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Clinch School going to four-day week due to road closures

ROGERSVILLE — It was decided at the Sept. 5, 2019, Hawkins Co. Board of Education meeting that Clinch School will have four-day weeks for the remainder of the semester due to ongoing construction on SR 70 and SR 66. This comes after massive landslides in February of this year completely destroyed portions of both SR 70 and SR 66. As the Review reported in, Work continues on SR70, SR66 with mid-to-late-fall re-opening expected, repairs to the roads that many teachers and students use to get to Clinch School are taking longer than expected.

Recent updates from the Tenn. Dept. of Transportation (TDOT) indicate that, barring any unforseen delays, SR 66 should be reopen by mid-to-late October, with a late-October to early-November re-opening eyed for SR 70.

Fewer days, same educationThough the idea never made it to the BOE to be voted on at the time, Director of Schools Matt Hixson explained that “there was an idea last spring that we may need to look at reducing the school schedule due to the length of the drive and the length of time it’s taking our staff to reach the school.”

Though students would be attending school fewer days than normal, they will not be receiving any less education.

“Students would make up minutes Monday through Thursday to account for that instructional time on Friday,” Hixson said. “Then, once the roads open, we would revert back to a five-day-per-week schedule.”

The State Dept. of Education has granted the option to the county for a maximum of one semester.

After receiving an update from TDOT explaining that these roads may not be accessible until October or November, Hixson approved Clinch School’s principal, Denise McKee, to survey area parents’ opinions on the four-day idea.

She also held a parent meeting last week to hear parents’ thoughts on the idea and to allow them to ask questions.

The Commissioner of Education has also approved the move.

“The way that it states in the law is that, if the Department of Education approves that for a school system, it does not need to come to the board, but I am not doing that,” Hixson said to the BOE members. “I made a choice — and Denise whole-heartedly agrees with this — that we are bringing it to you as a recommendation to ease the amount of travel our staff is incurring. But, it is completely your decision.”

Parents largely in favor of the decisionWhen BOE member Chris Christian asked McKee what her recommendation would be for the school, she agreed with Hixson on the four-day idea.

“I propose that Clinch go to a four-day schedule — Monday through Thursday from 7:30 a.m. to 3:45 p.m.,” McKee told the BOE. “That would account for the instructional hours missed on Friday. The doors would open at 7:10 a.m. Our buses arrive already at 7:15 a.m., so there’s no difference in students getting up any earlier. The majority of our students are bus riders.”

She also explained that there had been no parental opposition to the idea.

“We did survey our parents, and we had zero percent opposed to it,” she said. “We had a parent meeting on Tuesday night, and only two parents showed up. I’ve also been doing calls home just to give them updates on what the schedule would look like.”

“I heard from one of the staff members that they live 15 minutes from the school, and it’s now taking them an hour to get to school because of the closure,” Chairman Bob Larkins added.

McKee explained that, because of the closures, Clinch teachers would have to take off an entire day for a doctor’s appointment, for example, because of the extended time it now takes to travel in the area.

All of the inner workingsHixson also explained that the idea has been explored from all angles.

“We also worked with Mandy (Kenner) and her nutrition staff to make sure that no employee at the school site — whether transportation, office staff, or nutrition staff — are impacted by the resulting schedule as far as their hourly wage or their salary,” Hixson told the board. “We are able to make accommodations for the extended day to make sure that no one is losing pay during this time.”

When Larkins asked whether or not school would revert back to the five-day schedule if only one lane of the roads in question are opened, Transportation Supervisor Roy Benavides explained that it would still be safe for buses to travel.

“In working with Roy and his team, we would offer opportunities for his staff that are being shorted a day to work in other locations within the county to make up that time period,” Hixson added. “He is working with his drivers to see, of the three that are driving in Clinch, which ones would be open to coming over and filling other routes or riding along with other bus drivers.”

This is important to note, as Hawkins Co. bus drivers are paid by the day.

Making history“We did research, and that’s what we submitted to the state (in order to seek approval),” McKee told the BOE. “There are over 500 districts in the country that do a four-day-week school schedule, and data has shown that achievement has either stayed the same or it improved — especially in math — and that teacher and student attendance improved. We feel pretty confident that this will not impact for our students.”

She went on to explain that there are 25 states in the country that offer a four-day-week.

“We would be the first public school in Tennessee to do this, so we are making history,” she said.

In the end, the BOE unanimously approved the motion to approve the four-day-week until the end of this semester, with the first day of the new schedule taking place on Monday, Sept. 9.

Grand Opening celebrated at The Castle Barn at Pressmen's Home

PRESSMEN’S HOME — Two Nashville musicians, Pete McKeown and Andrea Davidson, are breathing new life into what was once a dairy barn on the historic Pressmen’s Home property near Rogersville. After cleaning it up a bit, the duo has turned the former working barn into a music venue they hope can be enjoyed by everyone in the community.

They are calling the venue The Castle Barn because, as McKeown said, “we just decided to call it what it looked like.”

A ribbon cutting ceremony was held Saturday, Sept. 7, to commemorate the official opening of the venue.

The nearly day-long event included a non-ticketed “hangout” starting at 4 p.m. on the property, which is located at 908 Pressmen’s Home Road.

The ribbon cutting, conducted by the Rogersville/Hawkins Co. Chamber of Commerce, was held and a ticketed concert began at 7 p.m.

The Castle Barn officially joined the Chamber about six weeks ago.

“We’re excited to be a part of the Chamber because there are so many people in Rogersville right now who are wanting to breathe life into the community and to the town,” Davidson said.

Local singer/songwriter Traci Cochran opened at Saturday’s concert with her signature Americana, country and blues style.

The Nashville band The Young Fables was the show’s main headliner.

“They most recently were on USA network on a show called Real Country and did very well there,” McKeown said. “It was cool because we had them booked for a while before all that happened.”

Getting startedSaturday’s event was actually not the first one held at The Castle Barn, as they held an open mic event in September of last year to gauge public interest in a music venue.

“We didn’t want to move here and assume anything about the community, what they wanted, or what would be beneficial,” McKeown said. “We knew that Pressmen’s Home was a beautiful, historic space, and it seemed like it lent itself really well to having music events.”

Davidson explained that, at last year’s event, they offered a questionnaire to visitors to find out what they wanted to see in the area.

“We had a box where people could answer a question that said, ‘if you could see Pressmen’s Home turn into anything, what would you want it to look like,’” she said. “The overwhelming response was that people wanted music out there.”

Then first official concert took place in June of this year, marking the beginning of the “First Saturdays Concert Series.”

“We’ve been doing these once-a-month shows, and they’re always the same,” McKeown said. “We open up the grounds of the golf course for people to bring a picnic or yard games. It’s a beautiful space to hang out at.”

Supporting artists and uplifting the communityMusic has heavily influenced the careers of both McKeown and Davidson. It was their love of music and its power to bring people together that led them to Pressmen’s Home dairy barn.

“I actually ran a concert organization in Nashville called Sofar Sounds, and we would put on shows in places that normally didn’t have music,” McKeown said. “I was always overwhelmed at the ability for surprising music acts to bring people together to not only enjoy being in the moment with great music but to spark connections in the community that would go off and have their own positive effects. They always say ‘be the change you want to see in the world,’ and one of the things that we saw a lot was how musicians make the majority of their living now off of playing shows. A lot of venues started to take a piece of that pie. They would take portions of the merchandise that they would sell or things like that.”

Though McKeown admitted that he and Davidson are still figuring out the business aspect, they knew from the beginning that they wanted to create a venue that was supportive of the artists who visited.

“Our original idea and the way that it works right now is to partner with businesses in the community who are willing to sponsor the vision of bringing top talented acts to Rogersville,” McKeown said.

So far, sponsorships have been able to pay for the musicians who have played at The Castle Barn.

Saturday’s show was sponsored by East Tennessee Iron and Metal, First Community Bank and Blue Ridge Package.

Giving new life to a piece of historyDavidson actually is close friends with the owner of the portion of Pressmen’s Home property which includes the dairy barn. He mentioned the area to her as a potential venue.

“We threw out the idea for an artist retreat space and came out to see if it would be possible,” McKeown said. “Once we saw it, we immediately saw the uniqueness of it and the beauty of the area and the people here. It hasn’t been an easy thing to do, but it was an easy decision to give it a go.”

Luckily, the barn was still in usable condition when they began the project. They had to do a few renovations to make sure the barn was able to hold guests, but is still in need of some more.

“It still needs a lot of work and a lot of love,” Davidson said.

McKeown also noted that the barn, which was built in the 1940s, contains the oldest self-supporting roof in Tennessee.

They hope that by hosting concerts and making the community aware of the project, they will be stepping in the direction of further preserving the barn.

“Right now, it makes such a huge difference for people to just come be a part of it and to bring their families,” Davidson said. “We just want it to be a place where community can be built and people can enjoy the land and art. People don’t realize what a big deal it is for them to come out to these shows, but if they don’t come out, we can’t keep doing it.”

“We just saw a way to provide a beautiful space out here,” McKeown added. “With the legacy of Pressmen’s Home and everything that has to offer, it just seemed like a really natural fit to create a venue that took care of the artists first and foremost and to provide a space in the community to bring people together to just enjoy life for a little bit.”

Cherokee’s Jonas Leeper (1) is gang-tackled after a catch.

RCS celebrates Reward School, Exemplary School District designations

ROGERSVILLE — For the second time in eight years, Rogersville City School earned the distinction of being named both a Tenn. Dept. of Education Reward School and an Exemplary School District, and as a Reward School for the third time in nine years.

At the Sept. 3, 2019 meeting of the RCS School Board, Shane Bailey, in a data review, discussed how that was made possible through achievements shown through TNReady state test results from early 2019, as well as other important “milestones” that he singled out from those results.

Bailey said that although achievements were made and progress noted in several areas, “we can see through this data that we still have things to work on”.

Three RCS students had perfect scores on the spring test results, he said, two third graders and one sixth grader.

“We are blessed to have so many professionals here,” Board chairman Reed Matney said.

Election of officersIn its annual election of officers for the coming year, the board nominated, and approved unanimously, Matney as Chairman and Todd Biggs as Vice Chairman.

RecognitionsDirector Rebecca Isaacs recognized several members of the school’s track team who distinguished themselves during the 2018-19 school year at the TMSAA State Track and Field Championships held in May.

• Discus — Amelia Metz, who is a 2018, 2019 Back to Back State Champion, with All-State Honors;

• 4 x 100 Meter Relay — Ava Morgan, Olivia Spence, Shi Simpson, and Macy McDavid (10th in the State).

• 200 Meter Dash — Olivia Spence (11th in the State), and Ava Morgan;

• 4 x 400 Meter Relay — Neyla Price, Sophie Weems, Macy McDavid, Landry Russell (4th in the State).

Approval of consent agendaIn a blanket motion, which passed unanimously, the board approved a consent agenda consisting of the following items:

• Approval of the minutes dated Tuesday, August 6, 2019;

• Approval of the Memorandum of Understanding between RCS and Clemmer College of East Tennessee State University;

• Approval of the Memorandum of Understanding between RCS and the Rogersville City Police Department for the School Resource Officer;

• Approval of the Memorandum of Agreement between RCS and the Hawkins Co. Health Department/ TN Dept. of Health for flu shots;

• Approval of several fundraisers and off-campus trips.

Old business and Director’s UpdateDirector Isaacs said that the renovation project for the school’s 1970’s wing will be going out for bids very soon so that, hopefully, those bids can be awarded at the board’s 5 p.m. meeting on Oct. 1.

Responding to Bailey’s data presentation, Isaacs expressed her “deepest gratitude” to all staff members at RCS.

“Words cannot truly express how proud I am of this school family and the accolades bestowed on us,” she said. “We are constantly competing against ourselves and, as good as we are, the state always expects us to do better. Obviously there are some challenges before us and we are addressing those.”

Isaccs said that RCS was visited the week before by Dr. Penny Schwinn, Tennessee’s Commissioner of Education.

“Our ‘chronic absenteeism’ success has gotten the eye of the state,” Isaccs said. “Mr. Bailey has spearheaded that work. The rate was 14% and is now in the single digits.”

RCS now has an official Facebook page she said, and Ballad Health is working on last-minute details to get the school’s Telehealth services up and running.

Isaccs said that enrollment at RCS is about 21 fewer students than the previous school year.

“We typically get a few more around Labor Day but haven’t at this point,” she said.

The decline means a loss of about $10,774 per student in funding and Isaacs again, as she has done at several prior board meetings, told the board that — at some point in the future — measures will have to be looked at to address both the decline in students and funding.

“It’s definitely going to be an issue in years to come,” she said.

The RCS Fall Festival will be held beginning at 3:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 27.

Congressman Phil Roe visits students, fields questions at Hawkins Elementary

ROGERSVILLE — On the morning of Sept. 3, 2019, Congressman Phil Roe paid a visit to students in three classes at Hawkins Elementary School.

Roe represents the state’s first district, which encompasses 12 counties in Northeast Tennessee.

Roe was accompanied by his District Director Bill Darden, his Field Representative Daryl Brady, Director of Schools Matt Hixson, Elementary Supervisor Lori Allen and Sheriff Ronnie Lawson.

At HES, Roe visited Dwain Brewer’s fourth grade class, Amy Antrican’s fifth grade class and Lauren Quillen’s special education class to interact with students and give a brief talk on the workings of the House of Representatives.

“There are 435 Congressmen all the way from Maine to California,” Roe told the students in Antrican’s classroom. “The way it is decided is that, next year, your parents are going to have to fill out a census. What a census is, is it basically counts everybody in the country. You’re going to get counted next year, so we’ll know how many people live in the United States of America. Then, we just divide it by 435, and that’s how many people I represent.”

To put this number in perspective for the students, Roe asked if any of them had attended a University of Tennessee football game.

“I hate to even use this as an analogy … because it was pretty painful Saturday against Georgia State,” Roe said with a laugh. “But, you know how big the stadium is. I represent seven UT football stadiums full of people. That’s 725,000 people — a lot of people.”

He also explained that the students live in “one of the most historic districts of America.”

“We’re the only congressional district in America that’s had two presidents,” he explained. “Andrew Jackson was the first person to hold my seat. He was the first person to be a congressman from the state of Tennessee. It was 1796 when we became a state. The second President of the United States (from the district) was Andrew Johnson, and he was from Greenville — not very far from here. He became president when President Lincoln was assassinated. There’s a third famous person that I know you’ve heard of that’s been a congressman from the first district, and that’s Davy Crockett. He was not born on a mountain top like the song said. He was born by the Nolichucky River in Limestone in what is now Washington County.”

Roe then explained what a typical day is like for a congressman as well as his experiences aboard Air Force One.

“One of the questions I usually get asked is ‘have you met the president,’ and the answer is ‘yes, many times,’” he said. “I’ve had a chance to be inside the oval office and fly on Air Force One. Interestingly, the co-pilot on that plane is from Elizabethton, Tenn. One of the stewards on the airplane is from Kingsport, so we’ve got a local connection.”

He then told the students that those aboard Air Force One actually got a chance to try Pal’s famous tea last October when President Donald Trump spoke in Johnson City.

“When we landed here, I told the young man from Kingsport, ‘your tea is pretty good, but it’s not as good as Pal’s,” Roe said with a laugh. “He said, ‘not to worry, Dr. Roe! We’re going to go and get some tea from Pal’s while we’re here.’ I don’t know whether the President got any of it or not.”

Next, Roe discussed an influential law he created that actually saved a Kingsport boy’s life.

“In my previous life, before I got to Washington, I was a doctor,” he explained. “I practiced medicine in Johnson City for many, many years. I know that food allergies, if you have one severe enough, can actually cause people to die. So, I got together with one of the Democrats and said, ‘we’ve got an idea about where we want to have EpiPens …’ so we sat down and had a bill written out … Less than two years after [the bill was passed], we found out that a young student in Kingsport, Tenn. had a food allergy and would have died had that law not been passed.”

On that note, Hawkins Elementary Paraprofessional Lisa Young shared that Roe had actually delivered her nephew 23 years ago on Roe’s own birthday.

When Roe opened the floor to student questions, one asked how people are elected to congress.

“That’s a great question,” Roe responded. “Rogersville’s own Congressman Bill Jenkins retired. When he did, it opened the seat up. We have to run every two years in the House. In the Senate, it’s every six. You just make a decision that you want to run, and you’ve got to go out and get 25 people to sign their name who are registered voters. Send that in to the state election commission, and then you officially are on the ballot. Next, you have to declare whether you are a Republican or a Democrat. Next August, there will be a [primary] election … and whoever wins that will be on the ballot for the general election in November. That’s when President Trump will on the ballot to see if he gets re-elected. Then, if you’re elected, you serve a two-year term.”

After visiting the students, Roe posed for photos with teachers and students before heading to several other events throughout his district.