BOE opts for raises in new budget

By MARINA WATERSwashingtonCoSeal

Staff Writer

“It comes down to the fact of do you have money to spend or not,” Washington County Board of Education member Phillip McLain said during the school board’s second budget meeting on April 18 at the central office. “When you go to the grocery store, do you buy the steaks or the hamburger? That’s what it amounts to.”

Later, the board unanimously voted for a 2-percent raise for all Washington County School employees, leaving the budget out of balance by $1,449,440.

“My hope is eventually while I’m here, to give teachers raises,” Director of Schools Kimber Halliburton said at the previous school board budget meeting on April 13. “I just hope we can do it. But we’re going to have to look at what we can cut, given the picture that the mayor is painting for all of us. And I don’t even know if we can do it when we cut. But that’s my hope and that’s my dream to do that.”

At the April 13 meeting, Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge reminded the board of the budget funding parameters after last year’s 40-cent tax increase in part for the school district’s new school projects.

“We have no new revenue. We’re really in a situation where we’re going to be for the next several years.” Eldridge said to the board. “Folks, this is a tough situation. I think you know county commission is not going to raise taxes. I don’t think we even have to elaborate on that. Every department across the county is facing these exact same circumstances.”

The district is also facing a loss of $560,000 in state basic education program funding due to a 155-decline in student enrollment.

“This (losing 155 students) is huge for our system,” Interim Finance Director Jerry Whitaker said. “If we maintained or kept those 155 students in our system, we could come away with $560,000 more dollars. So everything counts as far as the students go. Students are counted even for square footage and custodial. They’re counted for substitutes. All that counts.”

Director of Schools Kimber Halliburton said the school-age population is shrinking in Washington County and there are few people within the child-bearing age group moving into the region adding to the school district. The district did however add 203 special education students this year.

Though raises could be on the horizon in Washington County, cutbacks on instructional assistants were also part of the discussion at both budget meetings this month.

Halliburton said that Washington County has an overage of IAs and the Tennessee Education Association’s education support professionals report states that the Washington County School District had 214 classroom aides for the 2015 to 2016 school year, the second highest total for IAs in the Northeast Tennessee region behind the Sullivan County School District with 232 classroom aides. Johnson City had 88, Kingsport had 80, Greene County had 113 and Carter County had 140. TEA is still compiling the results from their annual survey for this year’s totals.

“So what I’m saying is, if we continue to keep that many instructional assistants, I don’t know that we will ever really be able to give our teachers a significant raise,” Halliburton said. “And I want us to be competitive. I want teachers to want to stay with us, quite frankly. And I want to attract quality assistant principals and principals.”

TEA’s teacher salary schedule average ranking report for the 2015-2016 school year lands the Washington County School District at the seventh spot out of the 14 school districts in Northeast Tennessee and 64th out of the 145 state school districts with an average salary of $47,587.89. Washington County is no. 2 in Northeast Tennessee county school systems behind Sullivan County in the same report.

While board member Todd Ganger said the added technology in the district could help keep students engaged and could therefore lead to less of a need for classroom aides, board member Mary Beth Dellinger questioned if reducing the number of IAs would cause problems for the function of each school.

“So what I’m saying is, if we continue to keep that many instructional assistants, I don’t know that we will ever really be able to give our teachers a significant raise,” Halliburton said. “And I want us to be competitive. I want teachers to want to stay with us, quite frankly. And I want to attract quality assistant principals and principals.”

“For what we’re paying these instructional assistants, the job they do is phenomenal in our schools. They do RTIs (response to intervention), they work one-on-one with the students. I can’t even imagine what a lunchroom is going to be like without someone monitoring food allergies, diabetes, things like that. I don’t know. I want a plan in place for what to do.”

The average salary for classroom aides in Washington County is the second highest of the 14 school districts in Northeast Tennessee according to TEA’s educational support professional report of classroom aides for the 2015 to 2016 school year. Johnson City School District’s average is at $15.06 and Washington County’s is at $13.31.

“No one is arguing the fine job instructional aides do in our schools,” Halliburton said. “I’m saying that our ratio is much lower. I mean, we have an abundance of them (aides). To answer your question on who will do cafeteria duty, instructional assistants will still do that. What we’re talking about is reducing an amount. We’re not saying we’re going to leave schools in dire straights.

At the previous budget meeting, Halliburton also said other changes could happen in terms of what an IA does in Washington County on a daily basis.

“We’re going to redefine the role of an instructional assistant. We really want them to be focused on the instruction. There are a lot of tasks I think they’re doing that could be more streamlined,” Halliburton said. “And this way we can guarantee to give raises because of our current budget situation. I mean, we might be forced to do this kind of thing anyway, given the dire straights of our sales tax and our declining enrollment.”

“In no way do I disvalue any of the work people do in our schools. It’s just the budget makes us all have to face some realities.”

The budget proposal will see the county commission’s budget committee on Thursday, April 27 at 3 p.m. in the conference room on the first floor of the Historic Courthouse in Jonesborough.

Firefighter continues to inspire good work

XLuke Story in 107

Luke Story


Staff Writer

Jonesborough firefighter Luke Story inspired many, dedicating his life to helping others.

To continue this legacy, the annual Luke Story Memorial Blood Drive will be back again on Monday, April 24, at the Jonesborough Visitor’s Center to continue to spread the idea of helping the community—a mission that both Story’s life and one of the blood drive coordinators, the Jonesborough Community Chest, both share.

“We felt that Luke Story was a dedicated public servant, he cared about his community and really embraced a lot of the values that the community chest wants to convey,” Community Chest President Adam Dickson said. “So we thought it was very fitting to put together a blood drive that would not only honor his memory, but would also promote the values of again giving back to the community, coming together as a community and trying to do something that promotes the greater good.”

Story was a Jonesborough native and committed member of the Jonesborough Fire Department and Washington County Emergency Services. He was also heavily involved with the community through his work with projects such as the Christmas event, Shop With A Cop, and the Prom Promise he enacted with David Crockett High School and later Daniel Boone High School and for which he won an award for his service. In 2015, he faced from which he died at age 37.

“Luke was just an exceptional young man. Luke is one of those individuals who sincerely had a servant’s heart,” Public Safety director Craig Ford said. “He was constantly, not only serving his community as a firefighter, but looking for some things to do to make his community a better place.”

XLuke's mom, Jayne StoryThe Luke Story Foundation for patients and families dealing with pancreatic cancer was created in his honor and now the “Story Strong” blood drive, as it is also called, is dedicated to raising funds for the foundation and also collecting blood donations at the event through the non-profit regional blood center, Blood Assurance.

“Our goals are very small. We’re hoping to have 30 people come and donate and we want to try to raise $500 to give to the pancreatic cancer foundation. So it’s not out of the way,” Dickson said. “If we have to undergo an operation, then we need blood. If we’re in a car accident, we need blood. So it’s a very simple task, but it’s a very universal task. It’s something everybody can do and it’s a really great service project.”

While the event was created to raise money and blood donations while honoring Story, Dickson is also hoping the event will support the belief of helping one’s neighbor in such a community as Tennessee’s oldest town.

“In an area like Northeast Tennessee, we’re still shielded from the rest of the country, but a lot of the country has gotten away from the idea of just simply loving their neighbor and showing concern for their neighbor,” Dickson said. “So the concept is still alive here locally, but in many cases, neighborhoods have changed over the course of say 20, 30 years. Because we’re now so busy, the opportunity to get to know your neighbors is a little bit harder now. By donating and spending time, hopefully we get to know each other and build that sense of community.”

That community spirit isn’t something that just popped up with the springtime daisies one April afternoon in Jonesborough, according to Dickson. He considers the sense of community found at events such as the Luke Story Memorial Blood Drive as something that Jonesborough honestly represents.

“The sense of community that you feel when you go into Jonesborough, that did not just happen on it’s own. It’s intentional,” Dickson explained. “We have a really great gem in Tennessee’s oldest town and it’s not based on cash, it’s not based on influence or prestige, or position. It’s based on individuals who are intentional to make it work. And that’s the reason that we’ve got to continue to do these events. That’s the reason we need to grow the Community Chest. That’s the reason we need the McKinney Arts Center and all these kinds of things because we have to be intentional in building community.”

“I’m sure you hear so many times that people feel like Jonesborough is a special place,” Ford said. “There is such a strong sense of community here. We’ve heard Main Street characterized more than once as the front porch of America. So certainly having events like this in our community, it shows that we certainly in Jonesborough are walking the walk and not just talking the talk.”

In addition to reaching the events fundraising and community goals, Ford, who knew Story well and hired him as Jonesborough’s first full-time firefighter, is also hoping to spread cancer awareness through the event.

“I feel strongly that there is a cure out there for cancer. I lost an uncle to pancreatic cancer. I lost a mother-in-law to stomach cancer. We need to constantly keep reminding people of the seriousness of cancer and we continue to remind the public of the dangers of cancer, how it effects brothers, sisters, son, daughters, mothers, daughters. It has an impact and an effect on just so many people,” Ford said. “So hopefully by us continually reminding people of those who pass away from cancer and also cancer survivors, we hope that that constant reminder continues to fuel the research efforts to find the cure.”

The inspiration to spread cancer awareness and support the community is a driving force for the event each year, but for those at the Jonesborough Fire Department like Story’s friend and fellow fireman, Chason Freeman, remembering Story is a frequent occurrence.

“I knew Sergeant Story for over 15 years. Me and him became really great friends and I had the honor of serving under his command,” Freeman said. “He’s truly missed. It’s hard not having him every day, but we know he’s in a better place and he’s not having to hurt. Humans, we don’t want to give somebody up. It’s selfish. We know he’s in a far better place than what we are, but he’s truly missed. And we look forward to seeing him one day.”

For the fire department, growing the event each year is always the hope, not only to honor Story, but to also help others just as he would have done.

“I want to see this be a big event. A lot of people think of blood and needles and that kind of turns them away. But it’s for a good cause,” Freeman said. “The life you give today may help somebody tomorrow. Whether it’s a total stranger or even a loved on. You never know.”

The Town of Jonesborough, event coordinators and the community all play a large role in the blood drive and fundraising event, but the inspiration, Luke Story, is still a force that keeps this annual event coming back each year—and the late firefighter is someone people in town, like Dickson and Ford, still think about and remember in the good work they set out to complete.

“I think he’d be pleased,” Dickson said. “Maybe he wouldn’t want his name attached to it out of modesty, but I think he’d be pleased about the fact we’re trying to get the community out for a larger purpose greater than ourselves.”

“One of the things I said at Luke’s funeral was that I was proud to be able to say that I made the recommendation to hire Luke. And that’s certainly one that I got right,” Ford said.

“He really did want to make his community a better and safer place and I think he did just that.”

Museum and fossil site seeks funding from county


Staff Writer

The Hands-On! Regional Museum executive Director Andy Marquart met with the Health Education and Welfare Committee during their April 6 meeting with a $1 million request as part of their relocation venture to the Gray Fossil Site and Museum on Exit 13.

Marquart, along with his partners from the East Tennessee State University Center of Excellence in Paleontology who make up the other half of GFSM, requested the funds to put towards the first phase of the relocation of Hands-On! from their downtown Johnson City location to Gray. Marquart said the funds would go into exhibits and structures required to facilitate these programs.

“We are going to begin a discovery center in the sense that we’re going to be STEM (science technology engineering and math) based. We are ready to roll out the learning standards for the state of Tennessee,” Marquart said. “We also want to work with Washington County Schools to make sure we are coming online as an additional resource in Washington County.”

Phase 1 of this two-part plan that is projected to be complete in 2018 is going to cost about $1.5 million. Marquart said the site and museum has raised a quarter of that cost and will be receiving another quarter-million. The director also said the museum receives funding from the state for their science initiatives from the department of education.

It was also mentioned that such a tourism site could attract revenue for the county. But Commissioner Katie Baker said if the request makes it out of the committee, “‘What will investment be from Johnson City?’ will be the next question.”

Marquart said there has not been a public conversation on Johnson City’s investment. He also said Washington County visitors make up about 60 percent of total visitors at Hands-On and that the population within a 30-mile square radius increases by 18 percent at the Gray location as compared to the downtown Johnson City site that Hands-on! has called home for over 30 years.

“It’s more than just about what we do within our four walls wherever we’re located” Marquart said in an interview with the Herald & Tribune about the site. “It’s about what we’re doing out in the community as well and how the community interprets us as an educational opportunity and so there are multiple opportunities for citizen science projects and for people to go up and observe and report back and be part of their community in a way that they never thought possible. And we hope to be a hub for that.”

The decision from the committee has been deferred to their May 4 meeting at the Historic Courthouse in Jonesborough.

Gray methadone clinic site sparks county concerns


Staff Writer

Gray resident Danny Sells sat in front of the public safety committee meeting on Thursday, April 6, to discuss his concerns about the drug addiction treatment center that is slated to open on Gray Commons Circle.

East Tennessee State University and Mountain States Health Alliance have partnered to create a treatment facility that will serve patients who are addicted to opioid-based drugs. A report from MSHA’s corporate communications manager, Meaghan Smith, said the facility will also incorporate counseling, education, outreach, prevention and research.

The Tennessee Health Services and Development Agency unanimously approved the Certificate of Need for the clinic on Aug. 24. But certain members of the Gray area are also concerned about their community.

“We have not had any concern about the fact there is a need for a treatment,” Sells said. “And there is an issue out there that we have to deal with, but we strongly feel that this is, as the experts tell us, a medical issue that needs to be addressed as a medical issue and we feel it certainly should be addressed in a medical environment. And that certainly is not in the community of Gray Station. But we’re going to have to deal with it.”

The clinic’s zoning was finalized by the Johnson City Commission on Oct. 6, 2016. During last week’s public safety committee meeting, Sells mentioned his concern about the proximity of the clinic to the nearest hospital or Johnson City Police station (which is 13 minutes to the nearest hospital and 14 minutes to the closest police station). Sells said this is part of the reason he is hoping Washington County could provide added security to the area near the clinic that is slated to open in late July or early August 2017.

“The thing that concerns us is what jeopardy does this facility put on the citizens of Gray, those of us who live there, those of us like myself who can see this facility from their front yard?” Sells said. “What we’re looking for is the county to work along with us and provide some assistance, to help us make sure this thing gets off on the right foot.”

Though the clinic will have a Johnson City address, Gray Station and Delmer Salts Road, two roads in the Washington County district, are two minutes from the site.

Commissioner Pat Wolfe also mentioned the clinic might have a security officer on site. Sells, however, expressed concern for areas farther down Suncrest Drive.

“I’ve talked to law enforcement from all over the state,” Sells said. “‘They have told me, ‘Danny you will have problems. You might not have problems immediately on the site, but you’re going to have problems at the Road Runner. You’re going to have problems down at the Dairy Queen, down at the Walgreens—that these people will hang out and create problems.”

As the clinic gears up to open its doors to patients in the coming months, Smith also said MSHA will be gathering feedback and suggestions from the surrounding community through the creation of an advisory committee that will include members from schools, law enforcement, businesses, churches and other stakeholders in the community.

Commissioner Mike Ford said he felt many others in the area will also be affected by the new facility.

“Everybody that lives from the Greene County line all the way to the Sullivan County line to the Carter County line is going to be affected by this one way or the other,” Ford said. “And that same danger is from there all the way through Gray to the interstate and outside. So we’re all going to be affected one way or the other.”

The public safety committee suggested Sells meets with Washington County law enforcement officials.

Divisive teacher appeal ends in reinstatement


Staff Writer

There wasn’t an empty seat in the house as the Washington County Board of Education addressed the appeal from Gray Elementary School teacher Jennifer Collins who was dismissed for insubordination and unprofessional conduct following complaints about physical contact with students.

But after the school board decided in a narrow 5-4 vote to allow Collins to return to the school system for the 2017-2018 school year, nearly three rows of chairs set empty as a group of principals, teachers and community members stormed from the conference room.

“She’s a 27-year veteran teacher who until recently had an impeccable record,” Collin’s representation and Tennessee Education Association attorney, John Allen, said before he cited inconsistent documentation as a factor in the case. “Discipline should be progressive and it should be corrective. The goal should be to get an employee to understand and follow the rules not to run them out the door. So documenting at the time an incident happens leads to better decision making.”

Board member Todd Ganger made a motion for the board to sustain its decision of termination of the tenured teacher who had received student and parent complaints of kissing and rubbing male students’ foreheads. The motion failed in a 5-4 vote.

However Mary Beth Dellinger made a motion that Collins be reinstated for the following school year without any further penalties. The motion passed 5-4 with David Hammond, Mary Beth Dellinger, Annette Buchanan, Phillip McLain and Keith Ervin voting for the motion. Clarence Mabe, Mike Masters, Todd Ganger and Jack Leonard voted against the motion.

Collins had the option of arguing why the decision should be modified or reversed either in person or by counsel. Tennessee Code Annotated 49-5-512 (which is the state procedure in the suspension or dismissal of a tenured teacher) also states that the school board could choose to sustain the decision of the impartial hearing officer, send the record back to add additional evidence, revise the penalty or reverse the decision.

The Washington County Director of Schools, Kimber Halliburton issued her recommendation of termination to the school board while also stating that impartial hearing officer Randy M. Kennedy made a recommendation of termination in January following the a two-day December hearing. Meanwhile, Ganger and Mabe also reminded the board that Collins did not follow a directive from her principal when she was asked to refrain from physical contact with students.

“My problem is when a person is asked to do something—especially an employee—and they don’t respond,” Mabe said. “In my place of business, if you do that, you don’t work for me.”

Hammond said children’s services and law enforcement found nothing wrong during the December hearing. Dellinger also cited the tenured teacher’s past record as a factor in her decision.

“With all the information I had already known about this case, I wanted to read the transcript with an open mind. And I read it word-for-word,” Dellinger said. “I found nothing that would warrant this teacher to lose her job. Good past record is impressive. Mrs. Collins has been suspended without pay since October. In my opinion, she’s already been punished and should be reinstated.”

Halliburton also expressed concern for the community—including students and principals—after many audience members had left the room upon the decision.

“This decision tells me that adults come first. It is our charge in this community to create, preserve and protect a safe environment conducive to learning,” Halliburton said. “I’m concerned that students will be reluctant to come to their principal to report a teacher is mistreating them or violating them. This is a very difficult thing for me to say.”

Leonard, who is also the BOE chairman, took the time after the decision to ask that the board come together and remember their mission.

“We have to work as one. If we are out there in disagreement with each other as confused board and a messed up board, we’re not helping our children at all. And that’s why we’re here,” Leonard said. “Washington County is too important. And our children are too important and this school system is too important for us not to move forward. We have to move forward because of our responsibility to our children, to our faculties, to our administrators, to our parents and to our children.”

During Halliburton’s portion of the roundtable discussion following the meeting, the director of schools recalled speaking to the board about making decisions related to agenda items such as the appeal—and how stakeholders in the community could perceive the decision.

“When I was interviewed for this job and sat right down there, one of the questions was, ‘How would you deal with ineffective employees?’ And what the members of this board specifically said is that that’s the thing they appreciate about me is that I did have the courage to deal with ineffective employees and I had the know-how to deal with that,” Halliburton said.

“The county commission is pouring money at us. Pouring money at us. And they say to us countless times that they want accountability in this school district. And you sent the county commission a clear, clear message that accountability does not exist in this county.

“And you didn’t support me.”

Water problems remain at local construction site



Staff Writer

A Jonesborough construction site at the corner of Ben Gamble Road and Highway 11E has been a topic of discussion for residents, the Town of Jonesborough and the State of Tennessee. Now the site, that is owned by Danny Bailey and currently being graded for future construction, has received a notice of violation from the town.

“Danny Bailey did get brought into municipal court on the violation. The judge informed him that he had to seed and straw the area down within a certain time period,” Town Administrator Bob Browning said. “He ended up doing that, but the building inspector sent him a letter right after that court case in which he informed him that if the grass didn’t come up, (it) doesn’t meet the conditions.

“Because of the weather, it did not satisfactorily come up and he has been issued a new notice of violation that he has to stabilize the site. So he’s been given a period of time to do that again.”

The site is home to an unnamed stream that feeds into Little Limestone Creek. The stream sets just below slopes on the site and because deposits from the erosion of the slopes have been documented by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation as having made its way into the stream, Bailey was given the notice from TDEC in December of 2016. The site was in violation of the Clean Water Act which makes it “unlawful to discharge any pollutant from a point source into navigable waters, unless a permit was obtained.”

“Anytime you’re doing a development that’s close to a blue-line stream where there is actual water flowing, it’s a big deal and it is an issue,” Browning explained. “Twenty years ago there wasn’t nearly enough attention to soil erosion in the stream beds and stuff like that and the impact of siltation as a polluting factor in the stream. Jonesborough has a responsibility to pay attention to that.”

TDEC documents state that the property is still “out of compliance” as of the latest inspection conducted on March 21, 2017. In this report, the property failed to conduct twice-weekly inspections, stabilize slopes and all disturbed areas of the site and entrench some sections of the silt fence put in place to keep sediment from running into the nearby stream.

“While the transport of sediment is a natural function of a stream, in cases such as this where construction sites fail to properly retain sediment on site and such releases sediment-laden water, the resulting effect of siltation along the bottom of the stream can deny niche space and substrate required by benthic macro-invertebrates,” TDEC deputy communications director Kim Schofinski said. “If the siltation is serious enough, it can result in the stream partially or no longer able to support fish and aquatic life.”

Though the the Herald & Tribune was unable to reach Bailey, Browning said the property owner has been working to improve the issues with the site. Schofinski also confirmed that some improvements such as new erosion-control matting have been put in place.

“Danny Bailey is currently working on it and our goal is to get it stabilized. So as long as he is making progress in that area, then it’s not so much to get him in court as it is to get it stabilized,” Browning said. “So if he’s working on it, then we’re going to keep monitoring it, but allow enough flexibility to get it done in a reasonable time period, in a reasonable manner. And obviously weather impacts it.”

Rain has been a factor for the site. Though Browning said the weather has greatly improved since the issues Bailey faced during the winter, a large amount of rainfall could affect the site’s sediment deposit.

“Some places are still not entrenched properly,” Schofinski said. “During rain events, fences allow sediment-laden water to pass underneath and into the stream in those places that are not entrenched properly.”

Though the on-site logistics are at the forefront for the property, the future of the site is still slightly undetermined.

Browning said a plan to put a gas station on the site was discussed at a previous Jonesborough Regional Planning Commission meeting, but that it served as a reference point for what could be implemented on the site. Browning said there has not been a site plan including details on the building and parking areas that has been presented to the town through the planning commission.

Browning also explained that the property was zoned as a B6 (which serves as a business zoning) before The Meadows Subdivision was developed. He also said that the B6 zoning requires a “buffer zone” such as a line of trees between any potential business and residential areas.

As for the town, Browning said a safer option for motorists coming from New Hope Road—the next road past the construction site—might be something the town would look into. Because a left turn is unavailable from the road currently, the new business could provide a safer alternative.

“What we would like to see is a connection between New Hope Road connected to that development,” Browning said, “to where people who are driving on New Hope Road can come in and be able to access that signal in order to have a safe turn.”

Any plans for the site will be presented at future Jonesborough Regional Planning Commission meetings.

Commission votes against IMPROVE Act


Staff Writer

A resolution to increase gasoline and diesel taxes and to cut down the food tax failed at the Washington County Commission’s March 27 meeting in a 15 to 10 vote.

The IMPROVE act—which stands for Improving Manufacturing, Public Roads and Opportunities for a Vibrant Economy—is supported by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam. The commission’s vote on the act is non-binding as the state is yet to hold a final vote on the bill that was created in interest of adding funds to Tennessee’s highways.

The resolution originally stated the gas tax would increase by 7 cents and diesel fuel by 12.  The state’s website also says the IMPROVE Act cuts the sales tax on groceries another .50 percent ($55 million) to 4.5 percent and would bring in $278 million in new dollars to fund 962 transportation projects across all 95 counties.

The state’s website includes other tax cuts too; it says the IMPROVE Act cuts business taxes for manufacturers as well as the Hall income tax (a tax on personal income). The act also places an annual $100 fee on electric vehicles and increases charges on vehicles using alternative fuels.

Commissioner Lee Chase proposed an amendment that included removing the figures from the resolution to allow possible changes in these tax numbers; the act has already switched to a 6-cent increase on gas tax and a 10-cent increase on diesel fuel tax.

“I think it is our obligation to support the highway system that this state and county is responsible for,” Chase said. “Obviously the resolution is not binding. I think most of you are perhaps aware that they (Tennessee Representatives) have publicly stated their position.”

The act has passed through the House’s Local Government Committee and must pass through two finance committees before seeing the full house for a final vote. For this reason, Commissioner Gary McAllister questioned if voting on the act was part of the the commission’s role.

“We’ve sent resolutions up to the state. We sat here for hours one night and debated whether or not we should send it to the state,” McAllister said. “I voted no then (on another resolution) because I didn’t think it was our role to do that.”

“I really don’t know if this is our role to send this forward to the state.”

Commissioner Lynn Hodge said he felt the commission’s vote could have an effect on the way in which the region’s state representatives might vote on the bill.

“If I were a representative in Nashville for this end of the state and I had an opportunity to hear from the people back home or this body or from the different county commissions throughout upper East Tennessee on an issue as hot as this one is, I think I would entertain that information,” Hodge said. “We don’t know how they’re going to vote but I think they would like to know how we stand.”

Meanwhile, Commissioner Paul Stanton said he didn’t have a feel for how his constituents felt about the act while Commissioner Steve Light said he had already heard from many who were opposed to the act.

Dan Eldridge said that because the act didn’t effect Basic Education Funding, it would not have an effect on school system funding.

NET Trans dilemma receives short-term aid



When former Jonesborough Alderman Mary Gearhart suffered a stroke many years ago, she was grateful for the presence of NET Trans to aid her in getting to where she needed to go.

Recently, after shoulder surgery, she found herself once again thanking the powers that be for the service.

Earlier this month, she found out this mode of transportation — long a boon to area seniors — would no longer be provided as a free service beginning April 1.

“It really scared me,” she said of hearing the news, “And it had me so worried about so many people.”

Fortunately for those impacted by the recent announcement, help is on the way — at least for the short term.

Representative Matthew Hill (R-Jonesborough), Representative Micah Van Huss (R-Gray),  Representative Bud Hulsey (R-Kingsport) and State Senator Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City) recently announced they had secured emergency funding to continue the NET Trans service until June 30.

“We have lots of our constituents all across Washington County that use NET Trans to go to dialysis, to go to the doctor, go get their groceries,” Hill said. “They obviously need to do those things.

“This is a stopgap measure. It’s a start and we’re working on the long term.”

The issue arose when a recent TDOT audit showed that many of the Northeast Tennessee Rural Public Transportation program services — more commonly known as NET Trans — were not considered rural, and NET Trans made its announcement it would stop providing services to such areas as Jonesborough and Telford.

NET Trans receives its funding from the Federal Transit Authority through 5311 funding, a type of funding that is only available for transportation services in rural areas.

According to Jonesborough Town Administrator Bob Browning, part of the problem is the definition of what constitutes urban and rural.

“You look at this issue of what’s rural and what’s not rural,” Browning said. “The whole city of Greenville is considered rural. And Telford and Jonesborough is considered urban.

“It’s people (in government) drawing lines. And these decisions end up impacting people here.”

It is also a problem that has the potential of becoming widespread, according to Hill and Hulsey.

“The moment the word got out, that’s when we started getting phone calls and letters from people who count on NET Trans,” said Hulsey, who represents Kingsport. “They need it to get to the doctor and places they have to go.

“TDOT is going to fund NET Trans through the end of June, until we can find a permanent solution. And we’re going have to. You can’t just dump these folks out into the world.”

Options discussed so far include transferring the responsibility to the municipal transit authority, such as Johnson City Transit, to another agency or finding additional funding.

Hill, in addition to promising to continue to work on the issue until a solution is found, also wanted to pass this message to Northeast Tennessee residents.

“They need to know their voices are being heard,” he said. “And that we’ve got a good team that are working really hard to find a long-term solution.”

Dismissed tenured teacher to make argument at BOE meeting


Staff Writer

The Washington County Board of Education will again be seeing the former Gray Elementary School teacher Jennifer Collins who was dismissed for insubordination and unprofessional conduct back in November during their upcoming April meeting.

Collins appealed the decision to the school board after juvenile court judge Randy Kennedy acted as the impartial hearing officer selected by the board and issued a recommendation to dismiss the tenured teacher following a two-day hearing of 24 exhibits including student and parent complaints of kissing and rubbing male students’ foreheads.

Now Collins and her attorney will have the chance to make an argument as to why the termination decision should be revised or reversed. Tennessee Code Annotated 49-5-512 states the board may sustain the decision, send the record back if additional evidence is necessary, revise the penalty or reverse the decision.

School board member Mike Masters asked if the board would have to vote on this again if the decision is appealed. The Tennessee code also says that after the board has made it’s decision,  either party can appeal it to the chancery court in the school system’s county within 30 days of the decision.

“This is how the statutory appeals process is set up for the dismissal of a tenured teacher,” Seeley said, “and we’re following that to a tee.”

In discussing what is to come during the April meeting, Washington County Director of Schools Kimber Halliburton also spoke on her decision regarding the tenured teacher.

“I will say that the director’s recommendation is termination in the best interest of student safety,” Halliburton said. “And we do have a sitting juvenile court judge as an impartial hearing officer so I will be asking this board to sustain this decision and that is termination.”

The board previously voted to dismiss Collins in a 5-4 vote in November after both verbal and written warnings from the school’s principal stating that Collins was to restrain from physical contact with students. An October 28 letter to Collins also said male students came forward and expressed anxiety and discomfort in the unwanted physical contact.

The next school board meeting will be held April 6 at 6:30 at the central office at 405 W College Street in Jonesborough.

Jonesborough Senior Center to change hours




Beginning April 4, Jonesborough’s Senior Center will be expanding its hours.

“We’re really just responding to what our members are asking for,” said Senior Center Director Mary Sanger of the new schedule.

The center is currently open to members from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday. The new hours as of April 4 will extend Tuesday and Thursday hours until 8 p.m.

“Since our membership starts at age 50, there are a lot of members who are still working,” Sanger explained.

And these members, as well as others, have been hoping for some later evening opportunities.

This will be quite a change from the old center, but it’s one Sanger sees as a normal progression as the center works to meet the needs of local seniors.

“The old center was open until 4 p.m. and that certainly was not late enough (for the new center)” she said. The decision was reached to establish an 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. schedule and now, one year after its opening, the center is ready to expand again.

“We’ve decided do two nights a week as a starting point,” Sanger said. “You have to start somewhere. And we’re going to see what the response is.”

Members are the most excited right now about having more opportunity to use the state-of-the-art fitness center and its senior-friendly equipment. “A lot of the interest has come from people who are want to work out,” Sanger agreed.

“On Tuesdays and Thursdays, members will be able to come use the fitness center just like now.”

They will also be able to enjoy the billiards room, as well as any other rooms or amenities available at the

Reading improvements could start with special programs

XDan Eldridge photo


Staff Writer

Talk of the town may be Washington County’s proposed new Boones Creek and Jonesborough schools, but at the Health Education and Welfare Committee meeting on March 2, the focus was on the learning going on inside currently existing Washington County Schools — specifically reading proficiency.

Washington County Director of Schools, Kimber Halliburton, recently reported to the HEW committee and the school board that reading proficiency in Washington County for grades K-3 is at 55 percent—a number Halliburton said she aims to increase to 75 percent.

This sparked the committee’s conversation about programs from organizations like Niswonger Foundation that could lend a hand with this goal. Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge said Niswonger has been expanding into other counties and is an option. He also said Coalition for Kids, which currently serves the Johnson City School System, is initiating services in Washington County.

“Coalition has been remarkably affective in improving the reading levels of the kids that come into their after-school program. The numbers speak for themselves,” Eldridge said. “They are very, very interested in expanding that program into the county schools.”

Eldridge also said that such programs could be costly, but that resources are making themselves available and would pay for the majority of the cost outside of what is available through the county’s school-funding budget. But the gains as a result of these programs could be what Washington County needs to achieve a 75 percent reading-proficiency goal.

“I think that the opportunity for some significant improvement in student outcomes is going to be very real,” Eldridge said. “And it’s going to be based on some historical successes that they (Coalition for Kids) have had with the very same program they have in Johnson City.

“We’ve got several very specific opportunities lined up that I think over the next year and a half will be able to come together and be able to make a real difference in this number.”

Eldridge told the HEW committee he’d also like to see commissioners identify specific areas that could be impacted, like technology—an area the commission recently funded through the audio enhancement systems set to be installed in all K-5 classrooms excluding the round portion of Jonesborough Elementary School. During the commission’s Feb. 27 meeting, a Washington County student showed the commission how the enhancements, which are meant to help elementary-age students who could have hearing loss due to illness or allergies, work. The technology is used to improve a student’s ability to hear instructions, thus improving reading scores.

The teachers present during the audio enhancement presentation at the commission meeting also mentioned an renewed student-interest in reading due to the use of the microphone.

For county commissioner and HEW committee chairwoman Katie Baker, identifying the specific focus to improve the rate is of importance. During the BOE and HEW joint meeting, Halliburton presented a comparison of every elementary school in the district and their scores in each school subject. This brought about an interest from the commission in specifying which areas—and possibly which schools—need the most aid.

“We saw it from two different angles the other night,” Baker explained. “We saw school-specific performance. Are there schools in the system that need more resources to improve their scores or are we looking towards specific subjects like English language arts where we need to infuse resources?

“And it may be a little bit of both.”

In order to know what area to aid first, Eldridge said he felt the commission, with help from the school system, needed to concentrate on data.

“I think we need to become much more data-driven. It’s obvious that the school system has the ability to collect data,” Eldridge explained.

“If we could ever figure out among ourselves, working in collaboration with the school system, how to use that data and actually provide real indicators of progress as a result of these investments, I think that’s how we ultimately get to where the school system wants to be—where a lot of us want to be.”

Report card ignites quest to reach goals



Staff Writer

“We must be obsessed with data,” Washington County Director of Schools Kimber Halliburton said during her presentation at the joint board of education and health education and welfare committee meeting. “If we’re ever going to move the needle and be the No. 1 ranked school district in the northeast region, we have to constantly look at the data and constantly decide what strategies we will implement to improve that data. Data shows us what we’re strong in. It shows us what we’re weak in.”

The strengths and weakness presented by Halliburton during the Feb. 22 meeting from the state report card for Washington County Schools took over the first half of the meeting, starting with elementary TCAP reports.

Washington County was at 69.1 percent for math according to 2015-2016 TCAP scores—the last year of data available due to the testing mishap last spring. Meanwhile, 55 percent of K-8 students are reading on grade level by third grade. Halliburton said the school system has enacted a goal of increasing this number by a minimum of 2 percent.

“We’ve got to focus our attention on the technologies the teachers need to do this,” Halliburton said, “and then the subscriptions once we have the technology in place that will better equip our teachers to do this. We have talented teachers that can do this.”

A portion of this plan to incorporate more technology into Washington County Schools is already in motion; audio enhancement for all K-5 classrooms—excluding the round portion of Jonesborough Elementary School—will be installed over spring break, Halliburton said.

“Hopefully we’ll start seeing gains from the technology that we have in place,” school board member Todd Ganger said during the meeting. “These kids are wanting to learn, so hopefully we’ll see those gains and it will be a trickle down effect.”

Halliburton’s goals didn’t stop at elementary education however; Washington County’s Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System is used to track the academic progress of students in a district.

However, TVAAS does not include grades 4-8 due to testing errors. Washington County was at level 5 for math for the 2015-2016 school year. Level 5 indicates that a district is exceeding expected growth. However, the school system was at level 1 for literacy which indicates that the district is making less than the expected growth.

Meanwhile, graduation rates for Washington county are at 90.2 percent which is four percent lower than that of Sullivan County. Halliburton said she aims to increase the graduation rate to 94 percent.

To do this, Halliburton intends to continue incorporating Asbury Optional High School, Midway school and the Tennessee Virtual Academy as an option in order to up the percentage of high school graduates in Washington County.

She also said the virtual academy has grown from five students to 12 since her time here. Changing the name from Washington County Virtual Academy to Tennessee Virtual Academy has also helped up enrollment, Halliburton said.

“I think the way that you increase your graduation goal is you have as many alternative programs out there as you possibly can,” Halliburton said. “I’ve shared with you all that my brother was a high school drop out. If he had had a program like Asbury, Midway, or maybe even an online program he may have earned a high school diploma. Those kids are pretty dear to my heart.”

To reach these academic goals, the director of schools also spoke on accountability for all members of the county from parents to Halliburton herself.

“It’s accountability for all. It’s accountability for parents, it’s accountability for the superintendent, it’s accountability for teachers,” Halliburton said.

“It’s hard for commissioners to stand up there and say, ‘We’re going to hold parents accountable.’ But that’s exactly what they need to do. It’s hard for school board members as elected officials to say, ‘We’re going to hold teachers accountable,” but that’s exactly what you’re going to need to do. For us to be number one, that’s what we must do.”

New commissioner takes his seat

commissioner johnson


Staff Writer

There’s a new Washington County Commissioner in town, but his journey getting there wasn’t a simple one.

The commission voted Richard Johnson as their newest member after a three rounds of voting. Johnson is a retired 1st Judicial District Chancellor from Johnson City. The commissioner was up against East Tennessee State University Department of Family Medicine Associate Professor Jodi Jones, former Washington County Commissioner Phil McPeak, Johnson City Cardinals General Manager Tyler Parsons.

County attorney Tom Seeley said the nominee must receive 13 of the 23 votes. The 24th seat was left vacant spot left by David Tomita who is now the mayor of Johnson City. Seeley also said that if none of the nominees reach 13 votes in around, the nominee with the least amount of votes is casted out and voting goes into another round.

With 11 votes for Johnson in the first round, eight for Parsons, three for Phil McPeak and one for Jones, Jones was eliminated. Then, Johnson gained 12 votes, Parsons had 9 and McPeak had one. In the next round, Johnson reached 15. Johnson will serve with Commissioner Katie Baker for the fourth district.

New commissioner keeps it local as he takes on county role



Staff Writer

At the Washington County Commission’s January meeting, Phil Carriger cast his first vote as the newest county commissioner on a resolution to aid the clean water issue many have been facing in the county. For Carriger, it’s these local government issues that put his new role with the commission in perspective.

“It’s hard to believe in this day and time that we’ve got folks in Washington County that don’t have clean water,” Carriger said. “It puts things in perspective. You see all these crazy issues up in D.C. where they’re spending billions of dollars. It really comes back down to earth when you’re local and people are in need of clean drinking water.”

Carriger stepped in to fill a spot left vacant by Joe Wise who is now part of the Johnson City Commission. But the new county commissioner isn’t new to local government; Carriger was on the Johnson City Commission for four years. He also ran for a Tennessee House of Representatives spot for District 7 back in 2014.

“When I was on the city commission, I think I got a good idea of how government works,” Carriger said. “And having been in the business world for 45 plus years, there’s a different pace and a different way business is conducted. I got a good understanding as to why government work takes a little bit longer and is a much slower pace than the business world. It gave me a good idea of the relationship between government, business and the voters.”

Carriger is a retired banker who started People’s Bank and was a Bank of Tennessee board member. He has also served on the East Tennessee State University Research Foundation board of directors and the Johnson City Power Board board of directors. And he considers his combined experiences the right recipe to understand business, government and the people.

“One thing I’m proud of it that I served as president or chairman of the board for a lot of nonprofits,” Carriger said. “I think that has helped me also to get a good understanding of some of the needs in our community. I think having served as the past chairman of the Chamber of Commerce has gotten me a good understanding of the business. I’ve got a pretty good background when it comes to knowing people and knowing some of the issues.”

After experiencing the business and government sides of the professional world, Carriger is now ready to concentrate on his top priority in his new role. He also said aiming to create jobs and improve educational facilities allows a body like the county commission to invest in the future.

“It’s gotta be jobs. I know education is important—I’m a product of Washington County education and the State of Tennessee education—but it’s gotta be jobs,” Carriger said. “It doesn’t do us a whole lot of good if we educate these young folks and they end up going away for jobs. We’ve got to have some good paying jobs here.”

Apart from keeping well-educated adults in the Washington County area, Carriger also said he is interested in the other part of local government—the people.

“I’m always amazed; I talked to some folks in the city and they don’t realize they can vote on county issues,” Carriger said. “They have a county commissioner. They have some say in county government. It’s just amazing to me that they pay county taxes, but they don’t realize they have a say in county government. County government affects them.

“People don’t realize you have a lot more control over local government than you do D.C. You think about it, you’ve got a lot more influence with local government than you do with what goes on in Washington D.C.”

Throughout his time as a banker and local government office-holder, Carriger also considers the time he’s spent with the people of Washington County an integral piece to the puzzle of his career.

“You get to meet some folks that have a lot of influence over politics and then you get to meet some who have very little or no influence on politics,” Carriger said.

“It’s always good to be able to help those folks that feel like they don’t have a voice.”

Gentle giant loves to give back

DSC_3738 2another

Upon arriving at Rhonnie Miller’s farmhouse set on the rolling pastureland of Keefauver Road, guests are met with a gorgeous southern-style, wrap-around porch—and the world’s tallest breed of dog peering through the screen door.

“We were eating at Main Street back in the fall and it was nice out. And you know how close the seating is to the road?” Miller said, watching Henry, her 1-year-old Irish wolfhound sprawl out on the painted porch floor. “They got a fire call and the fire engine comes down Main Street, full sirens, lights, everything on. And he was laid out like this and literally picked his head up, said, ‘Okay,’ and put it back down.

“They’re gonna have to get a bigger bowl at Main Street,” Miller added, still watching Henry, who has his own Instagram account under the name “Wolfhound Henry”, during the wolfhound’s Herald & Tribune photoshoot. “He just kind of looks at it.”

The story is a testament to Henry’s laid-back nature as he stretches his lengthy legs out in front of the photographer who is aiming to capture Henry’s true height in a photo. This easy-going attitude was just part of what made Miller choose her long-legged best friend, a decision the potter and Jonesborough resident didn’t take lightly.DSC_3924

She carefully decided she wanted to house another wolfhound after owning two when her teenage sons were much younger and toddling around with two wolfhound puppies at their sides. She had lost one of the dogs to osteosarcoma, a cancer that is found in the cells that form bones and is common in Irish wolfhounds and the other to a freak accident with a pig’s ear—which she now advises every pet owner to steer clear of offering to his or her dog. Years later, she decided to hunt down her perfect wolfhound. But little did she know how much healing he would do in other’s lives as well as her own.

“We were planning to go back to get him when he was 10 weeks old and I got pneumonia and mono. I got put in the hospital for four days,” Miller recalled. “The breeder actually kept him an extra week. Then my husband went up and got him for me and brought him back. Truly, he helped me get better.

“On his AKC papers, he’s Henry the Healer instead of some fancy froufrou name. So I then knew I wanted to kind of give back with him.”

Now Henry is 7 feet long and his love for people is even bigger than he is. Henry is known for enjoying a stroll in downtoDSC_3928wn Jonesborough alongside his family, but now he is an officially licensed therapy dog ready to make folks in nursing homes and hospitals smile on even their darkest days.

“He’s not just meant to stay in the house,” Miller said. “It’s amazing to see the people, especially the ones at Brookdale at the memory care side. Instead of laying there, they light up when he goes.”

Henry may have a new job, but he still has an affinity for frolicking through cow pastures, trips to the beach, strolling along cobblestone streets, and galloping alongside farm trucks like the one that came crunching through the Miller’s gravel path leading up to their cattle behind their house.

Aside from living up to a wolfhound’s unofficial title of a gentle giant and serving as a therapy dog, Miller said that Henry can read people. He’s also been known to read how Miller herself is feeling. Miller said he can gauge the way in which he should behave, depending on who he’s around.

“We were at the beach this summer and he was rompin’ and playing and running like wild early one morning and there wasn’t hardly anyone on the beach,” Miller explained while watching Henry gallop through her spacious yard. “He and I had gone down to watch the sunrise and this couple brings out a set of twins just in their diapers. They’re probably 18 months old, just trying to run, barely walking good. They come waddling up to him and he immediately went from, ‘I’m having fun’ and just laid down. He lays down and those two toddlers climbed all over him. They were sticking their fingers in his eyes, his mouth, his nose. The parents were taking pictures and were amazed.

“That’s just one example. He just knows. He changes when we get to the nursing home and we’re around older people like my grandmother and then he’ll turn around and rough house with people he knows he can and be a total goofball. And he is goofy as all get out. And a klutz.”

Miller has always been a dog-lover and already owned what she thought was her favorite dog. But Henry not only helped her get better and has served as her four-legged best friend—he’s also been the dog that’s taken up the most room in her house and her heart.

“You know how you say you get the one dog in your life? I thought I already had that dog,” Miller explained. “She was a great rescue dog from a shelter when I was 16. Fabulous dog. I had to put her to sleep when she was like 17. And I thought I’d had my dog. But he’s got Kate topped.”

However, Wolfhound Henry isn’t just a well-known, beloved family dog who is the perfect companion for a spring-like Thursday afternoon on the farm. Miller believes her gentle giant is meant to make her smile, but to also be a light for the people with which he comes in contact.

“I’ve had other dogs in my life. I’ve had every animal from lizards to horses. And he was just different,” Miller said. “And I thought, not to sound crazy, but this is the dog’s purpose. He’s here to do something. So if I can help other people and he can, then that’s what it’s all about.”

— Marina Waters

Board works to balance school costs


Kimber Halliburton reports news fro around the community at the Feb. 2 school board meeting.


Staff Writer

The plans for the new Boones Creek School have become more of a reality—but that’s not to say Washington County is ready to break ground just yet.

Architect Tony Street and Tommy Burleson from Burleson Construction presented new design options for the Boones Creek K-8 to the Washington County Board of Education on Feb. 2. A motion to approve the 80 percent design phase for the Boones Creek school and for Street to start working on the 40 percent design phase for Jonesborough K-8 was passed unanimously by the school board. However, cutbacks were also discussed in an effort to lower the overall cost for the Boones Creek school.

Burleson and Street said they are $1.9 million over the amount currently set aside by the Washington County Commission; but they came equipped with areas from which the project’s cost could be lessened.

The construction cutback options range from replacing the metal roof with what Street referred to as a low-slope roof, replacing only the metal roof on the cafeteria and auxiliary gym with a low-slope roof, deleting the auxiliary gym or deleting classrooms.

Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge took part in the meeting and provided the board with the figures approved for the school projects by the county commission. The numbers were also recently presented again at the commission’s Jan. 23 meeting. Eldridge reported that $26.8 million is the proposed cost for the Boones Creek school. He also reminded the board of the cap on the funds allocated for each school project.

“We’re using all of the money (allocated for the project),” Eldridge said. “There is no more money available from the tax increase. As a matter of fact, what we have done is we have managed to put about 15 pounds of flour in a 10 pound sack. This is one of those rare opportunities where the taxpayers are going to get more than what they expected they would get because instead of doing a new K-8 and two remodels, there will be two new K-8s and an academic magnet. This is a win for the students and for the school system. This is a win for the taxpayers.”

However, school board member Keith Ervin said he felt the cost for the Boones Creek School might not be comparable to the cost of existing schools like Ridgeview and Grandview.

“To build Ridgeview and Grandview we spent—just rough figures—$28,000 a child at a 700-kid school,” Ervin said. “We’re fixing to spend for an 1100-kid school less than $22,000 a child.”

Eldridge mentioned the total costs for Ridgeview and Grandview also included sport facilities while the cost for the new Boones Creek School cost currently does not include the amount of the proposed sports complex. The complex was not figured into Street and Burleson’s presentation and is estimated at approximately $5 million.

Eldridge said by the end of the project the new Boones Creek School will cost over $30 million, but he also mentioned that once the partial design work for the two schools are approved—an 80 percent design phase for Boones Creek and a start on the 40 percent design phase for Jonesborough—it would be possible to consider moving funds between the two projects if necessary.

“By the time you get to the 40 percent design stage on the Jonesborough project, you’re going to know if you have any additional budget flexibility that could be allocated to this project before you have to make a decision to permanently delete anything,” Eldridge said. “What it may allow you to find out is some of these add alternates can actually be added back in to the contract because of the ability to move some money.”

The board also unanimously passed the motion to approve the 2017-2018 school calendar. After voting down the original calendar option presented to the board during the Jan. 5 meeting, the calendar committee met twice to create a new option for teachers to consider, in addition to the original. The calendar most recently drafted by the committee won out. The calendar has an Aug. 7 start date and a six-day fall break.

Boone student to become Roan Scholar



A Daniel Boone High School senior is among the list of eight students who have been named the newest members of the Roan Scholars Leadership Program at East Tennessee State University.

Connor McClelland of Boone will become part of the Roan Scholars Class of 2021 and will receive a scholarship that includes both a financial award and four years of customized experiences and opportunities, including international travel and study abroad, internships, workshops and seminars, alumni and community leader interaction, and other unique programs, all of which are focused on equipping students for leadership excellence and making a positive impact. In return, Roan Scholars are expected to seek and serve in leadership roles, and, after college, to continue leading and making a significant impact both in their chosen professions and in their communities.

“The Roan looks for young men and women with the capacity, desire and drive to become exceptional leaders – individuals who take initiative to identify, learn about, and address needs in their communities and mobilize others to join them in those efforts,” said Roan director Scott Jeffress. “Members of this newest Roan class embody those qualities and we are confident that for many years to come they will positively impact ETSU, this region and the world. “

“This incoming class of Roan Scholars has already made a tangible positive impact on their schools and communities,” scholarship founder Louis H. Gump said. “They exemplify the character and leadership talent we want to attract. We look forward to working with them and our other Scholars to enhance their skills so that they can have additional positive influence on ETSU, our area and the places where they will live.”

McClelland will join fellow scholars Katie Barlowe of A.C. Reynolds High School in Asheville; Tiffany Cook of Cherokee High School in Rogersville; Larissa Copley of Grainger High School in Rutledge; Cierra Linka of South Greene High School in Greeneville; Austin Ramsey of Sullivan Central High School in Blountville; Iris Rubi Estrada Romero of Avery County High School in Newland, N.C.; and Adam Rosenbalm of Tri-Cities Christian High School in Blountville as they add their numbers to the 22 returning Roan Scholars on campus this fall.,

This year’s class of Roan Scholars was selected from a pool of nearly 100 outstanding students nominated by more than 60 high schools in 27 eligible counties throughout our region, including, for the first time, Buncombe County, North Carolina.  Five of the eight students are the first from their high schools to be selected for the Roan program.

A student’s potential for leadership excellence and lifelong impact is the distinguishing factor in his or her selection as a Roan Scholar by the Roan Steering Committee. The Roan, which is funded primarily by private donations, was established in 1997 by Louis H. Gump to attract the region’s most promising young leaders and develop each student’s unique leadership potential.

The Roan Program now has 50 alumni serving throughout the region and the world in education, government, business, medicine, non-profit work, the military and other fields.

Gump added, “Our sincere gratitude goes to all participating high schools, our Roan Staff, and the community members who make the Roan Scholars Leadership Program such a vital part of our Region.”

Here are a few more details about the members of the Roan Class of 2021:

• “I would love to be a United States senator,” said Connor McClelland, a senior at Daniel Boone High School, when asked who he would choose to be for a day. “I have a great interest in legislative politics, because even though they are often underappreciated, they are the most influential part of the American system.” McClelland has already had a taste of politics through his participation in Tennessee American Legion Boys State last summer.  He served as lieutenant governor and, more recently, assumed the responsibilities of acting governor. He is also Student Council president and an Eagle Scout. For his Eagle Scout project, he spent five months surveying, plotting and mapping the 200-year-old cemetery of the Fall Branch United Methodist Church. McClelland has “terrific interpersonal skills” and is a “high-energy person with a strong, uplifting personality,” according to Regina Cox, McClelland’s high school counselor. “I would go so far as to say he will be a political force in his lifetime.”

• During her freshman year at A.C. Reynolds High School, Katie Barlowe developed a new awareness of the plight of hunger in her community. Moved by that need, Barlowe founded the annual MANNA Student Food Drive, which raises money and food for a local food bank. Barlowe also sought to support her fellow students by founding and leading a chapter of Campus Life ministry at her high school, and she brought attention to the issue of sex trafficking by starting a chapter of the North Carolina-based “Youth 4 Abolition” organization in Asheville. Barlowe’s school counselor, Laura McCreary, said, “In every facet of life, Katie shows up as a leader; (she) naturally discerns the needs of her community, views the gaps in resources as a challenge and feels called to use her skills to meet the needs.”

Tiffany Cook, a senior at Cherokee High School, has a unique perspective on education in Tennessee. She currently serves as the only student member of the Tennessee State Board of Education and is also a student member of the Hawkins County Board of Education. Cook played a significant role in Cherokee’s designation as a Safe Sport School by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, an award that recognizes secondary schools that take “crucial steps to keep their athletes free from injuries.” Only nine secondary schools in Tennessee currently hold this designation. According to Tommie Loudy, one of Cook’s advisors, her “dedication, perseverance and ability to overcome challenges and communicate effectively with school leaders” were critical to the initiative. “I feel certain,” Loudy added, “that without her leadership, Cherokee High School would never have been designated a Safe Sport School.”

• A senior at Grainger High School, Larissa Copley is well-known among her classmates as a class officer and vice president of Beta Club. Each week, though, she also serves fellow students in a way that is largely unseen: she helps school staff pack and distribute items confidentially to students in need. She has packed thousands of items, from food to soap, shampoo, toothpaste, and toothbrushes. “My work for the Students in Need program would have to be my most impactful community contribution,” she said. Copley hopes to extend this service work by starting a clothing closet at her high school for students in need before she graduates. Dr. Amanda Johnson, a school counselor, also notes Copley’s service to students through tutoring: “Larissa is oftentimes called upon by the Counseling Department to help tutor and has never turned down a student that she could help.” Copley, according to Johnson, “epitomizes ‘servant leadership.’”

• “The desire to influence change is what motivates me,” states Cierra Linka, a senior at South Greene High School. Linka has participated in numerous high school activities, including Students Against Destructive Decisions, Future Farmers of America, the “Move 2 Stand” anti-bullying initiative and Greene County Youth Leadership. Linka has balanced this high level of involvement with working two jobs to provide for her needs and to save for a school trip to Europe to learn about the Holocaust. She is “one of the most natural leaders I have ever had the privilege of working with in our program,” states Karen Hartman, who has grown to know Linka through the Tusculum College Upward Bound Program. “She is going to change the world.”

• It is the rare high school senior who can already claim the title of serial entrepreneur – but that is the case for Austin Ramsey, a student at Sullivan Central High School. As a middle school student, Ramsey created a business focused on providing DJ services.  He then went on to create a computer consulting business, and, most recently, started a business venture providing dronography services. “From working with computer clients each day to working with seniors at the nursing home, I cherish these moments as I gain insight about their past and improve their future,” he said. Ramsey is also the youth leader of the National 4-H GIS Leadership Team and has competed and spoken at state and regional GIS conferences. In 2016, the Sullivan County Local Emergency Planning Committee awarded Ramsey the Community Impact Appreciation Award for his use of technical skills to benefit emergency planning in the county. “Austin has remained genuine and sincere, constantly striving to do his best and finding opportunities that can impact others,” said Brittany Jones, his school counselor. “Austin will be a driving force for whichever company he ends up working with.”

Iris Rubi Estrada Romero has directed her efforts at Avery County High School toward a specific goal: to get more Latino students involved in clubs and school activities. Estrada herself is the first and only Latino member of her high school’s Student Government Association and the first Latino president of the school’s National Honor Society. To reach and encourage her fellow Latino students, Estrada believed that she also had to reach their families. To that end, she has spoken at a parents’ meeting about the importance of school involvement, made personal phone calls to the homes of rising freshmen about freshman orientation day, and volunteered to participate in a college information session for the Latino community. “I get an amazing feeling when I know that I helped someone; the joy I find through service cannot be found anywhere else,” said Estrada. Libby Gragg, her college and career counselor, noted that Estrada has brought about change at her school – and in herself. “By senior year, Rubi has evolved into a humanitarian, a leader, an innovator and a motivator of the student body,” said Gragg.

• “Be genuine with everyone and show love in all situations.” That’s what Adam Rosenbalm, a senior at Tri-Cities Christian School, said he strives for every day in his numerous leadership roles, including serving as president of his school’s Honor Society, senior class president and captain of both the varsity men’s basketball and soccer teams. Rosenbalm identifies his work on several mission trips to Belize as one of the most impactful activities he has participated in during high school. “The opportunity to provide a fundamental need to a group of people left a huge impact in myself as well as this community,” he said. Cindy Beal, Rosenbalm’s guidance counselor, said that he “has the respect of his teammates, peers in class, faculty and staff.” She added, “He has an exemplary character, compassion, a desire to help others who may be struggling, is an encourager and leads with action.”

For more information about the Program, contact the Roan office at 423-439-7677 or or visit the Roan website at

Teacher duo wins QUEST grant


Kristie Payne (left) and Lauren Summar (right)


Staff Writer

Two Fall Branch School teachers reached for the stars when they applied their “Learning Through This Galaxy and Beyond” project for a Quality Educational Support for Tomorrow grant— and they were rewarded with funds to purchase Samsung Galaxy tablets for their students.

Kristie Payne and Lauren Summar are two of six Washington County teachers to receive part of the $17,927 QUEST grant. The grant offers funds for educational projects and items the school system might not have readily available. Now the two will use their $3,063.98 reward to buy the devices for their first and second grade classes.

“It enables us—especially because we’re in a smaller community—to branch out and have our students be able to do things that normally our budget and funding doesn’t allow,” Payne said.

“That means every student (in their classes) now will have that type of technology,” Summar explained. “We have a computer lab upstairs, but nothing but this for the classroom.”

Payne said the combination of classroom Smart Boards and the new tablets now allows each student to work on an assignment along with the class, but at their own pace thanks to the new devices.

“They (the tablets) are very friendly to this age group,” Payne explained. “We can put students on there at their own level and let them read. Or if they need some assistance, we can give them ear buds to let them hear it read and it highlights the word. This allows us to have hands-on science experiments for them.”

The tablets aren’t just a learning tool as far as the curriculum goes; Payne and Summar are also hoping these devices will help their students learn how to function in an ever-changing technological world.

“Technology is where it’s at,” Payne said. “And it changes so rapidly. I want to instill in our children here that they’re going to have to adapt—this is what their world is.”

However, Payne and Summar also consider non-technological work imperative in teaching their students.

“Do I still believe they should be able to play a board game or do a real science experiment or read a real book? Yes, because that’s more important than anything. But in the world they’re growing up in now, everything is a type of device,” Payne said. “Now, Lauren and I have our own philosophy on how long this happens; it’s not like we just turn them loose. There is an allotted amount of time because we still want them to have the ability to become socialized children and not always be swiping.”

Though this is the first group grant Payne and Summar have won, Payne has won part of the QUEST grant in previous years which she said enables her to build upon her past projects.

“We learn something new each time,” Payne said. “And we can’t thank the QUEST grant enough because I know that’s area businesses and they put the faith in us to do this. And I don’t know that we could ever repay them.”

More than receiving the funds to purchase these tablets, these two teachers are also dedicated to offering their students the opportunity to reach for their dreams—which could take them to the next galaxy.

“We want our children to excel just like any other school,” Payne said. “We want to expand them to where if they want to be an astronaut or an engineer, we want to give them that—make them learn. And that’s half our battle. If we can get them to want to come here and want to do these things, it makes our job so much easier and it helps us make them successful.”

Halliburton aims for academic growth in 2017

XKimber Halliburton


Staff Writer

The new Boones Creek and Jonesborough schools have popped up during almost every conversation with the Washington County Director of Schools Kimber Halliburton. But when she sat down to talk to the Herald & Tribune about her goals for 2017, construction wasn’t the only thing on her mind.

Halliburton recently had three main goals from her Washington Way plan approved by the Health Education and Welfare Committee; she got the go-ahead on purchasing the McCoy property for the Jonesborough School, design work for the Jonesborough School and turning the existing middle school into a lottery magnet school, and a delay on roof updates at both of the current Jonesborough schools in order to reallocate funding for audio enhancements in grades K-5. But for her, her first goal is setting groundwork for students—and that starts with reading.

With Halliburton’s plan all K-5 classrooms (excluding the round, open classrooms) would be equipped with audio. The younger the student is, the more likely he or she is to have temporary hearing loss Halliburton said. She also said that because a student phonetically learns to read in K-2, audio is important in terms of helping students become proficient readers.

“If you can’t read by third grade, you have a whole lot of catching up to do and you’re more likely to be a dropout,” the director of schools explained. “And that’s just not acceptable for us in Washington County. That’s why I think you begin with the audio as soon as you possibly can. If you don’t master those phonics, you don’t become a proficient reader. That’s why we’re starting there and building up.”

Graduation rates were also high on Halliburton’s list of new year priorities; the Washington County graduation rate for the previous year was 90.2 percent, which is four percent lower than Sullivan County. Though Halliburton said Washington County’s graduation is great compared to the state percentage, she also said she thinks the school system can do better.

The graduation rate could be aided in Washington County with the implementation of Halliburton’s CTE school goal as part of the Washington Way. The director of schools said the Tennessee Virtual Academy, which is a totally online program, has added five students since Thanksgiving.

Graduation rates aren’t at 100 percent just because of educational gaps; Halliburton discussed with the Herald & Tribune what growing up through the school system in this technological world is like for today’s students.

“I don’t know that I’d wanna go back to high school today. The reason it’s so tough being in high school or even middle school is social media,” Halliburton said. “Back when I grew up, there were no computers. You found out in lunch or that first period on Monday that you were excluded from a party. Today growing up, you find out in the moment that there’s a party going on. You find out instantly that there’s a party going on and you weren’t included. Not only that, but you can relive that over and over again because the pictures don’t disappear.”

“That (online academy) could save a life if you’ve got a kid struggling with some depression. It’s really just about the students. What’s going to benefit them the most and help them really get an advanced step in going to college and being career ready.”

In addition to growing graduation rates, math scores and eventually working on vocational sites, Halliburton is also aiming to continue professional development for teachers, principals, central office staff, board members and even the director of schools herself. Through organizations like Belmont University, Halliburton is hoping to incorporate a new vision into the school system’s organizational approach.

“When I arrived here and I saw the vision and the mission statement hanging in the board room, I just asked ‘how did that come about?’” Halliburton said. “What I was told was the directors here, they crafted the vision and mission statement. Well, what I want Belmont to work with the board and I on are our beliefs as a group. Because the leadership of this district is in the school board and in the director of schools and it trickles down. Those belief systems, out of that, he’ll work with this on what are our beliefs on teaching and learning. We’ll craft those and then from there we’ll come up with a vision and mission statement and he’ll tell us how to vet that to the community.”

Though the director of schools discusses new schools, vocational options and professional development topics numerous times throughout her work, she said it’s the student for which she is considering these updates that keep her work and the heart of what she does in balance.

“I would not be happy in this job if we were just talking facilitaties and construction and getting more money if I didn’t have that personal connect with students,” Halliburton said. “The best way for me to remind myself of what I’m all about is to get into the schools. And I think Central Office people, any supervisors that are housed over here, myself—we have to keep getting into schools as a reminder. I think that’s why it’s good for the children to come perform in front of the board. We all need that reminder. To start the meeting that way, it’s like, ‘okay what we vote on today will have a direct impact on our boys and girls. If you think about it, our students are our customers.

“The heart of it is, it’s their future.”

Women stand united in Saturday march



Staff Writer

As Main Street opened back up following the Women’s March in front of the courthouse in Jonesborough, a big blue truck rolled through the historic district with the sound of President Donald Trump’s words filling the sidewalk: “This is your country,” the radio proclaimed.

Those words echoed a belief that more than 500 women and men who were in attendance at the Tri-Cities Women’s March on Saturday, Jan. 21, came together to support.

But the president’s words were also a rallying cry that partially sparked the movement, beginning as a march on Washington D.C. during the weekend of President Trump’s inauguration.

The movement has spread to over 600 countries and even touched down in Tennessee’s oldest town where pink hats, along with female-positive and anti-Trump slogans, were displayed throughout the street.

For Jonesborough resident Jenny DeWeese, it was also the perfect opportunity to educate her daughters.

“I want them to know that they have a voice and that they have a right to have equal rights also,” DeWeese said, looking at her three young daughters. “That they can be what they want to be.”

“They just talked about Martin Luther King Jr. in school so I’m also trying to teach them to do this in a peaceful way just like he did,” DeWeese said. “She (one of her daughters) related to it at school. She said, ‘He walked down the road and sang songs?’ And I said, ‘Yeah that’s all it is. You just go and stand in a peaceful way and show that we’re not going to be quiet. We have a voice also.’ ”

For many of the women at Saturday’s march, taking their beliefs to the streets wasn’t always a first inclination; for East Tennessee State University student Rana Elgazzar, it took time to grow into someone who became involved in events like the Women’s March.

“In the recent climate I felt more of an imperative to be more vocal and be more involved,” Elgazzar said. “Previously I think I kept more to myself and even when I saw problems, I had a more difficult time taking a stand or standing up. So now I feel motivated as a student so I’m very involved on campus and I hope I can continue that sort of work as I graduate. And be a voice for young people like myself.”

Elgazzar was born in Egypt and was granted her American citizenship in 2014. But she didn’t just come to downtown Jonesborough in support of women; she also came in support of the diversity she is grateful to have experienced in the United States.

“I became a U.S. citizen a few years ago and to me one of the biggest privileges is that I do get to live among people who are different from myself. So I want to maintain that privilege for all people that I’ve experienced. That’s really been a gift to me.”

The event wasn’t just for women; men also showed up in support for the women involved in the movement. Women’s March participant William White stood beside Washington County Commissioner Katie Baker as she described her admiration for Hillary Clinton, who lost the recent election. Considering both Baker and Clinton, White described his reason for attending the event.

“I totally support everything they stand for,” William White said. “Her tagline is the future is female. And I don’t have a problem with that.”

For Baker, her hope for the event was to encourage women as well as support them as the lone woman holding a spot on the county commission.

“I serve in an elected office among 24 men,” Baker said. “I hope (today) brings more women into elected office. I hope it generates interest in young women, in retired women, in mothers in becoming more active in the community in whatever way they feel is appropriate for them.

Running for office is not for everyone, but I think today’s event provided lists of the opportunities and resources for women to jump into based on their preference.”

People in support of this kind of women empowerment shuffled down the sidewalk snapping pictures of one another’s signs while Elgazzar stood in a headscarf alongside a plethora of people filling the courthouse steps—she also stood in downtown Jonesborough as a testament to her identity.

“So I am also Muslim, so I think for me a lot of growing up was becoming comfortable in my identity and not feeling like one part of my identity was disjoint from being American,” Elgazzar explained. “I think that through the years in college as I’ve learned more about myself, I’ve become more comfortable in my own skin and it had a lot do with finding supportive environments where I can be authentic in who I am.

“I feel more empowered, actually.”