BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County Director Schools David Cox announced Thursday night he plans to retire as head of Northeast Tennessee’s largest public school system at the end of June.
Cox, who made the announcement at the end of an almost 3½-hour school board work session, will have served two years as director when he retires. The Hawkins County native left the helm of a school system in Maryland to replace the retiring Evelyn Rafalowski starting in July 2019.
Cox, who turns 60 on Feb. 8, said the COVID-19 pandemic was a factor, making him realize how precious every day is “and that every day is a gift from our creator.”
With a career including being interim assistant band director at Kingsport’s Dobyns-Bennett High School while getting his master’s degree and long stints in Virginia schools before he headed to Allegany County, Maryland, for 10 years as superintendent, Cox has 37 years of service in public education — including 32 as an administrator and 22½ as a director or superintendent of schools. His wife, Penny, is a graduate of Dobyns-Bennett.
In an interview after the meeting, Cox re-emphasized that “personal family reasons” drove his decision, not any friction or issues with the school board or school system. “It’s a tough job, but I’ve been doing it for 22 and a half years,” Cox said. He also said he would be willing to stay on after June 30 if the board hasn’t yet gotten a new director in place.
“I will absolutely help them as much as I can,” Cox said.
“If they should need me after June 30, I will do everything I can,” Cox said, adding that he plans on being there when the new West Ridge High School opens in August. “I’m not planning on going anywhere. Northeast Tennessee is my home. I plan on staying here.”
As for the decision, Cox said “I did pray about that a lot.”
Cox is a graduate of Surgoinsville High School and East Tennessee State University, the latter of which where he earned a bachelor’s degree and then a master’s degree. He and his brother still own the family farm where they grew up, and Cox said he hopes to do more church activities and maybe take a trip to the beach, where he and his wife love to visit.
Cox said his decision was not an easy one and came only after careful consideration. In a brief statement read to the board at the end of the work session, broadcast on YouTube from Holston Middle School’s library with no public allowed to be there in-person, Cox said he will work to lead the school system until his time is up and make the transition to a new director as smooth as possible.
WHERE FROM HERE FOR THE SCHOOL BOARD?
“The decision to retire is one of the toughest decisions one makes in life,” Sullivan County Board of Education Chairman Randall Jones said, adding that he, too, retired after 37 years in public education as a central office administrator in Bristol, Tennessee. “It’s tough. It takes a lot of prayer. ... Our best wishes are with you.”
The decision leaves the seven-member Board of Education and the 8,700-student school system pondering the search for a new leader as it prepares for the August opening of the new West Ridge High near Tri-Cities Airport, including projects to build an access road and get artificial football turf by the start of school.
“We’ve got to get through this as a team,” Jones said of filling the position.
Text of the remarks Cox made to the board:
In June of this year, I will have served 37 years as a public educator, 32 of which I will have served as an administrator, and 22.5 of which I will have served as a superintendent, or Director of Schools. After much prayerful consideration and discernment, this evening I am announcing my intention to retire at the end of June, 2021.
I am deeply grateful for the opportunities I have been given to serve in my life’s calling of public education in all the capacities that have been afforded to me. I am particularly grateful to the Sullivan County Board of Education for inviting me to serve as your Director of Schools since 2019.
My decision to announce my intent to retire is one that has not been quickly made, and one that I have prayed about a great deal. For personal family reasons, I do believe that this is the best decision, especially at this time.
It would be disingenuous to say that the COVID 19 pandemic was not a factor in my decision. COVID has impacted every aspect of everyone’s lives. Specifically, It has impacted every aspect of our operation, in ways no one imagined just one year ago.
One of the lessons that COVID has taught us all is that of how precious every day is, and that every day we live is a gift from God. Like many of you, I have dear friends whose lives have been impacted, and I have lost friends to COVID, and have been reminded of how precious the time is that we spend with those we love.
Our staff, especially our teachers, have worked tirelessly to their best abilities to be flexible and accommodate the many different learning needs of our students this year, and I would like to acknowledge all the hard work and dedication to our students. Our board has taken great pains and care to balance the needs of our students with the safety of all concerned. For these efforts, I am thankful.
There is much hard work ahead of us to get West Ridge open, get our middle schools consolidated, accomplish perhaps the most involved move in the district’s history, the preparation of the Fiscal Year 2022 Operating Budget, all while working to keep our students learning in the best and most safe ways during a global pandemic. I remain fully committed to work diligently every day with our staff and this board to accomplish these and many other goals for the balance of the time I have with you.
Again I am grateful to the Board for the opportunity and honor to serve as your Director of Schools, I am especially grateful to serve with our very talented staff and highly dedicated Lead Team and central office staff. They are amazing professionals. We have terrific principals, teachers, and support staff, who are the backbone of our system, and I am thankful for them as well.
I wanted to give you notice of my intent to retire as soon as possible to afford you the necessary time to seek your next Director. I pledge to work with you to make this transition as smooth and successful as possible and will work to the best of my abilities with you for the time we have remaining together to meet the needs of all of our students.
David A. Cox, Ed. D.
Director of Schools
The board also:
- Heard board member Michael Hughes put the proposal to close Blountville Elementary this year instead of in the spring of 2022 back on the Thursday, Feb. 4, voting meeting agenda. Member Mark Ireson at first challenged the move, saying it was not allowed by board policy and Robert’s Rules of Order, but he later withdrew the challenge.
The vote would reverse the 4-3 decision the board made earlier this month. The vote will be on the original recommendation from Cox to close the elementary school that shares a heating and cooling system, as well as cafeteria, with Blountville Middle that is closing in the spring.
Hughes said savings from closing both schools could be $1.3 to $1.9 million, not counting $200,000 in annual utilities cost and $10,000 to fix a faulty cooling tower.
Ireson said an extra year is needed for the school’s children to get used to the idea of losing their school, but Hughes said keeping the school open will cost enough that it will lessen proposed raises for teachers and spend money on heating and cooling a complex of adjoining schools only half-utilized.
It also would leave the location of Holston Elementary about half empty since Holston Middle is moving to Sullivan Central Middle, to be housed in the current Sullivan Central High. Central, South and North high schools will merge to form West Ridge, being built for 1,700 students but projected to open in August with about 1,900 students.
- Reviewed the low bid from Georgia-based Field Turf USA Inc., a company that installed artificial turf at Dobyns-Bennett High School, as well as Elizabethton and Science Hill high schools. The low bid for the West Ridge and East high schools proposal was $2,165,509, including the two football fields and the West Ridge track. Knoxville-based Baseline Sports Construction, which also bid, will be the supplier of the turf material, architect Dineen West said.
A separate proposal to spend $392,000 on renovating the East High track, work that unlike the other projects wouldn’t be done in time for football season at both schools and track season at West Ridge, may be considered Feb. 4 at the board’s pleasure.
• Reviewed a proposal, up for a vote at the Feb. 4 meeting, to authorize the per-hour hiring of consultants to help with the proposed access road project to West Ridge, an up to $6 million project to be paid from school system funds retiring rural bonds, meaning the money doesn’t have to be shared with the Kingsport and Bristol schools.
- Reviewed a proposal by member Matthew Spivey to vote Feb. 4 on a resolution supporting a proposal for 80% of taxes from newly allowed sports gambling in Tennessee to be designated for pre-K-12 school capital projects. That mirrors a vote recently by the Hawkins County school board.
- Heard Ireson’s argument to vote at the Feb. 4 meeting to add a pool at West Ridge, which would cost an estimated $6.4 million based on a rough 2018 cost projection. Hughes and Jones said the school system has no funding mechanism for that project. West Ridge is to use the current Central High pool about 3 miles away.