Praise of children was a theme Thursday evening at the Quarterly Hamilton County School Board meeting. Jarinzi Alonzo led the Pledge of Allegiance. Christy Caldwell Drake, Principal of East Ridge Middle School, gave the meditation. “It is moments like this I am reminded of three guiding principles my mother and father taught me as a little girl. The first one: It takes a village for a community to raise a child. Second, to whom much is given much is required. Third, never give up…We are entrusted with the best and most valued resource and commodity in our community, our precious children. We take them daily and challenge them, teach them, shape and mold them, encourage them, discipline, train them, and yes, sometimes we even tolerate them, but all is an effort to inspire them to become the best version of themselves they can possibly be.” She introduced the East Ridge Middle School Ensemble to sing “Never Give Up”. Darius Barber directed the children.
Chairman Joe Wingate announced the Exemplars of Excellence. Madison Hayes was recognized as TSSAA Division I Class 3A Miss Basketball. This is a statewide award, chosen by sports writers, that is given to someone with outstanding athletic ability and character. Larrie Reynolds named some of her accomplishments, “Averaged 24 points per game, 12.5 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 3.5 blocks, and 3.2 steals in her Junior season. She’s being recruited by at least 30 Division 1 schools.”
Miss Hayes had only words of gratitude, ”I’d like to thank my family and God for giving me this opportunity to become a good basketball player, and to play for a good school, East Hamilton. I couldn’t thank them anymore, I’m blessed to have this,” as she gave a small shrug and a big smile. Dr. Bryan Johnson asked Brad Jackson, Campus Support Specialist, to confirm the rarity of the award coming to Hamilton County. Mr. Jackson said that Miss Hayes is the second Miss Basketball from this area in its history since 1986. Applause filled the room.
Mr. Jackson spoke about the wrestling programs that had much success this year. He congratulated coaches and assistant coaches and the wrestlers who were state champions or state runners-up in A-AA Division.
Signal Mountain High School: Head Coach, Joe Jellison. Assistant Coaches: Dalton Clark, Joe Drennan and Casey Thompson. The team finished in Second Place, with one state champion, three state runners-up, and three top six place finishers. Head Coach Garrick Hall leads the team at Hixson High School, including Assistant Coaches Jonathan Durham, Kristy McElhaney, Jill Moses, Ulric Winesburg, and Todd Worley. Their team placed 4th with 8 medalists including one state champion and one state runner-up. Red Bank High School was also recognized: Head Coach Nathan Wehunt and his Assistant Coaches Nicholas Boehm and Bryan Satterfield led their team to 20th place of 44 teams. One state runner-up trained with them.
Top students who were celebrated at the meeting included:
106 pounds Caleb Urochuck, 8th grader, Signal Mountain, State Runner-Up
113 pounds Daniel Urochuck, 10th grader, Signal Mountain, State Champion
120 pounds Trevor Lewis, 10th grader, Hixson High, State Champion
138 pounds Kevin Muschel, 10th grader, Signal Mountain, State Runner-Up
152 pounds, Preston Worley, 10th grader, Signal Mountain, State Runner-Up
160 pounds Caden Cline, 11th grader, Red Bank, State Runner-Up
285 pounds, Devotis McCurdy, 11th grader, Hixson, State Runner-Up
“If you noticed, not one of these wrestlers are seniors, so hopefully we will see them back here next year,” said Mr. Jackson.
Mr. Jackson also recognized the effort by wrestler Katie McNabb of Sale Creek High School. Her grandmother passed away during the state tournament. She competed Friday night, went home Friday night to be with her grandmother as she passed, and then, because of how important wrestling is to her, her family “decided to drive all the way back to Williamson County Saturday morning to compete after this devastating loss…I wanted to recognize her tonight with all the other top 2 place finishers because what she did and accomplished was as impressive as winning a state championship,” said Mr. Jackson. She brought home a 5th place medal.
TN Strong Youth brought a group of students to speak to the board about JUUL use in schools. They thanked the board for the Tobacco-Free campus designation and asked to meet with their health committee. Callandra Smith of Hamilton County Coalition said they were there because more could be done. Gabrielle Miller from Hixson High School said, “All schools should have the same consequences. For the first offense they should talk to a counselor and be suspended for the second.” Other comments pointed to inconsistent application of the consequences at different schools, the harm that can be done to others by being exposed to smoke, and Desmond Ware from Brainerd High School suggested that schools should provide help to students who are addicted.
Kathy Lennon, District 2, said, “It’s because of you all that we took a hard look at the tobacco policy and made changes. Back in…September we did make a change to the policy, and we did add JUULs to it, so I just wanted you all to know that. But I appreciate you all coming forward, because I think it is so important to hear from you what’s going on at your schools. When you all come up to us it’s so much more impactful because it makes a difference to hear from students. So thank you very much because it helps us as a board look at the policy a little bit differently. So thank you for your courage to speak to us tonight.”
Jeannette Omarkhall, President, Hamilton County Education Association, talked about Hamilton County teachers investing part of their Spring Break to go to Nashville to speak to representatives. “Many of the things that happen at our school are dictated by what happens at the state level,” referencing Governor Bill Lee’s education plans. While Ms. Omarkhall complimented the governor for $30 million for school safety and proposed pay increases, she emphasized that teachers have some concerns.
“House Bill 940 would effectively nullify the power of a local school board to decide whether a charter school will be allowed to operate as part of the district by creating a state charter school authorizing agency is now expected to go before the full House Education Committee on the 20th. We hope to stop that, and its companion bill, Senate Bill 796,” Said Omarkhall.
The use of vouchers is also on HCEA’s radar, as they believe that there are more effective ways to improve education. “We should invest in what we know works, including recruiting and retaining qualified and committed educators, creating inviting classrooms, supplying students with modern textbooks…that’s how taxpayer funds should be spent,” Ms. Omarkhall said. She stated that “Education Savings Accounts are vouchers with a new name, and we are not fooled.”
Claire Stockman, Content Lead for the Visual and Performing Arts in Hamilton County Schools, presented information about how the arts accelerate the goals of Future Ready 2023. She explained how since 2016 there has been great advancement in creating standards for art forms as there is for all other academic areas. When Mastery Connect came to Hamilton Schools, 65 Curriculum Guides were crafted for music, dance, theatre and the visual arts to align standards and enhance collaboration across all campuses. Before she started with the school system there had not been any Curriculum Guides. “We’re providing very specific and targeted professional development for all of our arts teachers, in all of those different areas,” said Ms. Stockman.
Opportunities have increased for students across the range of art fields with increased staffing at the schools and the partnership with the Kennedy Center. Hamilton Schools was the 27th school selected for this national program, where experts from the Kennedy Center visit monthly to assist in achieving their motto: Ensuring the Arts for Any Given Child. Ms. Stockman spoke of closer relationships with the community to be able to do more for kids, including a new program called Creative Change. This will include signs in bright colors with the slogan Help Kids Be Creative, with money collection points where people are encouraged to donate their change for arts supplies in the schools. People in the community who want to be more engaged with school programs, who want more for students, drove this initiative.
There was approval of TDOT’s request for an easement at Howard High School for a construction project. They offered $26300 for the use of the space. Justin Witt, Director of Facilities and Maintenance, recommended that the offer be accepted, that the work being done would not impact their plans for the school. He suggested that the funds could be used for a field maintenance program of fertilization for the new field.