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Hawkins Co. BOE considers partnership with faith-based mentor program

ROGERSVILLE — Due to a high number of disciplinary infractions throughout Hawkins Co. Schools, the BOE is considering a partnership with the faith-based organization, I Am for Kids Mentoring Program, that would provide mentors for troubled students.

The program would be free for the school system, would be “implemented and sustained by the faith community,” and would recruit and train community members as mentors. The mentees would be specifically chosen by principals and office staff of the respective Hawkins Co. School.

Schools seeing discipline and attendance problemsAt November’s BOE meeting, VHS Principal, Bobby Wines gave a report on the school’s statistics that mentioned students have incurred 519 office referrals so far this year.

“That does not necessarily mean that we’ve had 519 different kids, though,” Wines said. “That might be 20 or 30 75-point meetings, but that’s a heck of a lot of referrals for one year, and it’s keeping us hopping.”

Increased discipline problems have been popping up all across the county, and Director of Schools Matt Hixson explained that this mentoring program might address this issue.

“This is a mentoring program that we think very highly of, and it would address some of those referrals that Mr. Wines showed as well as the data that some of our other principals are dealing with,” he said.

Attendance Supervisor Greg Sturgill also mentioned that this program could help reduce the number of students who are chronically absent, which is defined as missing 10 percent or more of the school year.

According to Sturgill, around 1,000 Hawkins Co. students were chronically absent last year.

“Research shows that one of the number one ways to get students to come to school more often is building relationships,” Sturgill said. “They need to know that they have a loving, caring adult at the school they know they can reach out to, and one way to establish those relationships is through mentorship.”

“You guys know that we have struggled in this system to meet the students’ needs, and we’ve heard countless data presentations regarding behavior incidents and attendance issues,” Hixson added. “I feel passionately that we need to do something in addition to what we’re doing academically to reach these students — especially if we can do so at low or no cost.”

“You can never go wrong when you mentor a child,” BOE Chairman Chris Christian added.

What’s it like?“Every child has two questions: ‘Am I loved,’ and ‘Do I have value,’” Executive Director Steve Seaton explained. “If those questions are not being answered at home, then they cannot focus on academics when they come to school.”

The I Am for Kids program has been functioning in Middle Tennessee’s Lawrence County for 21 years, and Seaton explained that it has been very successful there.

Seaton got involved in the program because he remembered what it was like to be a troubled student and to receive help from a mentor.

“I failed every grade in high school, and I grew up in a home full of abuse and neglect,” he said. “The only way I knew how to get attention was getting in trouble. When I went into the office, and the principal would pull his or her chair around the desk to speak with me, that was reward enough. I needed that one-on-one attention.”

In his 11th grade year, Seaton received a mentor, but he explained that he was “skeptical of the mentor at first.”

“I said, ‘if he pushes academics or religion on me, I’m done,’ but he never did,” he said.

He explained that the idea behind the mentorship program is to give troubled students the one-on-one attention he described above that teachers alone often do not have time to provide.

Lawrence County schools train community members as mentors, but they also have a student mentorship program that trains high schoolers as mentors for elementary-aged students.

Once mentors are trained, they meet with their assigned child once a week over lunch at the school.

Training mentorsSeaton explained that, in the Lawrence Co. program, each mentor goes through the following vetting process: an application and one-on-one screening, a school-garnered background check, school board approval and a three-hour mentor orientation training.

Once a person is cleared to become a mentor, he or she is trained to do the following things: be consistent, care enough to listen, communicate the child’s value and connect them to a healthy community.

“We tell them that, in order to enter somebody’s worldview, you have to listen,” Seaton said.

Each mentoring session takes place within the school, so it is a “controlled setting,” as Seaton explained.

“The school picks the room with open doors or windows, so it removes any potential for ‘scandal’ at all,” he said. “We always pick a place where it is open.”

The school counselor is also involved in the process which, as Seaton explained, “can be just another tool in the counselor’s toolbelt.”

The faith community’s involvementThis is a 501 c (3) non-profit program that, should it be brought to Hawkins County, would be funded through donations from the community. Seaton explained that the Lawrence Co. program receives donations from local churches as well as businesses and civic groups.

He also explained that the program would be “implemented and sustained” by the faith community, which means that they recruit mentors, coordinate with school counselors to match students with mentors, call mentors for a monthly check-in, provide a quarterly meet-and-greet, and provide an annual banquet.

Controversy over similar programs in KingsportKingsport’s Adams Elementary School actually has a similar mentorship program through a partnership with Christ Fellowship Church; however, the school system recently encountered some pushback about the religious nature of the program from a Wisconsin-based organization called the Freedom from Religion Foundation.

According to the Kingsport Times News, the foundation called the program ‘unconstitutional’ because of Christ Fellowship’s online recruitment post that read in part, “Does walking in the life of a child to show the love of Jesus, influence in a positive direction, and offer an opportunity to be all God designed for them to be pull on your heart strings? If you answered ‘yes,’ then please apply now for our mentoring ministry program.”

“They’re saying that this is a proselytizing situation, and this is not,” Kingsport Assistant Superintendent of Administration Andy True said in response.

In regard to the religious aspect of I am For Kids, Matt Hixson told the Review that, “I Am for Kids has assured us there is no persuasion, proselytizing, or evangelism of any sort within their program or through mentors.”

He also noted that Hawkins Co. Schools “do not teach religion in schools other than historical facts regarding religions as covered by our state-approved curriculum.”

“Proactively addressing social, emotional and behavior issues”“I Am for Kids has a great track record of including all kinds of faith-based, private company, public non-profit, and local businesses in partnering with their mentoring programs,” he added. “Although they are a faith-based company and operate their company based on ethical and moral standards, their purpose is to mentor and build healthy relationships through the mentoring model they have successfully operated in other counties. We are not advocating for a religious group to come into Hawkins County and work with our students. We are, however, very interested in partnering with groups like I Am for Kids, to proactively address the social, emotional and behavioral issues we are facing each and every day in our classrooms.”

He also went on to add that many of the behavior issues facing Hawkins Co. Schools “stem from a lack of morality” among students.

“The moral foundations many of us were taught at home, in our churches, and from those who mentored us as kids, simply is not there,” he said. “Thus, we do see a need for mentors to come in and assist our school staff with teaching these standards of morality, civility, and general sense of right versus wrong. If approved, we hope I Am for Kids, and other ventures we will undertake to combat such issues, will start to make a difference in our students’ behaviors and fill the needs we see and are experiencing in our schools.”


ROGERSVILLE — Hawkins County saw Veterans Day through the eyes of Cold War Veteran Ben McGrew at Monday’s downtown event in Rogersville.

McGrew is an Air Force Veteran who specialized in avionics maintenance and is now the co-owner of the new Rogersville restaurant, Red Dog on Main.

His speech laid out the real definition of a Veteran, the idea of a Veteran community and what Veterans Day means to him, personally.

There is no ‘I’ in Veteran“Though I am talking in the first person, one of the last things in the world that is singular is ‘Veteran,’ McGrew began. “There is no ‘I’ in Veteran — it truly is a community.”

He then read the legal definition of the word ‘Veteran,’ which reads “a person who in active military, naval or air service who is discharged or released under conditions other than ‘dishonorable,’” but explained that there is much more that defines a Veteran than what is within that definition.

McGrew told of two Veterans who had particularly inspired him: his own father and his nephew who is currently serving in the Army.

McGrew explained that his father had served and saw combat in WWII as an Army Artillery Specialist in the South Pacific theater, but he rarely talked about his time there. In fact, McGrew only remembered his father telling a singular story from his time in service.

“He was in Papua New Guinea, and they were in contact with the enemy,” he said. “One of their casualties was attributed to the natives who were cannibals.”

McGrew explained that he learned to “re-appreciate the American service-man” through watching his nephew’s service. It was also during his nephew’s graduation from West Point that McGrew learned a valuable lesson from one of his nephew’s superiors.

At the graduation, someone asked McGrew what he did during his service, to which he jokingly replied “I survived two German Oktoberfests and got a free ride home.”

“A gentleman who was one of my nephew’s superiors took me aside and sharply reminded me, ‘you took that same oath, and any lesser response diminishes your standing in the community,’” McGrew said. “That’s a lesson I’ve learned from him.”

A brave and selfless act“I remember finding myself in a room at the Jacksonville, Florida induction center,” he said. “I had my right hand high in the air, and this is what I said, ‘I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same, and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States, and the orders of the officers appointed over me, and accordingly to the regulations of the uniform code of military justice, so help me God.’”

Though McGrew took his military oath 43 years ago, he remembers the day vividly. This moment and its memory, McGrew explained, are things that all Veterans have in common.

“I don’t think any of us who have ever taken that oath have forgotten that moment in time,” he said. “No matter what branch you served in, your job or duty station, by raising your hand, you committed a brave and selfless act.”

McGrew’s service in West GermanyThough he explained that he signed up because of the travel experiences, the educational opportunities and the ‘great’ pay, he soon learned that the pay was “really not that good.”

McGrew soon found himself in West Germany and was tasked with “supporting our NATO allies against the adversary, which was Russia.”

He did two tours at NATO bases and worked on F-4 Phantoms, which he called “relics of Vietnam.”

“I finished my second NATO deployment abruptly and got a free ride stateside in what they call the Nightingale, which is a Medevac flight,” he said.

He had received a non-combat but service-related injury and “spent Christmas of 1979 in the care of the great folks at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.”

Veterans help other VeteransAgain, touching on the community felt among Veterans, McGrew explained that he received a warm welcome from the Rogersville Veteran community and received valuable help from the Veterans Service Office.

Because he had received a service-related injury, McGrew had previously tried to apply for Veteran medical benefits but had been turned down for 30 years. With help from Danny Breeding and Brandee Smith, McGrew was finally able to claim his benefits.

He also encouraged each Veteran in attendance to give back to the Veteran community through joining a Veteran-related organization such as the VFW or American Legion.

Listen to VeteransIn closing, McGrew asked the gathered crowd to remember three things:

1) “Military pay was, and probably still is, pretty lousy,” he said. “Especially considering the sacrifices made by the individual, as well as the family unit. All this being true, I don’t know many Veterans who would trade the experience, and many stating they would return to service if they could.”

2) “Do take the time to listen to a Veteran,” he said. “While some may be full of hot air, many have something to say.”

3) “I don’t know a Veteran who gets tired of hearing ‘thank you for your service,’” he said.

Hawkins Co. Republican Women elect new officers

ROGERSVILLE — The Hawkins Co. Republican Women elected a new slate of officers at their November meeting.

Eloise Edwards will serve as the new President of the group, with Nancy Davis as Vice President, Harriet Leeper again as Secretary, and Donna Sharp as Treasurer.

These women were nominated by the nominating committee consisting of Chairman Nancy Barker and members Janice Reeves and Holly Jaynes.

Each slate of officers serves for two years.

Laura Pearson has served as the group’s President for the past two years, Sarah Davis served as Vice President, Harriet Leeper served as Secretary and Shelia Myers served as Treasurer.

The new slate of officers will be officially installed at the Hawkins Co. Republicans and Hawkins Co. Republican Women’s Christmas party, which will take place on Dec. 12 at 6 p.m. The event will be held at Occasions on the Square and is open to anyone who is interested in the hosting organizations.

The Hawkins Co. Republicans have also opened a new headquarters, which is located at 110 South Church Street in Rogersville.

For more information, drop by the new headquarters or call (423)-754-3502.

Church Hill’s Cameron Cox (1) steals one in the paint.

Half of E-911 dispatchers' certifications said to be non-compliant: Emergency training, full training audit being conducted this week

ROGERSVILLE — Questions surrounding the Emergency Medical Dispatching certifications of several Hawkins Co. Emergency Communications District dispatchers resulted this week in all staff having to be re-certified by an onsite instructor, and a full training audit of all staff members, because more than half were said to be non-compliant.

That training, and an on-site training records audit, will cost the county more than $8,000 and could have possible legal ramifications should questions arise about medical calls that were dispatched by a person who was non-certified at the time.

At an emergency meeting of the HCECD on Sunday afternoon, Nov. 17, 2019, Chairman Michael Herrell read aloud an email sent at 2:43 p.m., on Friday, Nov. 15, 2019, by Dorothy Cave, RPL, NREMT, the EMD Program Manager for the Daytona Beach, Florida-based APCO:

“As of Nov. 15, 2019, Hawkins Co. Emergency Communications District is not permitted to EMD (Emergency Medical Dispatch) calls due to agency/staff non-compliance. More than half of your staff’s EMD certification is expired. Currently, Hawkins Co. ECD is liable for any issues about EMD during the non-compliance timeframe.”

According to information obtained by the Review, an EMD program is administered under the direction of a medical director (medical doctor or physician’s assistant). Training can be done in-house, using certified curriculum, or may be contracted out to a private provider of such training.

When a person calls 911 with a medical complaint, the dispatcher goes to a complaint guide card and it directs the dispatcher to ask specific questions about that person’s complaint.

Depending on how the questions are answered results in how the dispatcher sends an ambulance — emergency or non-emergency.

The guide card also has specific pre-arrival instructions for the caller depending on the medical complaint. Pre-arrival instructions can be something as simple as “gather the patients medications”, or as important as pre-hospital CPR, talking someone through childbirth, or instructing a person that may be having a heart attack to take aspirin before the ambulance gets there.

Someone who is not EMD certified is basically a lay person advising an ambulance if they need to respond emergency or non-emergency to a medical complaint, the Review’s source said.

Without the EMD program, the dispatcher would not be able to determine what status to send an ambulance or give pre-hospital instructions. In other words, if a person called 911 for someone not breathing, then the dispatcher would not be permitted to talk the person through CPR until an ambulance arrived on-scene.

EMD only effects medically-related calls, with separate certifications required for law enforcement and fire dispatching.

Recertification for participating 911 dispatch center personnel is required, and all APCO Institute certified EMD Managers must provide proof every two years of 24 hours (12 hours per certification year) of Continuing Dispatch Education.

But, as stated in the emergency meeting on Sunday afternoon, questions have also arisen concerning the status of law enforcement and fire dispatch certifications, which has necessitated the need for a full “training audit” of personnel records by Cave on Monday and Tuesday of this week (Nov. 18-19), with EMD hybrid student classes taught to staff members on Wednesday and Thursday (Nov. 20-21). Then, on Friday, Cave said in the email, she will teach one person to serve as the APCO EMD Manager.

“Requirements for the APCO EMD program have always stated your agency will have either a certified in-house APCO EMD instructor or an APCO EMD Manager,” Cave said in the email.

Present for the Sunday afternoon meeting were Chairman Michael Herrell, E-911 Director Gay Murrell, and HCECD Board Members David Good, Fred Castle, Lynn Campbell, Mike Gillespie and Lawrence Wheeler.

“The other night when we had our meeting, some stuff came up about training, and there was stuff that we probably should have discussed but we weren’t aware of it until after the meeting,” Herrell said in opening the 2:30 p.m. meeting.

In that earlier meeting, which was reportedly held late last week, Herrell said it was discussed that the District has four dispatchers who are trained in ECD and six who aren’t.

Because of that, Herrell said, “they (APCO) have shut us down in part of how we dispatch”.

Director Murrell, however, challenged APCO’s assertion regarding six untrained dispatchers.

Six people in the office, including herself, are EMD certified, she said, but one employee, who was the training coordinator, quit on Friday “and walked out”, Murrell said, which leaves five with EMD certification and four who need need the training.

Getting dispatchers into the training classes is the training coordinator’s job, Murrell said.

“Now, we have to have an EMD Manager, which I was not aware of,” she said.

Several years ago, Murrell said, the local District did teach EMD “in house”.

A former employee, who was thought to be an EMT, was given the task of training dispatchers at that point, but that fell through when it was learned that that person did not have a current EMT license.

“At that time, I was told by APCO, and that was my fault that I did not get it in writing, that we did not have to have an EMD Manager,” Murrell said. “From that point forward we have always trained for EMD online.”

Murrell said that she, herself, was re-certified last year. Two other dispatchers were re-certified this year.

“I would have thought that APCO knew we didn’t have an EMD Manager, but they have told me they don’t keep up with that,” she said. “They keep up with our certifications, why would they not keep up with whether we had an EMD Manager? But I can’t get an answer. I have asked in emails over the weekend. We didn’t have one (EMD Manager) so that makes us out of compliance. I understand that we are out of compliance. What I don’t understand is this, we have these people that are certified, we have paid to have these people certified, and have their certificates in hand, and they want these people to go back through this certification and pay to train these people again, and I don’t think that’s right, I don’t think that’s right at all. If they want to come and do a (training) audit, that’s fine, I don’t have a problem with that. I don’t know what they’re going to audit.”

Murrell said she did not think the audit would include law enforcement and fire dispatch training.

Campbell, however, said that he and Herrell were told that the audit would include all training records for the past two years.

Murrell said that with the resignation of the certified trainer on Friday, and the lack of an EMD Manager, decisions will have to be made as to who is appointed to fulfill those requirements.

“The question I’m asking is, why weren’t you on top of it?” board member David Good asked.

“I should have been, but I thought she (the employee who quit on Friday) was doing a good job because every time I asked where we were on our training she said we were good on our training,” Murrell said.

One employee, Murrell said, told her that he went to that former training coordinator several times asking about training.

“So that is my fault,” she said.

Good asked why Murrell thinks the District has more employees whose training is up-to-date than what APCO has stated.

“Because I pulled the records myself Friday morning,” she said.

“Is there a reason why their numbers are different from yours?” Good asked.

“The way APCO works, I can’t get into their system,” she said. Even though she identified herself as the E-911 Director, APCO reportedly told her that it will only release those records to the District’s certified trainer.

Reading from another followup email from Cave, Herrell continued:

“Your agency will not be refunded any money from certification or recertification. All staff will complete the EMD course being taught next week.”

Murrell added that the District is not required to have EMD certification.

“We do query the caller about questions that we know to ask,” she said.

“But we’re doing it illegally,” Good responded.

“We’re not doing it illegally, the agency is out of compliance,” she said. “Let’s not use the word ‘illegally’.”

“But it makes us liable if someone comes back on us,” he said.

With EMD, there is no specific decision-making, Campbell said.

“You ask specific questions and ever how they answer, that’s how you send the ambulance,” he said.

The District does have a Medical Director.

Murrell said that she met with Hawkins Co. EMS officials on Friday as soon as she spoke with APCO.

Because the ambulance service also apparently has to verify or confirm the status of dispatchers’ EMD certifications, that will probably also affect reports required of that agency as well, she said.

Herrell, quoting from the APCO email, said it would cost the board a maximum of $10,265 for the training and audit, but that subtracting the cost of training the former employee who quit on Friday, and other possibly non-essential portions of the training, the actual cost could be closer to $8,361.

“I’m asking that we go ahead and approve the full amount to be paid from savings account, and if we don’t use it we can put it back,” Herrell said.

A motion to that effect was made by Campbell, seconded by Wheeler, and approved unanimously.

One board member said that a spreadsheet, or some form of tracking mechanism, needs to be put in place to keep up with the training needs and achievements of all employees and when each is due for recertification.

“Is there any more training they are not certified in that we don’t know about?” Herrell wanted to know.

“Everything I saw Friday is good, but until I can get into those (APCO) files, I don’t know,” Murrell said. “This has never been a board ‘push’. You never said that we want all staff trained.”

Campbell said that he felt the cost of the audit and training is worth it to “make sure everyone is on the same page”.

Whomever is appointed as EMD Manager and Quality Assurance Officer needs to have the power to issue disciplinary actions, or to pass that decision up to the Coordinator, Campbell said.

On a motion by Good and Campbell, the board voted to approve assigning the Training Coordinator duties to Murrell, and the EMD Manager/QA duties to Caitlin Smith.

The board also agreed to call a special meeting of the Personnel Committee for Wednesday, Nov. 20, at 4:30 p.m., at the ECD base at 2291 E. Main St., in Rogersville, to discuss the situation.

KPD looking to ID suspects in cases of cloned debit cards

KINGSPORT — Kingsport Police Detectives are investigating several instances where fraudulent purchases have been made at various local business using what appears to be cloned copies of actual debit cards.

In each instance, the original debit card was still in the victim’s possession at the time the fraudulent transaction was completed.

Two white male adult suspects were captured on surveillance video during the completion of one of these transactions. A photo, taken from this footage, is included with this release, while a short clip of the actual video has also been made available for viewing on the K.P.D. YouTube channel by accessing the link at https://youtu.be/vZ6lK5h7HlQ.

In one instance, these suspects were seen leaving the scene in what appeared to be a black, newer model, Dodge Durango sport utility vehicle. Anyone who recognizes either of them is asked to contact Detectives in the K.P.D. Criminal Investigations Division at 423-229-9429 or call Kingsport Central Dispatch at 423-246-9111.

Alternatively, if an individual who is able to supply information related to this or any other case wishes not to be identified, tips can be submitted anonymously via online “Citizen Feedback” forms available at the following link: https://www.kingsporttn.gov/city-services/police-department/contact-us.