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Hancock BOE says goodbye to Director of Schools Tony Seal

SNEEDVILLE — In his final meeting as Director of Schools for the Hancock Co. School System, Tony Seal told the Board of Education at its June 25, 2020 meeting, that he “feels good” about his retirement, but will certainly miss the people he has worked with in the system for the past 33 years, the past five and one-half years of which, as Director.

Seal’s last day as director was June 30. His successor, Dr. Michael “Mike” Belcher, assumed that post on July 1.

“I would personally like to thank Mr. Seal for everything he has done for our school system,” Board Chairman Jack Mullins said, in presenting Seal with a going-away plaque of appreciation.

“Mr. Seal, I just want to thank you for your service, too, not just for our school system, but on 38 years of overall service to our county as a teacher, basketball coach, administrator, and to congratulate you on your retirement,” BOE member Freddie Mullins said.

Seal is also a former Sheriff of Hancock County.

He became DOS on Jan. 1, 2015, after spending much of three decades in public education, as a CTE classroom/shop teacher, School-to-Work coordinator, coach, bus driver, Supervisor of Transportation, Supervisor of Attendance, and Supervisor of the GED program.

He began his educational career as a vocational teacher in December of 1981. His love of sports led him to become the head coach of the Hancock Co. High School boys’ basketball team, a position he held for 17 years.

A graduate of Hancock Co. High School, Seal earned a Bachelor of Science degree at Tusculum College, a Master of Education at East Tennessee State University, and an Administrative Endorsement at Lincoln Memorial University.

“I’ll tell you all, during this COVID pandemic, our staff has been great to come in and work, delivering food, whatever was needed,” he said. “I appreciate those who cared enough to come in, even though they could have stayed home and got the same money. That tells me we have people who care and that’s huge. It just shows what kind of people we have here.”

In leaving, Seal said he also wanted to thank Finance Director Brenda Dalton for her “tireless work on the budgets”.

“I think people don’t realize how demanding and how much of a responsibility managing those budgets really is,” he said.


In other business at the June 25 meeting, the Board:

• Approved several routine end-of-year budget amendments as presented.

• Agreed that the cost of a new, electronic sign for the front of the High School/Middle School will be shared by an anonymous benefactor, with the rest to be paid from funds left over from a community grant, and from private donations previously collected.

Director Seal said that Principal Mitch Cantwell has been working on the process of getting the new, programmable sign for more than a year.

A bid of $24,100 was accepted. Of that amount, about $15,000 will be paid through funds leftover in a community grant.

Seal said that a supporter of the school last week, “walked in and said he would write a check for $10,000 to cover the rest of the cost”.

• Was told that Johnson Controls, the company handling a major renovation that includes the replacement of old, worn out heating/air conditioning units, light fixtures, water control valves and plumbing fixtures, and refrigerators/freezers with modern new energy-efficient units for all schools in Hancock County, is closing in on completing the “lighting” portion of the $2.7 million project, Seal said, in which all of the lighting in every school will be replaced with remote-controllable, programmable, LED fixtures.

The new HVAC units are to be delivered on or about July 3, he said, with a helicopter scheduled to fly in sometime in the next couple of weeks afterward to lift the units onto the roofs of school buildings.

“All of the water fixture renovations are done,” Seal added. “They still have to work on the freezers.”

The project got underway in April of this year and will be paid for over a 16-year period — at no cost to the taxpayers of the county — from savings realized by replacing old, deteriorating, electrical and water devices that are “energy hogs”.

According to estimates, the savings on the school system’s annual energy bills, which currently run around $338,000, could amount to $130,000 a year.

Johnson Controls has guaranteed that, should the savings not be sufficient to pay the cost of the loan, the company will assume the additional amount, again, resulting in no cost to the taxpayers.

Money for the 1.5% interest rate loan will come from state funds through the revolving Energy Efficient Schools program.

• The delivery of the last two new propane-fueled buses is expected any day now, Seal said.

“The other new buses have been inspected and are ready to go, so we will start the new year with 11 buses that are 2016-year models or newer, which is amazing for our system,” he said.

Most of the new buses were made possible through state grants that were funded through the settlement of a state lawsuit against the Volkswagen corporation regarding alleged discrepancies of environmental standards on some of their vehicles that were manufactured in Tennessee.

“I want to make this clear, Joseph Southern and L.V. Albright are doing a great job,” Seal said. “We have been able to do all of that with the money we had to replace buses with plus the grant funds, and believe me, that was no easy task to get the grant money.”

Southern is the system’s Transportation Supervisor and Albright is the Mechanic Supervisor.

• Renovation of the gym floor at the Middle/High School is in process and should be completed within a week, Seal said.

• The old, soiled carpeting in four first-grade classrooms at the Elementary School, two special ed rooms, the principal’s office and conference room, has been removed and replaced with new “floating” floors.

“That 20-year old carpet was stained, stunk and was just not good,” Seal said. “It is now ripped up and gone.”

• Seal discussed with the board the issue of teacher pay raises.

When the current budget was set, he said, the board had talked about giving teachers a one percent salary hike.

“Initially, the Governor put in for a two percent raise, but what happened is, last week they (the state’s General Assembly) came in ad vote all of those raises out,” he said. “If you leave in that one percent, that’s $70,000 that will have to come out of our fund balance. It won’t come from BEP money.”

Seal said that the Board and the new Director of Schools, Dr. Belcher, will need to consider that and several other factors going forward into the 2020-21 year.

“First of all, we lost several kids this year and our attendance was off due thee COVID pandemic,” Seal said. “We went from an enrollment of 948 to 905. That’s a huge loss.”

Fewer students enrolled means fewer dollars coming to the county from Nashville, he said.

Based on those numbers, the system will lose about $183,000 for the current school year.

Right now, Seal said, the system has about $3 million in its reserve fund balance, but warned that, with a continued decline in enrollment, and providing money for “unfunded” raises, it won’t take long for that amount to be depleted.

“We’ve been on the downhill slide for years when it comes to enrollment,” he said.

A recent survey sent out to parents indicated that an alarming number say they plan to homeschool their child/children beginning in the 2020-21 school year.

A continued decrease, coupled with costs of a raise, could mean the BOE would have to pull out $300,000 to $400,000 from its reserve funds just to balance its budget.

Plus, Seal said, the system will be faced with the unexpected costs of still having to deal with the ongoing COVID pandemic in the upcoming school year, which is tentatively set to start on Aug. 3.

“We have to get electronic thermometers for every teacher, there have to be hand sanitizer stations in every classroom, and we will go in after school and fog every building, every bus, and every classroom with disinfectant,” Seal added. “Just know that school will be very different this upcoming year. We have to do a lot more cleaning, and those hand sanitizer dispensers have to be refilled.”

Seal said it will be up to Dr. Belcher and the board to decide whether to leave in place the one percent raise that was previously approved for the FY 20-21 budget.

• The board’s next meeting will be at 7 p.m., Thursday, July 16, in the office of Director of Schools.

Motorcycle-car crash on SR 31 injures two Kentucky residents

SNEEDVILLE — A two-vehicle accident on SR 31 at Duck Creek road sent two Kenrucky residents to a local hospital with injuries after the driver of a vehicle reportedly failed to yeild the right-of-way causing a collison, the Tennessee Highway Patrol said.

Investigating officer Jeff Poore said the accident happened about 1:50 p.m., Friday, June 26, 2020, when a 2019 Nissan Frontier, driven by George Charles Corsi, 74, of Sneedville, was attempting to cross the intersection of SR 31 from Duck Creek Road, and crossed into the path of the northbound 1998 Dina Wide Glide Harley Davidson motorcycle, driven by Gary Q. Pick, 52, of Pine Ridge, KY.

Neither the driver of the Nissan or a passenger, Priscilla Corsi, 73, were injured.

Both Pick and a passenger on the bike, Rita Mullins, 53, of Pine Ridge, KY, were both transported to Hancock Co Hospital for treatment.

No charges were filed in connection with the incident, Poore’s report stated.

Hancock BOE agrees to fund $7,500 in special requests from teachers

SNEEDVILLE — At the June 25, 2020 meeting of the Hancock Co. Board of Education, Chairman Jack Mullins passed out a list of potential projects submitted by local educators who asked the BOE to provide funding for through a fund established for that purpose by the board at some point in the past.

Funds deposited into that account are contributed voluntarily by board members out of their own BOE paychecks.

Mullins said that information was sent out to all, and that the requests were presented as received.

Eleven suggested projects totaling $7,500 were requested, and with $7,827 in that fund, enough money is on hand to fully fund all of the requests, Mullins said.

“We don’t help anybody if we just leave it laying in the bank,” Vice Chairman David Jones commented.

With no dissension, the board voted unanimously to fund the projects as follows:


  • Middle/High School Recognition Banquets, $1,500, requested by Mitch Cantwell and Rick Campbell; to have separate academic recognition ceremonies/banquets for each school to recognize, on the high school side, ACT scores and, for the middle school side, to recognize highest grade averages, not just “all As”.
  • FFA competitions funding, $600, requested by Steve Howerton; funds needed since the spring fundraiser had to be cancelled and CTE is not allowed to pay for students using Perkins funds, only the teacher. The fundraiser usually brings in enough money to pay for the students to participate.
  • English III, Book Club and Service Learning projects, $400, requested by Kasey Fugate; money in the past has been used by the students to provide gifts for nursing home residents, and donations of stuffed animals to the Sheriff’s Department to give to children when needed. Fugate said that, at this point, no current project has been picked. That will happen as soon as students return to school.
  • Welding Class, $400, requested by Nathan Hopkins, for use in students taking gifts to male residents of the nursing home. Hopkins said that the students usually play bingo and work on Legos® building projects with the residents.
  • Curriculum enhancement, $700, requested by Joanna McDonald; for use in purchasing two new iPads® for her computer lab. The lab currently has four miPads® and the new units would be used as backups in case an iPad® went down. “An extra iPad® would allow classwork to continue”, she said.
  • Dual Enrollment program, Hancock Heroes project, $1,000, for publishing a book, requested by Danita Dodson; for use in a component of her English classes that Dodson wants to establish — assembling a collection of stories and photos of local residents compiled by members of her classes, and to establish lesson plans for the project. The project will be “anchored in the ELA standards of narrative writing, with an emphasis upon biographical storytelling for the purpose of using sensory detail to describe heroes through the eyes of students,” she said. The lesson plans would involve grades K-1 and “encourage unprecedented cross-level ELA composition collaboration”.

Dodson said that she hopes the end result will be the collection of the students’ stories into book form, and that she has established a partnership with Miranda Russell, who has been working on a similar “Hancock Heroes” project.

Russell, she said, approached her in January about such a collaboration at the same time that Dodson was “brainstorming” her own idea.

The Tennessee Arts Commission is on board with the proposal, she said.

“The aim is to document how the people of Hancock County might be considered heroic in diverse ways,” her request stated. “It will be like a quilt, piecing together tradition and modernity, youth and elders, the past and the future. Many stories, rich in Appalachian heritage, testify to heroism, but they are lost because they are often overlooked and, consequently, untold.”

The telling of such “untold stories”, she said, would be “empowering, reminding us of the values and possibilities in our cultural identity. Real-life characters will rise from the hollers and the hills, and raw Appalachia will be witnessed through the eyes of those who live it.”

The project, she said, hopes to “capture the truth of our community through heartening stories of local heroes whose lives, in spite of hardships and challenges, are testimonies to courage, perseverance, triumph, compassion, selflessness, forgiveness, love, peace, justice, etc.”.


  • First Grade, math manipulatives, $500, requested by Cassandra Bunch; for use in purchasing grade-level math manipulatives to teach “hands-on, concrete manipulatives”, which are “so important for abstract concepts, especially for six- and seven-year olds,” she said. “Standards concerning place value, time, money, addition and subtraction are taught in first grade. The manipulatives will give my students the tools they need to succeed in those areas.”

Funds would be used to create student toolkits, which will save instructional time in the classroom.

“Instead of trying to count out the needed manipulatives for a lesson, students will already have the manipulatives and any other tools they may need in their own individual box,” the request stated.

  • Elementary School All-Stars Program, $1,000, for use in funding a tea/banquet for parents and students who receive all As, perfect attendance, and proficiency on TCAP.
  • Elementary School Newspaper, $500, for use by fifth-grade students to write and publish a school newspaper. The work would serve as an extension piece for students who are reading above grade-level, the request stated. “It could be completed during RTI. A school newspaper is something that multiple teachers have asked about.”
  • Community project for grades K-2, $500, requested by Sara Holt; for use in a new project for the upcoming school year.

In the past, she said, projects have included such things as the compilation of a “Book of Hancock”, whereby students had to write and draw about different things in the community, or collecting recipes for cookbooks from people throughout the county, both books of which were then sold to parents to offset the cost of printing/binding.

Math Manipulatives, fifth grade, $400, requested by Sherry Hunt. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers need to make up individual bags of manipulatives for students to use in math classes to limit possible contamination, the request states.

Mayor, Commission thank Seal for his many years of service

SNEEDVILLE — County Mayor Thomas Harrison and members of the Hancock County Commission, at their meeting on June 22, 2020, presented Tony Seal, the retiring Director of Schools, with a certificate in appreciation of his many years of dedicated service and wished him a happy retirement.

Seal, who has 33 years of service in the school system as an educator, coach, and administrator, is also a former Sheriff of Hancock County.


In other business during the meeting, the board:

• Approved, 12-0, on a motion by Commissioners Chad Burke and Boonie Martin, to set the county’s tax levy for FY 2020-21 as follows:

General Fund — 1.25;

School — .72;

Debt Service — .01;

Solid Waste — .24.

The total tax levy of 2.22 is the same as FY 2019-20 with no increase.

• Approved, 12-0, on a motion by Commissioners Jerry Anderson and Boonie Martin, to approve the first reading of the county’s budgets for FY 2020-21.

• Approved, 12-0, a motion by Commissioners Boonie Martin and John McDaniel to table the reading of the minutes from the board’s last meeting until the next meeting due to the absence of several of its members.

School system welcomes Dr. Michael Belcher as new Director

SNEEDVILLE — Effective July 1, 2020, Dr. Michael Daniel “Mike” Belcher is the new Director of Schools for Hancock County.

The Board of Education voted 6-1 at its March 5, 2020, meeting to offer the position to the 31-year veteran teacher, basketball coach, principal, and assistant administrator, who, since the 2016-17 school year, has held the position of Director of Special Programs, where he supervises and oversees Special Education, OCR, Homebound, Homeschool, Alternative School, Section 504, Gifted Education, Title 9/Discrimination, and evaluations for all principals and assistant principals.

In a unanimous 7-0 vote, the board offered a 3-1/2 year contract to Dr. Belcher at the same rate of pay that Seal was earning.

“I’m just overwhelmed with the responsibility and I am looking forward to the challenge of trying to make this the best school system anywhere around,” Dr. Belcher told the Eagle at the end of that meeting.

Last week, following the BOE’s June 25 meeting, Dr. Belcher told the Eagle that he is, “ready to hit the ground running” for the students and staff of the school system.

Educational and professional background

Dr. Belcher was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, but grew up and graduated from Hancock County schools in 1980.

He later earned, from East Tennessee State University, a BS degree in Urban and Regional Planning (1983), a Masters Degree in Teaching (1992), an Educational Specialist Degree (1994), and a Doctorate in Educational Administration (2004).

He was chosen by the Kellogg Foundation to be part of a principal-only doctoral educational group made up of 20 administrators in the First Congressional District.

Dr. Belcher’s 31-year educational career has been spent almost entirely in Hancock County where, in 1983, he received his first assignment as Principal of the former Mulberry Gap Elementary, where he also taught grades K-8, and coached three basketball teams.

In 1984, due to system-wide layoffs, as one of the last people hired, he was laid off, but was re-hired five years later to teach at Hancock Elementary when it was still in the old “Rock Building”.

During his six years at HES, he taught sixth grade for two years, fifth grade for four years, and also coached the boys varsity basketball team.

In 1995, he was re-assigned to the former Kyles Ford Elementary as a teaching principal (K-8), and also coached three basketball teams.

Five years later, he was re-assigned — and served for an additional five years — as principal of Hancock Elementary (K-8), one year in the “old” building prior to construction of the new elementary school.

In the 2004-05 school year, he was assigned as Director of the Special Education Department where he worked during the illness and later passing of the program’s director at the time.

During the 2006-07, school year, Dr. Belcher became the assistant to former Director of Schools Mike Antrican, a position he held for two years before being re-assigned in the 2008-09 school year for a seven-year stint as principal of Hancock Middle and High School.

Since the 2016-17 school year, Dr. Belcher has held the position of Director of Special Programs, where he supervises and oversees Special Education, OCR, Homebound, Homeschool, Alternative School, Section 504, Gifted Education, Title 9/Discrimination, and evaluations for all principals and assistant principals.

In addition, he has performed contract work with Grand Canyon University (2004-06) to do site visits and mentor online Education Students, and served as an Adjunct Professor for Lincoln Memorial University (2006-08) where he taught Pre-Law and Masters Degree-level Education classes.

Dr. Belcher has four children — two of whom are teachers in the Hancock Co. School System — and six grandchildren.

In his spare time, he enjoys outdoor activities, deer hunting, and wade-fishing for trout and smallmouth bass.

He is an avid fan of University of Tennessee sports, including men’s basketball, football, and Lady Vols basketball.