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Most claims against Kingsport deal with vehicle accidents


KINGSPORT — Kingsport resolved just over $100,000 in insurance claims against the city in 2020, with most of the matters dealing with vehicle accidents.

Data shows 61 insurance claims were resolved by the Model City last year, with the payouts totaling $103,683, according to information obtained by the Times News through a public information request.

A majority of the claims were resolved for less than $1,000, though there were a few outliers among the data.

• The smallest claim paid by insurance was for $35. A resident claimed a city tractor with a mower cut off the top of his rose bush.

• Nearly $7,000 was paid to a woman when a school bus rolled back into her stopped vehicle. The bus driver said his foot slipped off the brake.

• $15,000 was paid out when a city vehicle lightly tapped a resident’s vehicle that had stopped at a traffic signal.

• The largest claim paid by insurance came to $21,000. A paratransit driver was attempting to unload a wheelchair-bound rider from the back of the van when both the driver and rider fell from the back of the vehicle. The rider had to be transported to the emergency room for treatment.

“We have accidents every year. We have plenty of vehicles on the road every day in the city, and someone’s going to have an accident,” said City Attorney Mike Billingsley.

“Whether it’s an officer, a school bus or a transit bus ... we deal with it just like you, if you were in your personal car. We send it to the insurance company and they resolve it.”

Claims and settlements paid in 2020

When someone makes a claim, city staff investigates the matter. That investigation can be very short or rather lengthy, Billingsley said, noting that sometimes people are mistaken about an accident. The vehicle that caused the damage could in fact be owned by another company and not the city, he said.

From there, the matter could be sent on to the insurance company, or it could be handled internally, meaning the city pays the claim itself.

Last year, Kingsport resolved eight such matters internally, paying out $3,346, according to information provided to the Times News. As with the insurance claims, all but one were for less than $1,000 and dealt with such things as vehicle damage, water damage, a fence repair, and a damaged basketball goal.

Rounding out the data were three lawsuits against Kingsport that were settled in 2020. Two involved vehicle accidents with the settlements being $7,500 and $15,000 respectively. The third lawsuit involved a police dog bite.

According to the lawsuit, William White was asleep on the sidewalk behind the post office on Hermitage Drive when he was awakened by a K-9 police dog biting his right forearm. The lawsuit states police were looking for a suspect who had broken into the Dollar General on Eastman Road.

Kingsport settled White’s lawsuit for $15,000, according to information provided to the Times News.

‘Not another place like this in the nation’: An inside look at Scott County’s unique virtual learning setup


FORT BLACKMORE — If you had paid a visit to Fort Blackmore Primary School this school year, you would’ve quickly noticed something unusual: There were no students present.

The halls were much quieter and emptier than usual, but plenty of learning was still taking place. That’s because the school was converted into a virtual learning hub for all the county’s remote-learning elementary students. Select teachers from across the school system taught onsite at the facility, but only to virtual classes.

The unique setup has not only survived, but thrived. Tammy Quillin, elementary education supervisor and virtual learning coordinator, said the system has proven just as successful as in-person learning when it comes to students’ academic success.

“I truly believe in all my heart and all my soul there’s not another place like this in the nation, that no one has closed a school and taken teachers (for virtual learning), she said.”

The idea is born

Like every other school system across the country, Scott County Public Schools was forced to make some quick changes when the COVID-19 pandemic began last spring.

At that time, though, Quillin knew that the school system’s initial virtual learning setup for elementary students needed some improvements. She worked with Michael Vermillion, instructional technology resource teacher, to brainstorm ideas for the 2020-21 academic year.

“When we saw the amount of students that their parents wanted home education for them because of fear of COVID, I had a little seed in my head,” Quillin said.

“I said, ‘We have two schools that are eight miles apart. That’s Fort Blackmore and Dungannon.’ Fort Blackmore is a primary school, population around 80 kids, and around 80 kids at Dungannon, but only about 40 each were going to come back onsite. I said, ‘May I have a school?’ and the superintendent said, ‘If that’s what you think is best for our school division, you may.’ ”

Quillin said 21 elementary teachers from schools countywide were specially selected for the virtual program based on their expressiveness and knowledge of technology.

Alicia White, a fourth- and fifth-grade math teacher and assistant principal at Dungannon Intermediate School, was chosen to lead the virtual elementary school, handling teacher evaluations and meeting with families.

School system officials began forming the virtual learning faculty in July of last year, and the program kicked off on the first day of school with around 370 students. The program added sixth and seventh grades in January, but total participation dropped to around 280 students during the second semester.

The plan in action

Quillin said elementary students from across the county were mixed together in the virtual classes, regardless of the school they usually attended. Students who would’ve learned onsite at Fort Blackmore Primary School were moved to Dungannon Intermediate School for the year.

When it came to teaching, Vermillion said lessons were designed to cut down on long periods of lecturing, so that even the youngest students could stay engaged.

“We kind of designed it around what’s called a flipped classroom model, where our teachers will record an instructional video explaining the process, and we kind of ask the students to familiarize themselves with that beforehand,” Vermillion said.

“Then when they come to class, they come to class with questions that they already have relating to the topic, so we can use that class time for really in-depth instruction. … A lot of colleges do that type of model, and we’ve found it to be really successful, even with the younger kids.”

Aside from those changes, the timeline of virtual school days mirrored in-person learning in many ways, Quillin said, including time for group lunch and recess.

“We felt like it was important for the kids to get up out of bed, have their breakfast, brush their teeth, put their clothes on, and go somewhere and sit down, just like you would at school, except you’ve got a camera in front of you,” Quillin said. “That’s what we’ve asked the parents to do with the kids, and most of them have done that.”

The logistics

The success of the virtual learning hub was, of course, reliant upon technology. But, luckily for teachers, many of the students were already well-prepared.

“We’ve been a Google division for several years now, so most of our students third (grade) and up already had some Chromebook experience,” Vermillion said.

“We had Chromebook carts in the classrooms that students would use. Kindergarten through second grade, there was a little bit more of a learning curve, but taking those first couple weeks and teaching those kids the process to get on their Chromebooks and the etiquette for an online class, you would be amazed at what a 5-year-old can do with a device, once they’re taught how to use it responsibly.”

That said, some of the youngest students still needed paper and pencil to learn certain concepts, like handwriting. Thus, an assignment delivery system was created.

“We have milk crates that we take, and people load these up for those parents that cannot, or were too fearful, to come out,” Quillen said. “We have people that are taking those to their doors … and then retrieving those assignments that need to come back to us. That has occurred all year long, every Wednesday. That’s the sheriff’s office being involved, that’s the school system, our transportation, and our superintendent does that.”

The special connections

Quillin said one of the hallmarks of the virtual learning hub has been the opportunity for teacher collaboration. Since all the teachers were working from the same location, they could easily bounce ideas off one another and share their successes and failures.

The most rewarding part of the program, though, has been the teachers’ close connections with students and their families, Quillin said. For the first time, teachers got an up-close look inside their students’ homes, and families had easier access to their students’ instructors.

“How often do you get to go into a child’s living room every day?” Quillin said. “You don’t as a teacher, and how often do we allow parents to walk into our classroom? We don’t.”

The future of virtual

Quillin said the virtual learning hub will continue next school year, and enrollment is open now. Beyond that, she said school system leaders will reassess the county’s needs to determine whether the program will continue.

“You hope that life would go back to normal,” Quillin said. “However, through our experiences, we’ve learned that normal can change and be just as successful.”

Tammy Quillin, Michael Vermillion, and Alicia White serve as leaders of the virtual elementary school at Fort Blackmore Primary School. Below, kindergarten teacher Tina Lucas gives a test to a student.

Kindergarten teacher Tina Lucas gives a virtual test to a student Tuesday afternoon.

Kingsport woman thanks firefighters for saving her life

KINGSPORT — When Heidi Wallace went into cardiac arrest at her boyfriend’s house last month, the odds were clearly against her.

She was lying on the bathroom floor; her breathing had stopped and she had no pulse. Most people who experience this do not make it, and even if they do, they don’t come out at 100%.

Yet Wallace was able to beat the odds through the actions and quick response of the Kingsport Fire Department.

Wallace’s story begins April 13 when she called in at work after vomiting all day.

Her boyfriend, Dr. Emmett Crawford, took her to the emergency room thinking she was dehydrated. Wallace said the nurses gave her some fluids and sent her home.

However, she was still not acting right.

“The next day I woke up and I don’t remember any of this. I go take a bath and while I’m in the tub I start screaming and say I feel like I’m being poisoned,” Wallace said. “I’m holding my chest and my legs were trembling and shaking uncontrollably.”

At that point, Crawford called 911, got Wallace out of the tub and dried her off. By the time Crawford walked to the driveway to flag the firefighters in and returned to the bathroom, Wallace was lying on the floor, had turned blue and was barely breathing.

Capt. Justin Waycaster, engineer Eric Wilson and firefighter J.T. Osbourne were the firefighters who answered the call by Crawford, who lives in the Hidden Acres neighborhood. Fire Station No. 7 was located just a few miles down Rock Springs Road, and the three men were on the scene in less than five minutes.

“We rolled her over and was trying to figure out what was going on and started assisting her with ventilation,” Waycaster said. “I was putting the cardiac monitor on her with the pads and she somehow quit breathing.”

Firefighters immediately administered a shock from the defibrillator, started CPR and ran an IV. Two minutes later, Wallace’s condition remained the same, so a second shock was administered and CPR continued. Twenty seconds later, Wilson found a pulse and Wallace began breathing on her own.

EMS arrived soon after and took Wallace to the hospital. She was in a coma for five days and stayed in the hospital for about three weeks.

Last week, Wallace, her twin sons and Crawford went to Fire Station No. 8 to thank Waycaster, Wilson and Osbourne in person.

“I can’t imagine not thanking them. They not only changed my life, but my entire family,” Wallace said. “They’re the reason I’m here today. And I took my kids with me to thank them; otherwise they’d be without a mother.”

Waycaster said the reunion was a great experience.

“It’s not often you get to meet the people you actually work on,” he said. “We usually see people on their worst days and not their good days.”

Wallace, 47, has never had issues like this before. Today, she’s feeling much better. She’s getting out and walking, pushing herself as much as she can without overdoing it.

“I’m just lucky,” she said. “They got here in the nick of time.”

Waycaster agrees, saying the odds were definitely not in Wallace’s favor. In 15 years as a firefighter, Waycaster said he’s seen maybe four patients achieve 100% viability post cardiac arrest.

“Most of the time (the people) die. If they don’t, it’s very rare they come out of it at 100%,” Waycaster said.

“We had a really quick response time and if something like that happens, if you can be there within five minutes, you can change the outcome in just five minutes.”

Scott County’s virtual learning teachers reflect on challenging, rewarding year


FORT BLACKMORE — If you talk to any virtual learning teacher at Fort Blackmore Primary, they’ll tell you that this academic year was one of the most challenging, but one of the most rewarding.

Around 20 teachers from across Scott County were selected to join the school system’s virtual learning hub for elementary students. The Times News recently spoke to several of those teachers to get their thoughts on the highs and lows of the experience.

Alicia White, fourth and fifth grade, assistant principal

“I know that I didn’t know if I would build a relationship with my students like I would if I’m in a classroom, but I really have. I love it.”

Heather Castle, kindergarten

“We have been very blessed, and the parents have adapted well. I don’t think people really expected kindergarten to be able to just flourish, and they have.”

Tina Gilmer, third grade

“I just think it was eye-opening for parents to see what teachers really do firsthand, because they got to see it and hear it, and all those things combined really show what teaching entails at all times.”

Jennifer Housewright, second grade

“It’s been a blessing to be in this little small-knit school so that we can all bounce our ideas off each other, share our resources, help each other. It’s just a really tight community here.”

Michelle Arrington, second grade

“This was kind of cool to me, because it’s teachers from every school, and there are students from every school becoming a family. It really just showed that Scott County is one district family.”

Jackie Meade, fourth and fifth grade

“My biggest hurdle that I wanted to try to conquer was being able to make connections (with students), and I found out really quickly that it was just like the classroom. You still grow to love your kids just like you’re in the room.”

Christi Stapleton, first grade

“It’s been a challenge to learn new things, but it was a challenge that was never boring. There was always something new and different that you were learning.”

Kellie Blackwell, first grade

“It’s a lot different than what they (the students) are used to, but they were learning and they were getting involved. I’ve even told people that I feel even closer to this group of kids than I have the ones I’ve had in my classroom.”

Rachel Kilgore, first grade

“We didn’t really know how it was going to work, but the first-graders have done an amazing job this year. It’s just been interesting to be able to watch them do as well as they have done.”

Patty Deaderick, reading specialist

“It was just such a big change for teaching and having parents’ interaction. It was different, but it was good. … You got to know the children a lot better, and you saw a little bit of their home life.”

Michelle Jennings, math specialist

“I think it’s been a good experience. This is my 29th year, so it was something new for me, too, and I had to do a lot of adapting.”

Morgan Jennings Snodgrass, special education

“Especially for special education, it’s been so rewarding to see the students improve this year, even in a virtual setting. I feel like it’s more rewarding.”

Terry Osborne, Title I

“We give virtual hugs and virtual kisses, and I tell them (the students) I love them, because I do. … The teachers, even though they’re not face-to-face, they are heart-to-heart. That’s huge.”