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Board OKs K-5 move

Unicoi County Schools will have a new look for the 2016-2017 school year.
After three public forums, during which they received feedback from employees, parents and other stakeholders, the Unicoi County Board of Education unanimously voted to close Unicoi County Intermediate School and return all of the county’s elementary schools to Kindergarten through fifth grade (K-5) campuses during a meeting on Thursday, Feb. 11.
All members of the board were present at the meeting.
“After the tremendous feedback we received at our community meetings – and I want to thank the board for making that available – I feel more strongly than I did before that this is the right move for our students and for our district,” Director of Schools John English said prior to the vote. “Beginning in the 2016-2017 school year, I recommend the board vote to close the Intermediate School and make all our elementary schools K-5 programs.”
Board member Lisa White then made a motion to approve English’s recommendation. Her motion was seconded by board member Ruth Gaines. The board then unanimously approved English’s recommendation.
“I would like to thank everyone who attended the meetings,” board member Garland “Bubba” Evely said. “It was very informative, not only on this issue, but on a lot of other issues. It was good to have community involvement and input on what the board decides.”
The move to close the Intermediate School, which has been the home to all fourth and fifth grade classes in recent years, was prompted by the approaching expiration of the modular buildings that have been home to Love Chapel Elementary for three years.
A sinkhole found on the original campus of Love Chapel in August 2012 led to the permanent closure of that building. Before moving to the modulars in August 2013, Love Chapel classes were held at Unicoi County Intermediate School and Unicoi County Middle School during the 2012-2013 school year.
English said the system received $4 million in insurance funds from the closure of the former Love Chapel campus. Of that $4 million, approximately $3 million was used to lease the modulars and make the facility function as a school.
Had the board voted to keep Love Chapel at the modular campus, the system was expected to pay approximately $1 million for the modulars.
Not purchasing the modulars gives the system $1 million for necessary capital projects, English said.
“By moving forward with the consolidation, we are going to need to invest in the buildings we already have,” English said. “For example, the Temple Hill building has not had a new roof in 26 years.”
With the decision made to return to K-5 schools, the system now must address staffing issues at each school. For example, which fourth and fifth grade teachers will teach at which elementary school starting next school year must be addressed.
English previously said he has met with the fourth and fifth grade teachers and asked for them to give him their top three preferences regarding which elementary school they will move to. He also said personnel issues will be addressed moving forward.
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In other business on Thursday, the board also unanimously approved the 2016-2017 school calendar.
According to the calendar, the first day of school will be Aug. 8. Teachers will have in-service Aug. 1-4. Fall break has been scheduled for Oct. 3-7; Thanksgiving break will be Nov. 23-25; Christmas break will be Dec. 19. through Jan. 2; and spring break will be April 14-17. The last day of school is scheduled for May 19, 2017.
The board also approved spring sports schedules for middle school and high school sports. Also approved was a trip by the UCHS softball team to Summerville, S.C., on March 27-30.
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The board is scheduled to meet for its next work session on Thursday, March 3, at 5 p.m. Its next regularly scheduled meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. that same evening.