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ROGERSVILLE — Children don’t always have someone to bring them to the library, so Hawkins County Schools officials now have a plan to bring the library to the children.

Director of Schools Matt Hixson announced during the April 1 Board of Education meeting that the school system has been awarded a grant to pay for a mobile reading lab.

Director of Transportation Rolando Benavides is in the process of preparing a school bus that is no longer in service, but has not yet been sold as surplus, to be converted into the mobile reading lab.

Hixson said that bus will be used to take reading and reading-related activities to students.

Career and Technical Education (CTE) students will be doing the lion’s share of work on the buses, including retrofitting the inside of the bus, making it a walk-on reading lab with hands-on activities, and wrapping the exterior with a colorful design.

“It could have an outdoor activity or area set up as well so that when it pulls up into a parking lot, it becomes a mobile classroom of sorts,” Hixson told the BOE.

The grant was acquired through the efforts of coordinated health director Erika Phillips, grant writer Debbi Pressnell and elementary supervisor Lori Allen.

“It’s really been a passion of Lori’s for several years to secure this type of mobile reading enthusiasm for Hawkins County, but we haven’t had the funds to do so,” Hixson said. “Because of their efforts, we did receive money to the tune of a little over $17,000 to retrofit one of those buses. It won’t be used for student transportation, so we can remove the seats and retrofit it with converters to convert 12 volts into 110 volts so we can run different things on the bus.”

Hixson added, “Our CTE students are looking forward to working on that under the direction of (CTE Supervisor) Brandon Williams. One of the first things we’re going to do is wrap it so it’s bright and visible to those students as it pulls up into the school sites, and we hope to have that done sometime soon.”

HVAC project to be funded with COVID RELIEF funds

Hixson also announced during the April 1 BOE meeting that Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER federal COVID relief funding) will cover the remaining cost of badly needed HVAC replacements at both main high schools.

Last year, the Hawkins County Commission rejected a proposal from the Board of Education to issue a $9.5 million bond to replace the 40-year-old HVAC and duct work systems at both Cherokee High School and Volunteer High School.

About $2.3 million of that HVAC cost is being covered with a $5 million zero interest loan the county received to retro-fit all county school lighting fixtures with energy efficient LED fixtures and bulbs. What’s left over after the lighting project will go toward the HVAC system.

Hixson told the Times News on Friday the ESSER funding is still pending approval from the Tennessee Department of Education.

Assuming the funds are approved, however, there will be enough left over to cover the balance of the HVAC project after covering mandated uses of the funds, including remedial education, summer bridge programs and after school intervention that are mandated through the Department of Education.

“We have enough money left over to contribute $2.298 million toward HVAC,” Hixson said. “With diligent planning already started, we hope to pay for the remainder of that project using one-time federal dollars and not have to place any undue burden on the debt service fund or the taxpayers of Hawkins County.”

Hawkins County Schools opt out of vaping lawsuit

The BOE accepted the recommendation of Hixson to decline involvement in the proposed national vaping lawsuit that was presented to the BOE last month by an attorney.

“In looking back at the data, we weren’t as inundated with vaping as other systems were,” Hixson said. “That is not to say that we were not (affected). We did deal with that pretty heavily about two years ago, and it continues to be an issue. But I think it is an issue that was (addressed) with board policies and procedures that were strengthened that have curbed that.”

Hixson added, “Public awareness has also assisted with the declining use of that on our school sites. That doesn’t mean that it’s not still an issue that we need to be aware of and watch and monitor, but I think our time and efforts can be better spent in other pursuits.”

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