BLOUNTVILLE — Immediate past Sullivan County Director of Schools Evelyn Rafalowski once again may head the region’s largest school system if she would accept the job.
She could not be reached for comment on the potential job offer Thursday night.
Near the end of a work session Thursday night, Board of Education members Michael Hughes of the Bluff City area and other board members said they would support Rafalowski returning. They requested that Chairman Randall Jones ask her if she would accept the appointment and report her answer at the Thursday, March 4, regular voting board meeting.
The work session followed a 7-0 called meeting approval of a resolution to spend up to $200,000 on a design for a potential access driveway to Henry Harr Road for the new West Ridge High School.
Jones of Indian Springs said County Commissioners Dwight King of Piney Flats and Herschel Glover of Bluff City, along with other commissioners, indicated they would support that driveway rather than an access road from state Route 357 by the old Sam’s Wholesale Club and attached to Jericho Drive.
Combined, the meeting and work session at the Holston Middle School Library lasted about four hours with one 10-minute break. That school is a few miles from West Ridge, which is on a winding two-lane Lynn Road off Exit 63 of Interstate 81.
Board members said the expertise of Rafalowski, who remains a consultant with the system for West Ridge and was one for East Middle that opened in January 2020, is needed to get the school open for business by the start of the 2021-22 school year on Aug. 9.
They also cited the domino effects of two new middle schools opening in former high schools and other issues facing the school system.
Those include what member Matthew Spivey of Kingsport and Hughes called the regrettable decision of the county commission to end an annual $1.6 million renovation and maintenance appropriation to the school system, which they said left the system scrambling to handle needed scheduled maintenance, much less emergencies like roof and heating and cooling replacements.
WHAT ARE DIRECTOR OPTIONS?
Hughes made his remarks supporting Rafalowski after Jones outlined four options to find a new director: hire the Tennessee School Boards Association to do a search, hire a private individual or firm to do a search, have the school board do its own search or appoint an interim.
Hughes then suggested the board offer the position to Rafalowski, who topped off a 42-year career with the school system with four years as director until she retired in 2019.
Her successor, Hawkins County native David Cox, announced at the January board meeting he was retiring after 37 years in education, including 22½ years as a director or superintendent in multiple states.
“I’ll be open to any other option if Evelyn says no,” Hughes said. “I’m solidly behind her.”
Member Mary Rouse of the Bristol area said an interim is the only workable choice with so much facing the school system and that Cox and Rafalowski have worked well in tandem.
Rouse said Rafalowki retaking the helm of the school system is a “natural transition” she hopes occurs.
WHAT IF SHE SAYS NO?
Member Mark Ireson of Colonial Heights said he would like to see the board next Thursday decide to do an interim appointment even if it is not Rafalowski or any specific person.
“This is really a tough time, and there is so much to do,” Ireson said. “She might say no. That leads you back to finding an interim somewhere else.”
Robinson said he’d like to know if anybody in central office is interested in an interim assignment, but Rouse and Jones said the experience of a former director could not be beat and, for Sullivan County, Rafalowski could not be matched.
“When you’re hiring a head coach, you look for someone with experience,” Jones said. Rouse said “there are great candidates in central office” and that the board should look there if Rafalowski turns down the offer, which is unofficial since the board could not vote during the work session and the called meeting was only for the West Ridge access driveway issue.
Jones also said the system needed someone not afraid to make hard decisions. Rouse said that when Sullivan East High Vice Principal Angie Buckles, now an assistant director of schools for Sullivan, became East Principal when Rouse left, Buckles told her weeks later she had no idea what that principal’s job really entailed.
Baker confirmed that from the audience, and Rouse said she’d never worked more closely with a vice principal than she did Buckles.