there from 2009 to 2015 in various positions. Before that, he was principal at West Side Elementary in Elizabethton from 2006 to 2008 and taught in Kingsport City Schools from 1999 to 2006 and Johnson City Schools from 1998 to 1999 at various grade levels. He has a bachelor’s of science in biology and chemistry from Milligan, a master’s in education from Milligan, an educational specialist degree in administration and supervision from LMU and a doctorate in educational leadership and policy analysis from ETSU.

“I think it’s (interest in the position) really to have an impact on the most children in the region. I really believe Northeast Tennessee is going to be an important place in the future,” Gardenhour said. “And I think Sullivan County is at the heart of that.”

He said he is impressed with the system’s curriculum. “They focus on children first in all decisions they make,” he said. “That’s something I want to be part of.”

“In general, I think they (in Sullivan County) are on an upswing,” Gardenhour said, adding that he lived in Sullivan County 15 years and attended Colonial Heights Christian Church while here. “I have so much respect for the people there.”


The director’s search has become a reunion of sorts for the candidates, who have crossed paths before. 

From kindergarten through fourth grade at Surgoinsville Elementary, Fraley said he remembers Cox as an upper classman. Later, he and Cox recalled, Fraley was on the Cherokee football team when Cox was band director there. (Fraley’s family had moved from Surgoinsville to Rogersville before he started fifth grade.) In addition, Fraley and Gardenhour said they spent 18 months in the same cohort of an LMU educational specialist program from 2004-05. 

“They’re (the other finalists) all familiar folks to me,” Fraley said. 


Kingsport Times News Videos