By Richard Rourk
The Unicoi County Board of Education has shifted to sharing business online following COVID-19 precautions.
The board met in person and streamed the meeting online on Thursday, April 23. Despite the setbacks that COVID-19 has caused the school system, the board was able to accept bids for projects that are scheduled to take place over the summer.
“We received four bids to complete updates to the UCHS auditorium,” Unicoi County Schools Director John English said. “The low bid was $395,700 by Steel Services Quality Construction.”
The lighting and sound system is scheduled to be replaced and the project joins a list of upgrades that are scheduled to take place in the near future. UCHS has been working on several projects since receiving a $5 million capital outlay in April 2019. During a meeting of the Unicoi County Commission that month, the panel voted to approve a resolution for capital projects for the Unicoi County Board of Education for up to $5 million.
During a Unicoi County Budget and Finance Committee meeting in April 2019, Stephens Inc. Senior Vice President of Public Finance Ashley McAnulty laid out a number of scenarios for the capital improvements plan, which includes work at Gentry Stadium and the Unicoi County High School track.
Unicoi County Schools RTI District Administrator Angie Vaughn, recently secured a $50,000 grant that will help with the estimated $400,000 that is expected to be required for upgrading the outdated stage lighting and the sound system.
During the meeting, the board voted unanimously to accept the $395,700 bid by Steel Services Quality Construction to update the UCHS auditorium. The work is scheduled to be completed by the end of summer.
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School was officially closed for the school year on April 15, following a recommendation from Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, but the board is still seeking ways to reach out to the students, their families and the staff and to show appreciation.
“I truly can not say enough about our staff; they have gone above and beyond during this crisis,” English said.
Unicoi County Schools continues to distribute more than 3,000 meals a day to students since school has closed.
“Our food service staff and our bus drivers are showing up making sure that between 3,500-3,800 meals go out a day,” English said. “Our teachers and staff are volunteering every day to help pass out those meals. Our teachers are still working from home in a very different way; it’s not an easy task.”
The board voted unanimously to commit that no employees of Unicoi County Schools will lose any pay following a recommendation from English.
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English is hopeful that the UCHS seniors will be able to have a graduation.
“We will be sending our surveys to our seniors and their families to evaluate the best way to honor them,” English said. “Right now we cannot pack 3,000 people in the gym – that is not viable.”
According to English, there are options in regards to graduation.
“Some school systems are having a virtual graduation ceremony,” English said. “The feedback I’m hearing is that our families would like to have a more traditional ceremony, perhaps later in the summer. Right now everything is on the table and we will wait to hear back from these surveys.”
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In a final order of business, English announced that Food City has donated between $380 dollars to $800 to each Unicoi County School from the Food City School Bus Program.
“I know (Food City Manager) Jacob (Ratliff) was scheduled to be present here tonight but was not able to make it due to the circumstances around our meeting changing to online based,” English said.
English also confirmed that NFS has donated 50 cartons of milk to the Unicoi County Schools Food Service.
“I heard from (NFS Communications Manager) Laura Bailey and they donated 50 cartons of milk to our food service staff and that is greatly appreciated,” English said.
To view the Unicoi County School Board’s April 23 meeting, please visit Unicoi County News and Announcements on Facebook.
During their March 12 meeting, members of the Unicoi County Board of Education took time to recognize local district teachers of the year.
English first recognized Debbie Hatcher, who is the Unicoi County pre-kindergarten through fourth grade teacher of the year.
“Mrs. Hatcher is a kindergarten teacher at Rock Creek Elementary with 21 years of experience and is a leader in both the school and district,” English said.
Katherine Bagby, who was unavailable to attend the meeting due to softball coaching responsibilities, was honored as the teacher of the year for grades 5-8.
“Katherine is a seventh grade math and science teacher at Unicoi County Middle School with nine years of experience and is the softball coach,” English said.
Misty Bishop was honored as the teacher of the year for grades 9-12.
“Mrs. Bishop is a ninth grade teacher at Unicoi County High School where she teaches college prep and honors classes with 13 years of teaching experience,” English said.
According to English, the Unicoi County Board of Education is very appreciative of the hard work that the teachers of the year provide to the students and to the board.
“On behalf of the board, I want to thank you for your efforts to educate the students every day and the passion you bring to the table,” English said.
Unicoi County Board of Education also took time on March 12 to recognize RTI Coordinator Angie Vaughn for her contributions.
“Mrs. Vaughn has always had a tremendous passion for literacy and math, so she made a transition to oversee all of our system-wide intervention efforts,” English said. “We also tasked her to find grants and she worked diligently on that and got Unicoi County Schools a $50,000 grant.”
In a final order of business, the board heard from UCHS Principal Dr. Chris Bogart. Bogart acknowledged that UCHS is focused on pride, passion, purpose and perseverance as a way to keep the students and staff dialed into learning at UCHS.
“Each week we send out a memo of how to focus on the pride, passion, purpose and perseverance mantra and the teachers work with the students on keeping that fresh in their minds,” Bogart said.