Schools to begin testing for lead in water fountains


Staff Writer

The Washington County School System is about to become much more familiar with the water quality found in 220 of its water fountains.

Due to a new state mandate that requires all Tennessee school districts to test for lead in drinking fountains, the Washington County Board of Education unanimously agreed to enlist Wingfield Environmental to perform the tests for an estimate of $9,000 total.

“We want to be in compliance,” School board member and facilities committee chairman Todd Ganger told the Herald & Tribune. “We want no lead in our drinking water, of course. That’s the sole purpose of it, to make sure the drinking water is safe for the kids.”

The state requires that every school built before 1998 be tested within the next two years. Therefore, Washington County schools like Sulphur Springs Elementary, West View Elementary and Fall Branch — which are among some of the district’s oldest buildings — will be tested.

The only schools excluded from that list are the county’s newest schools, Grandview Elementary and Ridgeview Elementary.

The state mandate also says that should a school find 19 parts per billion or more of lead in any fountain’s water, the school system must notify the commissioner of environment and conservation, the commissioner of health, the local department of health, the local governing body and the department of education within 24 hours. Parents and guardians of the students enrolled at the affected school must also be notified within five days of the test result.

“Of course, if we have some concerned parents and folks out there it will sure set their minds at ease,” the school system’s maintenance supervisor, Phillip Patrick, said about the upcoming tests. “Do I think we’re going to find some lead in some of our water? I don’t think so. But that’s just something I couldn’t answer for sure until we get the test results back.”

Patrick said the tests will be non-intrusive and will entail drawing a sample from each fountain, which will then be tested in Wingfield’s lab. He also said testing for lead isn’t typically conducted within the school system, but that tests are performed in the schools upon complaints or concerns.

“If we have a suspicion or someone says they heard we had lead, of course we would surely go ahead and check,” Patrick said. “It’s just like we aren’t mandated to test for mold, but if we have a problem in a school or teachers or students are complaining, we will test that area. We just haven’t had a suspicion raised or anything like that to warrant a full-on, system-wide test (for water).”

Patrick also said that the district could test the water themselves, but felt entering a contract with Wingfield Environmental out of Blountville would be the best fit.

“We could take the samples ourselves if we wanted to,” Patrick said, “But I’m thinking to have full disclosure, stay on the up-and-up and not have anyone scrutinize the way we’ve done our testing, I chose to have a third party do everything.”

In preparing for the state-mandated water testing, Patrick said he’s been asked about water used in another area of the schools, but that for now, the state is focusing on water fountains.

“I’ve been getting a lot of questions about, ‘Are you checking the water in the cafeterias?’ And some of my colleagues, other maintenance directors and supervisors in our area here, they’ve talked to legislators,” Patrick said. “I have not talked to any of my legislators. The bill was written mainly for drinking water sources. That’s what we’re testing. We don’t have those type of lead pipes in our kitchens or anything like that.”

The testing is yet to be scheduled, but will conclude with a final report from Winfield, which will include results for each school, spreadsheets of all data and the actual lab data from the tests.

School project design plan held up by finances


Staff Writer

Questions on the money available — or not available — for the Jonesborough K-8 School have left county and school officials grappling on what the next steps will be for the school project.

At Washington County’s Health, Education and Welfare Committee meeting on Thursday, Nov. 1, commissioners opted to defer action on the latest design plan, “Scheme 6”, to make additions and renovations to the current Jonesborough Middle School site. Committee member and Commission Chairman Greg Matherly said he wanted the full financial picture before moving ahead with the latest Jonesborough School design plan.

“There was a lot of discussion the other night about how we would pay for Scheme 6,” Matherly said, referring to a joint commission and school board meeting that took place the week prior. “I’m just going to tell you upfront, before I vote on this project, I want to see all the options on how to pay for it. I just don’t feel like I’m ready to vote on Scheme 6 right at this moment.

“I want to see where we’re going and where we’re headed. We can sit here and recommend it to budget, but I don’t think this committee wants to do that. I think we’d like to see all the options before we move forward.”

Brad Hale, the schools’s finance director, and Director Bill Flanary listen to the discussion on the Jonesborough School’s latest design plan during the HEW Committee meeting.

School board member and county finance and administration director Mitch Meredith painted that financial picture at the joint meeting on Monday, Oct. 29, where he said there are no funds in the current year to spend on a Jonesborough School project without borrowing the money. He also told the group the county paid part of Boones Creek’s total cost with pennies from the Jonesborough School project.

Meredith told the Herald & Tribune the 32 pennies set aside for school capital project improvements — which were collected from the 2016 tax increase — were not allocated specifically for each project.

“Nowhere in official action by the commission are there any pennies allocated to anything,” Meredith said. “The commission had to determine how much we need for our ongoing capital needs. Those were not pennies that were being set aside for any individual project. That was just an amount to determine how much revenue the county could generate to assist in funding those projects.”

For the county school board, however, the current outlook for the Jonesborough project is disappointing, school board member Phillip McLain said.

“After a 40-cent tax hike and being told that 5 cents of that 40 cents would be for Jonesborough,” McLain said, “I cannot begin to describe to you the disappointment that I have in this system and where it is at this moment. I think disappointment is probably the best word I can use at this point.”

From the 32 cents allocated for the school system, 14 pennies were budgeted for the Boones Creek project, five for Jonesborough renovations, three for other school capital items, two for school technology and two for school bus replacements. And in January of 2017, the commission set a budget limit of $25 million for the Boones Creek School, $20,750,000 for the Jonesborough School and $1,815,000 in “contingency for other needs associated with or related to the projects”. However, at that time, the Jonesborough project figure still included renovating the elementary school into a K-8 and renovating the middle school into an academic magnet.

The commission’s resolution also said the figures were “intended to assist the board of education for the purposes of planning, architectural and engineering design and project management, but do not constitute an authorization for expenditure nor a commitment to the funding amounts listed by the board of county commissioners.” It also said “the funding for the projects will be provided through anticipated borrowing.”

Meredith said the tax increase was created back in 2016 with a $10 million renovation in mind for the elementary school and the middle school. Those two renovations, he said, were planned to be supported by 5 pennies for the Jonesborough schools.

Now, he said, the county could either delay the project and let the money build as more pennies are freed up, (Boones Creek will be paid off in 2022 and nine pennies would be available by 2023), or the commission could opt to borrow $40 million for a $20 million project in Jonesborough (half of the $20 million, by law, would have to be shared with Johnson City). He said that last option, however, would come with financial constraints.

“(The commission) would either be out of the borrowing business for a long time or they would have to raise their debt limit restriction (if $40 million was borrowed for a $20 million project in Jonesborough). I guess anything’s possible, but is it fiscally responsible to do that?”, Meredith said. “I don’t know if (the commission) would see that as a fiscally responsible move to do that. From my perspective, it’s pushing it to the limit.”

As for the school board, who is also considering roof replacements at the elementary and middle schools in Jonesborough while the K-8 school plan remains in limbo, the financial outlook is strapped with uncertainty regarding what happens next with the project.

The school board currently has three Jonesborough School design plans that were approved by the county school system in the past year and a half. McLain said the board plans to rescind two of those previous plans, which were both said to be out of budget by the county commission. He also said they plan to keep the latest plan, Scheme 6, on the books for commission consideration. As for the future of the project, McLain said it’s now in the hands of the county commission.

“What’s going to happen with the Jonesborough project is a good question. I don’t know,” McLain said. “Obviously you have to remember it’s the school board’s job to decide what the school needs and it’s the commission’s job to fund it or not. The next step is actually up to the commission and what they decide to do.”

The BOE will meet on Thursday, Nov. 8, at 6:30 p.m. at the school system’s central office. The HEW committee is set to revisit the Jonesborough School design plan and the potential purchase of the school’s adjacent property at its next meeting on Thursday, Nov. 29 at 1 p.m. in the first floor conference room of the Historic Courthouse in Jonesborough.

‘Great Pumpkin’ comes to Hawley House for holiday

Marcy Hawley shows off her new, more permanent pumpkin. The Hawley House has established the tradition of picking the largest pumpkin to display each year.


Staff Writer

For 20 years, Marcy Hawley stationed a gigantic, real pumpkin on the front porch of the Hawley House.

“Every year, for as long as we’ve had the Hawley House, we have had the largest pumpkin in the whole area,” Hawley said recently. “And we get the pumpkin from Fenders Farm. Every year I’d pay $40 or $50 for the pumpkin, but I’d been getting them for 20 years.”

She even had a local pig farmer who would pick up the remains for her. However, once he stopped his “disposal” service, the task of removing the decaying giant became a real issue.

“We would try to get the pumpkin across the street into the area where the town would pick up brush,” Hawley said.

“But I’ve had times where I would get the pumpkin off the porch and it would roll down the street and land on the railroad tracks. So the pumpkin has always been an issue.”

Not to mention purchasing the largest pumpkin around is not exactly cheap. So Hawley came up with an idea to make a paper-mache model to use every year.

Her plan was to use one of the large live pumpkins as a model and when the paper strips dried, cut the mold off, remove the live pumpkin and then put the sections back together.

David and Dana Kehs deliver the pumpkin to the Hawley House.

“I had the biggest mess you have ever seen. Well, I was telling somebody that story at the Storytelling Center, and David (Kehs) apparently overheard me,” Hawley said.

“So in August, Dana (Kehs) called and wanted to know if I’d be home and said that David had something for me. They came over and they had that pumpkin he made for me.”

Local artist and Hawley’s friend David Kehs constructed a giant, extremely lifelike pumpkin out of packing foam.

“A local (hardware) company moves big blocks of pristine styrofoam using chunks of packing Styrofoam to pack it so it doesn’t get damaged. And then they just throw it away. So I was over there on another mission, and somebody said ‘Well, we’ve got trailers full of the stuff.’ I came home, free for nothing, with all this Styrofoam I could use,” Kehs said.

“So basically I just cut a bunch of rings, glued them together with expanding foam used to patch cracks, and then surprisingly enough, it does sand down pretty easily. Then I have all kinds of people give me their leftover house paint, and you just put layers and layers of that on there so it develops a skin. Then you go for a final color and then just coat it out with a water-based polyurethane.”

Although the foam pumpkin may sound easy enough to tote around, the size makes it awkward to handle. But it still beats trying to haul a decaying pumpkin down the street.

As Hawley said, “Now with David’s pumpkin we just have to find a place to store it in the winter.”

Kehs said he retired from the sign business a while ago, but he had some experience working with high-density foam before he left. The business he and his wife Dana run, David Kehs Designs, has used foam to construct different sculptures ranging from ice cream cones to hot dogs to four foot tall Bishops.

He also includes painting among his artistic skills.

But the work of art he created for his friend will certainly be admired by all who pass by and wonder whether Hawley has returned to using the real thing due to the realistic appearance.

“She’s been a good friend of the family,” Kehs said. “She was so tickled with it.”

Crockett takes Musket Bowl victory

Coach Hayden Chandley holds the musket high as David Crockett High School’s Pioneers brought in a win Friday, with a final score of 34-27. Though in the past, rival Daniel Boone High School seemed to walk away with the musket one too many times for Crockett fans’ comfort, this year it was all about DCHS and a team that has so far proven unbeatable.


H&T Correspondent

David Crockett’s football team will be taking aim at the program’s first undefeated regular season Friday, and now it has a musket to finish the job.

In a Musket Bowl exceeding the hype that helped fuel cars being lined up from David Crockett to downtown Jonesborough some 80 minutes before kickoff, the Pioneers improved to 9-0 on the season and clinched Region 1-5A’s top playoff seed with a 34-27 defeat of Daniel Boone on Friday at Pioneer Field.

The David Crockett High School Pioneer Football Team topped Daniel Boone High School in a thrilling Musket Bowl match up. The home win keeps Crockett undefeated as they continue their season with a 9-0 record, a program best.

The victory also assured Crockett (5-0, 9-0) at least a share of the Mountain Lakes Conference championship, which it can clinch outright with a win at Morristown East in the regular season finale on Friday. Boone (4-1, 7-2), which will also host a first-round playoff game as the No. 2 seed, will host Cherokee on Friday.

Crockett’s defense was missing leading tackler John Kollie against Boone. The timing of his suspension created as much controversy as Washington County’s heated rivalry has seen since the 2015 Musket Brawl that landed both teams postseason bans.

The Pioneers also lost fellow captain J.R. Giles – a disrupter on defense – to an injury in the first half.

But the Trailblazers and Pioneers each appeared focused and composed, and there were no shenanigans in a critical game despite the body-jarring hits of players such as Crockett’s Tony Davis and Prince Kollie.

Cade Larkins completed 33 of 47 passes for 410 yards and four touchdowns and fellow junior Donta Hackler tallied 12 receptions for 167 yards and three TDs.

“This is the happiest I’ve been in a long time,” Larkins said.

Hackler’s 41-yard TD catch with 2:38 left on a second-and-10 gave Crockett a 32-27 lead, and Mark Seidler’s two-point conversion reception from Larkins concluded the scoring.

“It feels great,” said Hackler, who is being recruited steadily by Cincinnati. “All we’ve been hearing is Boone this, Boone that. We were playing for John, playing for J.R. It’s emotional.”

Crockett’s quarterback, Cade Larkins, gets ready to pass during the Musket Bowl game as Boone’s Charlie Cole (4) and Peyton Nickles (2) prepare to block.

Crockett seemed to be in control when Hackler’s 15-yard TD reception gave the Pioneers a 26-14 lead with 7:31 to go.

But junior Charlie Cole, a bruising speedster, dashed 74 yards for a TD on the ensuing play from scrimmage. Crockett blocked the PAT kick to preserve a 26-20 lead.

However, three plays later, the Trailblazers’ Daniel Lusk made a diving interception at the Boone 42-yard line. Two plays after the turnover, quarterback Easton Harrell dashed 56 yards for a TD. The PAT gave the ‘Blazers a 27-26 lead with 5:18 left.

“We were up two touchdowns in the second half and everything’s going our way,” said first-year Crockett coach Hayden Chandley, who played on back-to-back quarterfinalists at Boone as a junior and senior (2009-10). “And the next thing you know, we’re down a point. And we marched right down the field after that and retook the lead. …

“I tell you, man, our kids have battled so much adversity in the past year or so. They just never quit and never give up. Even up through this week, you know, we’re still battling stuff, and the kids never lost sight of what the task was at hand.”

Senior receiver Micah Robinson had eight catches for 106 yards and a TD. Sophomore Prince Kollie made eight catches for 90 yards.

Boone was led by Cole, who rushed for 170 yards. Harrell added 133 yards and two TDs, and Brennan Blair’s 6-yard TD run via a reverse got Boone within 20-14 with 10:24 to left.

“They had a lot of fight,” Robinson said. “Easton and Charlie did a great job doing what they do best.”

Boone’s coach was impressed with a Crockett squad that didn’t quit or panic when Boone rallied to take a one-point lead.

“My hat’s off to Hayden,” said Boone coach Jeremy Jenkins, who coached Chandley at Boone (class of 2011). “His kids played hard and showed a lot of resiliency right there. In the past sometimes when we go up there they’ve had a tendency to fold. They came right back at us. We just didn’t make the plays when we had to on defense, and that’s all on me. That’s my side of the ball. That’s what we pride ourselves on. …

“I’m proud of Hayden and what he’s done, and they’ve got a good thing going down here right now. Hopefully, both of us can make a run in the playoffs and we can get back against each other.”

Certainly, a rematch would make for a massive gait. There was surely more than 10,000 at Crockett on Friday.

“You don’t really realize how many people it was until you’re up there at halftime and you take a look around, you know,” Chandley said, “just all of Washington County coming out to support this great rivalry game. Hats off to Boone. They played an excellent game. Coach Jenkins does a great job – him and his staff – getting his kids ready to play. We maintained ‘em there pretty good in the first half and then Charlie and Easton got us late there in the second half.”

But Larkins and company always answered. Robinson’s 28-yard TD catch.

“Cade checked us into some good plays there,” Chandley said. “He threw a touchdown on a check. Just an overall great performance by him. Probably the best half of football that he’s played all year there in the second half and he was able to lead us to victory.”

Could the Musket Bowl return to ETSU?

The Boone and Crockett matchup, pictured above from the 2017 game, could be played at ETSU in the future.


Staff Writer

For a stretch of Washington County history, the annual Daniel Boone and David Crockett High School football rivalry took place under the lights at East Tennessee State University. At the Washington County Board of Education’s regularly scheduled Oct. 2 meeting, the possibility of returning the annual Musket Bowl football game to ETSU was considered.

“I just see it as an opportunity for two state-ranked teams to be able to play in a supreme, big unit,” said Todd Ganger, the BOE member who made the motion to move the game back to ETSU. “You’ve got to look beyond just this game. We’ve got kids at both schools that have the potential to play in college. They get to be a part of the locker rooms, they get to see everything. You’re giving them an opportunity they wouldn’t have had before.”

The motion to move this year’s Musket Bowl to ETSU failed in a 2-7 vote, with Ganger and Chad Fleenor voting in favor. Multiple board members they felt it was too close to this year’s Musket Bowl game to move the location, which is set to kick off at David Crockett High School’s Pioneer Field on Friday, Oct. 19.

For some board members, the idea of having the game at home for Crockett’s 13 senior players made them vote to keep the game in Jonesborough this year. Board member Annette Buchanan said she had heard that the seniors wanted to keep the game at Crockett this year rather than ETSU while McLain said he felt moving the game to ETSU would rob Crockett of their chance to play the game on their field.

“Your kids are (undefeated) at Crockett,” board member Phillip McLain said. “You’re taking away their hometown advantage. You’re taking away their home crowd advantage. If we ever do it, we need to do it two years in a row. Crockett’s there and then Boone’s there.”

The board also discussed the possibility of increasing the funds collected from the game should it be held at ETSU’s William B. Greene Jr. Stadium. The failed motion included $10 entrance fees with a presale opportunity for middle school and high school students who could get their tickets for $5.

Ganger said he felt hosting the game at ETSU could generate more funds for clubs like the football boosters and the band, that typically receive funds from concessions at football games. Buchanan added that ETSU has a group who runs concessions at the college stadium, so no booster or student club would run concessions at the facility.

“You’re going to make more money,” Ganger said. “You’ll be able to pay the concession stands, the band and the booster club. It will benefit (the clubs) in the long run because they won’t have to do concessions.”

Ganger added that for many previous players throughout both schools’ histories, who played at ETSU’s mini dome before the college closed its football program in 2003, playing at ETSU was a career highlight.

“You ask anybody who ever played football at Boone or Crockett in the past and they’re going to talk about the game that was played at the mini dome,” Ganger said. “That’s the game they talk about. That was the highlight of their career. These are 0-8 and 0-9 teams. They loved it. Now, this is going to be a high profile game.”

Fleenor added that he felt holding the game at the ETSU stadium could mean a lot to the current players at Boone and Crockett.

“A handful of these kids might get to go on and play college ball, maybe,” Fleenor said. “But the rest of them are going to enjoy going to (play) on a college field. That’s a big time deal. If we lived next door to Neyland Stadium and we got a chance to do this, would we not jerk their arm off (to play there)? I just think it’s a thing for the kids. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

Though some board members said they could see the potential in hosting the game at ETSU, Hammond said he felt this should be considered in the future, but that the time was not now with the game quickly approaching.

“I’m not saying no. I’m saying not now,” board member David Hammond said. “I just think it should be taken on a case-by-case basis each year and let the home team for each Musket Bowl look at the situation on a year-by-year basis. I’m not saying let’s never do it. This is late planning for something as big as the Musket Bowl.”

The 48th annual Musket Bowl will be held on Friday, Oct. 19 at 7:30 p.m. at David Crockett High School’s Pioneer Field. Tickets are $6.

There’s a new school plan for Jonesborough, but are there funds?

The Washington County Board of Education chose Scheme 6 to make renovations and additions to transform the current Jonesborough Middle School building into a K-8 school.


Staff Writer

At the Washington County Board of Education’s Tuesday, Oct. 2, meeting, the board opted for a new design plan for the Jonesborough K-8 School project. But, after a year and a half of design plans and going back to an all-too-familiar drawing board, board members and officials are now less concerned with floor plans as they are the money available for the project.

“I’ve had a problem voting on any scheme because — and I don’t think I’m the only one who realizes this — but it seems the dollar amount we were told we had to work with kept changing,” said David Hammond, the school board member who served as the deciding vote in the BOE’s 5-4 decision to approve the Scheme 6 plan. “In the past, as much as $25 million has been mentioned. But right now, I’m hearing we’re lucky to have the $20,700,000. As far as I know, that money was earmarked so (if it’s not), the county commission would have to explain where that money went.”

The Scheme 6 plan includes renovations to the current Jonesborough Middle School building as well as additions to the left portion of the school. The plan was presented to the board in July, but the group voted the plan down at the August meeting in a 5-4 vote. However, this time around, Hammond was joined by Jason Day, Chad Fleenor, Todd Ganger and Mitch Meredith in voting for the plan. Board members Annette Buchanan, Mary Beth Dellinger, Keith Ervin and Phillip McLain were opposed.

In addition to heavy renovations such as enlarged classrooms and cafeteria, new plumbing and a new heating and cooling system, Tony Street, the project’s architect, said Scheme 6 is $31,000 under the project’s budget which was discussed to be $20.8 million.

But what is the actual budget for the project?

Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy said that is “still being worked out.”

Grandy said the $20.8 million amount was never allotted for the K-8 school project by the Washington County Commission. He also said the school board would need to consider the school system’s other capital project needs in addition to the Jonesborough School project.

“There’s probably no magic number (for the Jonesborough project),” Grandy said. “The funding that supports the Boones Creek School project and a Jonesborough project is no different today as it was when the board of education requested it back three years ago. It’s more complicated than just saying, ‘You’ve got $8 million, $10 million, $15 million for a specific project.’ That’s not the role of the county commission to really just put it in that type of language.

“The question is, do you want to take other capital project funds and eliminate them or move them to try to create more available funds for Jonesborough? It’s just a big picture view that we have to consider.”

The commission and the school board will join forces in a joint meeting on Monday, Oct. 29, to discuss school building and the school system’s capital improvement projects as well as the Jonesborough School. Grandy said he feels that meeting will give veteran and new commissioners and board members alike the opportunity to learn about that process while also allowing county officials to discuss the potential impact a Jonesborough School project with a $20 million dollar price tag could have.

“Having (the school board) put forward a $20 million project in Jonesborough gives us the opportunity to look at specific scenarios based on spending $20 million in Jonesborough and what impact that has on the rest of the school capital expenses,” Grandy said.

“We do have a lot of new players. All of those folks haven’t been brought up to speed on some of the critical information they need to make that right decision. My feeling is that we need to go through that process and be sure that everybody understands the best information we have currently. And then we can get this boat away from the dock a little bit.”

Though the mayor said finances are yet to be discussed for the project, he sees the latest development in the Jonesborough School design plan as a step in the right direction.

“There’s some potential in that Scheme 6,” Grandy said. “I hadn’t really studied it much in the past. But I’m not sure that something won’t come to fruition around that. There are a lot of things to get fixed and work out. There are a lot of moving parts. It is more money than we planned for that project, but it’s not impossible.”

Hometown Barber offers vintage service

Owner and barber Kevin Armentrout finishes customer Kevin Sommers visit off with a shave.


Staff Writer

When Kevin Armentrout, the owner and operator of Hometown Barber, opened his full service barbershop almost a year ago, there was no question as to where it’d be located. For Armentrout, there’s no town like his hometown.

“Jonesborough needed another barbershop,” Armentrout said. “I knew the business would be here. I wanted to stay in Jonesborough. I didn’t want to be in Johnson City or Greenville.”

Now Hometown Barber, nestled on Jackson Boulevard in Jonesborough, brings in dashing men and young boys alike looking for a fresh haircut, a close shave and a trip back to a simpler time.

In the foreground, Hannah Shelton starts a straight razor shave with hot towel.

Armentrout’s shop is filled with classic country music playing on the shop’s radio, the smell of just spritzed Brandy Spice aftershave wafting from the throwback chairs and the constant lull of small town conversation.

And that’s exactly what he wanted when he envisioned his barbershop.

“It reminds me,” Armentrout said, just finishing a haircut for one of his regular customers. “I wanted to do something that reminded me of the shop I went to when I was a kid in Jonesborough. I like the nostalgia of it. I want a shop where everybody’s welcome, a family shop.

That’s what I always had in my mind if I opened a shop.”

The social atmosphere isn’t the only draw for the owner and operator of Hometown Barber; Armentrout also said hot towel, straight razor shaves and classic barber shop haircuts, though often considered things of the past, draw in customers for many reasons.

“I think you get a better hair cut. And they get to know you better, just being consistent,” Armentrout said. “People just get used to one person cutting their hair the way they like their hair cut. It’s cool to see kids whose hair you’ve cut since they were this big and now they’re in college. That’s pretty neat.

“A lot of people don’t do (straight razor shaves) anymore,” he added. “You have to be a licensed barber to do one. A cosmetologist can’t do one. That’s why you don’t see them a lot.”

Armentrout’s start as a barber was one that happened by chance, however; the shop owner said he was led to a barber school in Knoxville after giving his friends haircuts on a college beach trip.

“I was in college and they cut the program I wanted to study,” he said. “But I went on a beach trip with a bunch of my buddies and one of them said, ‘I shoulda gotten a haircut before we left.’ For some reason I said, ‘I bet I could cut your hair.’ I’ve been cutting ever since. We had a set of clippers somebody brought. I cut all their hair. There was nine of them.

“I said, ‘I guess I’ll go to barber school.’”

After Armentrout had found his calling, he discovered that he wasn’t the first one in his family to cut hair. He later learned that both of his grandfathers cut hair from their home.

“I never knew that until they died,” Armentrout said. “That was pretty neat.”

After relocating his business from another location on Jackson Boulevard, Armentrout said he just about has his shop looking like hewants it to. The walls are already adorned with a framed David Crockett High School baseball jersey, vintage barbershop razors, a stuffed raccoon named Captain Connie and old pictures that used to belong to both of his grandfathers who also shared his love for cutting hair.

But redecorating hasn’t been the only change to Hometown Barbers since its opening last year.

Armentrout said the shop is soon to add another full-time barber in addition to Armentrout and barber Jeremy Crain. He said adding Hannah Shelton, the newest barber at shop, is exciting for the shop and that he hopes that will cut down on wait time at Hometown Barbers.

“When I first opened, I was so busy I was losing a lot of business,” Armentrout recalled. “But now we have more barbers if people want to come back. They won’t have to wait so long now.”

Hometown Barbers is located at 400 W. Jackson Blvd. For more information on Hometown Barbers, call (423) 788-3274.

Taking a closer look: Instructional coaches considered in county system

Instructional Coach Alice Ann Smith reads to Gavin Bailey, Claire Roberts, Zander Burker, and Augustus Warren Carver.


Staff Writer

When Alice Ann Smith, the instructional coach at Sulphur Springs Elementary School, walks into the building each school day, she might be heading off to assist in a student’s individualized education program meeting. She might be going to give feedback to a third-grade teacher who asked her to observe her lesson the day before. Either way, Smith’s schedule is full but focused on assisting teachers to better educate students.

Smith is one of Washington County’s 11 instructional coaches, whose roles are designed to mentor and provide teachers with resources and strategies to better improve student learning in the classroom.

But what does that really look like?

The Herald & Tribune sat down with local education leaders to learn more about instructional coaches in Washington County following the board of education’s discussion at their latest meeting to potentially remove four of the county system’s instructional coaches.

What does an instructional coach do?

“Sometimes it’s as easy as making copies or observing a lesson and giving feedback,” Smith said, describing the range of her role as an instructional coach. “Last night I got a text saying, ‘I don’t think I’m doing as well in this area. Do you think you could come observe me, give me feedback and see if I could go to another teacher in the district to get some collaboration?’

“It’s just being that person that everyone needs. Every school is different. Every teacher is different, but they know they can come to me and I’m an advocate.”

Though she said Smith’s advocacy is put to work in many different ways on a daily basis, Head Principal at Sulphur Springs Elementary Cathy Humphries said one of the main aspects of an instructional coach is serving teachers without acting as an administrator with an evaluation sheet in hand.

“When she’s working with the teachers, it’s a collaborative thing that is non-evaluative,” Humphries said. “When I go into the classroom — even if I’m not there for a formal observation — it’s like ‘ding, ding, ding the administration is here.’ They connect that with a score and me being critical of what they’re doing. When she goes in, it’s a partnership. They feel comfortable that she’s a mentor and they’re a team. They’re working for the same goal and that is to help the students grow.”

That mentorship can also mean expanding a teacher’s skills in the classroom.

Heather Jeffers and Alice Ann Smith work with Jeffers’ third grade class.

Heather Jeffers, who is a third-grade teachers at Sulphur Springs, said she’s grown as an educator since working with Smith and it’s also helped her transition between student age groups.

“Before coaches, there were questions left unanswered, questions with instruction, resources, ‘Am I doing this correctly?’— just the hesitation there,” Jeffers said. “You kind of researched yourself and who has time to do a whole lot of that?”

“I taught kindergarten previously and now I’m third grade. I swapped grade levels as well. Having someone who knew the grade level, that knew how to pull resources. The unit plans, even. The confidence and reassurance that position has brought to me as a classroom teacher, I truly appreciate it.”

Part of that teacher-coach relationship is built on introducing new state educational standards and constructing curriculum, strategies and plans to put those standards into action in the classroom.

Read To Be Ready, a program designed to increase Tennessee’s third-grade reading proficiency by 75 percent by 2025, is one of the state’s newest initiatives that also involves utilizing literacy coaches to ramp up reading skills through professional development for teachers. Humphries said those kinds of initiatives, along with new and changing learning standards from the state, would not be as successful without instructional coaches.

“Without having that coach here, I don’t think that these initiatives would be carried out, Humphries said. “That’s why the state is pushing for them, so the coaches can help implement the things that we feel are going to help Tennessee move forward. We need to make sure we are giving students engaging instruction.”

However, Smith said her main goal is to focus on individualizing learning for the students at Sulphur Springs.

Smith attends Response To Intervention meetings and studies individual student data to better assist teachers, but she also focuses on catering to the needs of individual students in order to align learning techniques with student learning.

“We have to support that transfer of learning,” Smith said. “We have to know our teachers and know our school to where we can support them as they put this new learning into action. We redeliver professional development, but we have to know the students. Sitting in with IDT (instructional data team) meetings and knowing the classroom data — not just classroom but group and individual data — helps me to say, ‘I know that with this little guy, he struggles with this. How about we just change this just a tad so that we can make this more productive?’”

However, not everyone in the county is satisfied with instructional coaches.

To reduce or restructure?

School board member Mary Beth Dellinger — who said she was in favor of removing some coaches from the system at the latest BOE meeting — said she felt the number of coaches should be reduced and the coaching system in the county school district should be restructured.

“Some of these coaches are excellent and were excellent teachers. But they’re not being utilized the way they could be,” Dellinger said. “(Teachers) have contacted me. All teachers, especially those with crowded classrooms, would rather have lower student numbers to better meet the needs of each student (than have instructional coaches). I just feel passionate about this I guess because I am a retired teacher. I know.”

Mary Beth Dellinger said she believes the instructional coaching system should be reduced and restructured in the county.

Dellinger said she felt the system should utilize six coaches — two instructional coaches in math, two in English and language arts and two in lower elementary, putting three on each side of the county.

“I could see how (six instructional coaches) could be utilized,” Dellinger said. “But the way we have it now, these people would do better in the classroom.”

The school board member, who made a motion back in May to dramatically reduce the number of coaches in the system’s budget, also said she felt the district has too many coaches in comparison to area school systems.

While Washington County currently has 11 instructional coaches, the Johnson City System also has 11 coaches. Kingsport has eight similar positions deemed “instructional design specialists”. Meanwhile, Hawkins County has four, Sullivan County has four and Greene County has three.

Some coaches in area systems are placed according to subjects and/or grade levels rather than entire schools. But Smith and Humphries said they felt understanding the culture and building a relationship with the faculty and staff at a school is vital in the effectiveness of an instructional coach — which would require a coach to be in one school rather than traveling to multiple schools.

“When I have served more than one school, you could not get it done,” Smith said, recalling a time when she served as the instructional coach at both Sulphur Springs and Fall Branch. “You could not be as effective. You could not be in the classrooms enough, you could not give teacher feedback enough. If you leave a school on Friday and you don’t pick up at a school until Tuesday, that’s a lot of time right there for disconnect.

“Honestly it’s just knowing your school and being a part of that school culture. I do bus duty with these teachers. They see me as a part of this school and someone to support them and work with them. I make sure they know I’m here to do what every they need. I’m not an evaluator. I’m a supporter.”

Class sizes

The board discussed removing some instructional coaches from the system to offset what it considered to be overcrowded classrooms by adding teaching positions back into the school system. Dellinger also said the school system’s budget and class sizes are two of the biggest reasons the discussion concerning instructional coaches arose.

“We have a choice,” Dellinger said. “We can choose to fund academic coaches, which assist principals, or we can use that money to lower student-teacher ratios and alleviate our overcrowded classrooms. We are compliant with the state (on classroom sizes). However, the numbers are not ideal for effective teaching and learning. I will always choose to fund the classrooms over more supervisors.

“Since we’re in a budget crunch, I think it’s time we start focusing more on what people want. And they want lower classroom sizes.”

When asked if instructional coaches have an impact on those larger class sizes, Jeffers drew from her own experience — going from teaching a smaller class without an instructional coach to teaching a larger class with an instructional coach — to illustrate the positive effect she feels instructional coaches have on a classroom. Part of that difference, she said, has been Smith’s use of student data to better individualize a student’s learning.

“(Coaches) are helping us take a deeper look at those kids too for those smaller groups in the classroom,” Jeffers said. “I’ve gone from 12 students at my previous school to 18 to 22 here. I’m provided with a much deeper look now with an instructional coach because of the resources provided with, ‘Okay, this group of kids, they struggle in this area.’ Whereas I had less before, but that resource wasn’t there for that closer look for the management of that group.

“Just the overall look at my students as a group and individually now is much different than even with that class size.”

“The value of that instructional coach to every teacher who impacts every student in this building is so important,” Humphries said. “We can manage (class sizes) But we can’t manage to not have an instructional coach to help the teachers in the building to be more effective in their craft in order to help our students grow. It’s not as easy to teach 30 students as it is 25, but it can be managed.

“Being in the school and being an administrator, I can see the value in it that I feel people outside do not see. Class sizes are not the bottom line.”

What’s next?

Dellinger said some board members want to consider any changes to instructional coaching in the county during the next budget season. As for Dellinger herself, she’d rather see something implemented sooner rather than later.

“There are some board members that want to just wait for the next budget year and then address this, but this is a whole year of a kid’s life in a crowded classroom,” Dellinger said. “I just don’t see it.”

Interim Director of Schools Bill Flanary declined to comment on the topic of instructional coaches, but said he was “excited the board has put a focus on it.”He also said he anticipates some new policy language from the board to better reflect its wishes in regards to classroom sizes.

As for instructional coaches, no current school board agendas include that topic. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t in the backs of minds and subject to be discussed at the board’s discretion.

However, Humphries said she hopes others see how teaching has changed throughout the years and how instructional coaches can help with those adjustments.

“Things are bigger in education than they were back 20 or 30 years ago,” Humphries said. “But what was good then is not good today. The world is changing, jobs are changing so we have to prepare kids for the future. That’s why things are coming down to do that for students. We need to do everything we can to help the teachers do a better job to have a students prepared.”

Lending a hand: As Hurricane Florence wreaks its havoc, local hands reach out

Deb Burger gets her “tiny” house ready to house more guests.


Staff Writer

When Deb and Don Burger began building their “tiny house” in their backyard, they envisioned it being used as a sort of clubhouse for their grandchildren or a refuge for themselves when their home was filled with youngsters.

Hurricane Florence provided a reason for the house to become an important refuge for evacuees from a storm.

Over the past week, four Florence-impacted folks have taken up residence in the “tiny house” as involuntary tourists of Jonesborough.

“We had three young people from Myrtle Beach who were here for the past three days,” Deb Burger explained on the afternoon of Monday, Sept. 17. “This next guy is reserved for four days. If he chooses to extend it because he needs to, that’s available. If not, he’ll leave and we may get booked by somebody else.”

Their current tenant is seeking refuge from Savannah, Georgia.

The Burgers are members of a Facebook group called, “Florence evacuation support in East TN/W NC/SW VA”.  They are two of the more than 1,500 members of the group that have extended whatever assistance they can to victims of the most recent natural disaster to strike.

“Every day when I check the postings, there are people who say, ‘I can’t keep somebody. If you need help feeding the evacuees who are staying with you, call me at this number or message me and I’ll make casseroles.’ Or we get other people saying, ‘I can go buy dog food if you’ve got evacuees staying with you who have pets, I can provide dog and cat food.’ We get other people saying ‘I can’t keep people but if they need a place for their livestock, I’ve got a horse stall; I’ve got room for two goats.’

Deb was quick to stress that she is just one of many hands.

“I say ‘we,’”she explained. “I have participated in a group. I was not the brains behind it. That’s Kiran (Sirah) and Ren (Allen) … The Facebook group started last year for Hurricane Irma and we revived it and changed the name and got it going again for Florence. The page acts as a clearinghouse for people who need help and people who are offering help.”

The Burgers offered assistance during Irma in the form of a campsite in their backyard and an RV hookup, which included water and electricity.

In addition to Facebook, the couple’s house is listed on Airbnb, an online marketplace and hospitality service that brokers short-term lodging rentals.

“They have a program called ‘Open Homes’ where you can choose to turn that option on and that flips your cost to zero for people who are refugees,” Deb explained. All fees and rent are waived for refugees of natural disasters.

The decision to offer assistance was an easy one for them, as they know the strain each evacuee is under.

“We try to provide shelter. It’s not luxurious by any stretch of the imagination but you can stand up, you can change your clothes, it’s dry and you have a warm place to sleep. They pay nothing and we provide what comfort we can. It’s clean and dry and there’s electricity.”

While the tiny house has been a blessing for the evacuees, the original use was as far from a disaster as it can possibly get.

“The grandchildren like to camp out there. And when our house is full of grown children and little-bitty ones, then Don and I sleep up there for a few nights while the kids are being noisy in our home … Tiny houses are a thing. There’s the TV shows, there are books about them. We’ve had it in mind for long enough now that I don’t remember where we originally got the idea.”

The house still is not completed, so the recent guests had to make do with a few trips to the Burger’s house for bathroom breaks and showers. But soon enough those trips will be things of the past, Deb said.

“Eventually, our goal for the tiny house is it will have solar on the roof and there will be a composting toilet. The power is from a car battery, which you keep charged from solar. We have plans to build an outdoor shower in the back.”

While the tiny project is still underway, Deb said they have provided as much comfort as they could for the evacuees.

“We have a sink where we put two gallon drinking jugs on so a person can make tea in the hot pot and we keep little tea cups and saucers with some honey and tea out here. There’s drinking water, there’s a place to brush your teeth or wash your face, you just have to empty the bucket every day. There’s a chair and table and places to store things that’s the first floor.”

Upstairs has an inflatable mattress with a window view of the neighborhood.

Deb Burger said her husband Don provided a treat for the recent tenants.

“Don has made, and my husband is a great cook and baker, and he made muffins for breakfast every morning. We make spaghetti or soup or something that we can feed a crowd with for supper and just try to provide comfort and a place to regroup for as long as they need it.”

While the first three evacuees certainly had enough on their minds during their stay at the Burgers’ tiny house, some much needed good news managed to reach them.

“The first guests had found out that their house was not destroyed. They had relatives who rode out the storm and told them they could start working their way back home,” she explained.

While the relief of having a dry, warm place to ride out the storm in safety must be overwhelming, Deb said the thought of offering help was never in doubt.

“When they’re evacuees, we’re seeing people at their worst (moment) and their most stressed out. So the call is to show comfort and mercy. That’s what it’s completely all about.”

Corner Cup seeks permit for beer service


Staff Writer

The Corner Cup is looking to extend its beverage options.

During Monday night’s Beer Board meeting, held prior to the Sept. 10 Jonesborough Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting, the owner of The Corner Cup, Deb Kruse, submitted a letter to the BMA stating her intention to seek “an on-premise beer license without receiving our ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Commission) license. We cannot currently obtain an ABC license due to the minimum 40 seat requirement. We currently have only 16 seats.”

Kruse spoke to the board about the plans she and the building’s co-owner, Melinda Copp, have for the future.

“What we’re looking at, because we have limited seating, is just a special permit that we can maybe once or twice a month, have receptions on the other half of the building,” Kruse said. “We have Mill Springs Makers Market and they’re (hosting) all local artists. We like to have receptions where we can feature our local artists. They can meet with people and serve beer and food.”

Alderman Terry Countermine spoke in favor of issuing the permit of The Corner Cup, “I think it’s a good idea. Certainly what they would do down there isn’t going to be like a ‘beer joint’.”

Mayor Chuck Vest, however, urged caution. “What’s the risk involved with this?,” Vest said. “To me, we know The Corner Cup, we know the establishment. What happens if we open this up and then somebody that’s not as well known or someone not having the best of intentions (requests a permit)?”

Vest’s concern was setting up a loophole that might be abused by future applicants for an on-premise beer permit.

The main issue was square footage versus seats.

For any establishment to obtain an ABC license, one of the conditions is a minimum seating capacity of 40 seats. The building housing the Corner Cup also contains the Mill Springs Makers Market, which adds considerable square footage, but no seating, as it is a retail store.

Someone trying to slip through a loophole might have a building with ample square footage for 40 seats but not want to install such seating, and still request a beer permit from the BMA without being required to obtain an ABC license.

While The Corner Cup building could hold much more seating, Kruse and Copp set up their businesses to maximize retail space.

As Town Administrator Bob Browning said, “I guess you could say, they’ve chosen to do retail in one part of the building as opposed to adding seats in there. I think it’s reasonable to say from an economic standpoint it’s in their best interest.”

“My concern is not you (to Kruse). I like what you’re doing. It’s to make sure we address anybody in the future that might want to do something that kind of gets around a loophole,” Vest added.

The BMA decided to defer action on The Corner Cup’s petition while the town staff and the town attorney worked on the amendment. A final decision will be made at a future Beer Board meeting.

Courthouse Square to get ‘A Taste of Texas’

From left to right, Roger and Mary Sipple, Amber Waninger and Myra Cardenas are ready to bring Texas to Tennessee.


Staff Writer

Many folks walking through downtown may have noticed activity around the building space that used to hold the “Courthouse Diner”.

Mary and Roger Sipple are bringing “A Taste of Texas” to 109 Courthouse Square within the next month. Mary’s daughter, Myra Cardenas, is also on the team alongside their marketing guru, Amber Waninger.

Their initial plan is to stay open from breakfast to dinner.

“We’re trying to shoot for the next couple of weeks (for the opening). Depending on if everything goes well,”

Cardenas said recently. “We’ve gotten all of our equipment in, we’re getting menus, social media, websites and vendors lined up.” Cardenas will be a chef and will design dish presentations while Mary Sipple will be head chef.

Mary Sipple has a long history in the restaurant business, having run three eateries in their home state of Texas before becoming a nurse and moving to Tennessee.

“I am from Texas. My husband and I met in Texas when he was in the Air Force. His family lives in Tennessee, so we decided one day to move up this way. That’s what brought us here.

“I ran restaurants before. My kids were little, and I got tired of it and decided to be a nurse. My kids have grown up and (Myra) wants to help now so we plan to do it again. I have a lot of support now. When I had the other ones it was just me and that was difficult to do.”

Mary Sipple drove from Morristown to the Veterans Assistance Hospital every day, an extra long commute, which led to the move to Jonesborough.

“We looked around the area and Jonesborough was just beautiful, I just loved it, the downtown historic feel. I wanted to find something around Jonesborough.”

Cardenas added that her mother was also drawn to the location by its history, and her love of all things antique.

“When we found this location she was like, ‘It’s my dream. It’s beautiful’. And we’re trying to keep that history. We are Tex-Mex and we do Mexican food, but we’re also trying to keep the integrity of downtown Jonesborough.”

The decision to stay open for dinner was assisted by folks who have walked by the building and requested they stay open for evening eats.

“We are considering different hours. We don’t know what the town’s looking for yet. We’re thinking maybe 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. to start out and to play it by ear and change our hours to 7 p.m. to start out and to play it by ear and change our hours according to what the people are looking for. Maybe they want us open later. Or maybe earlier, as we’re going to specialize in breakfast burritos,” Sipple said.

While their specialty will be breakfast-fare, the burritos may be ordered at any time of the day. And Cardenas said that their Tex-Mex inspired meals are different from typical Mexican restaurants.

“They tend to have a bigger menu, so you’re kind of overwhelmed. We’re trying to customize it to be our Tex-Mex. It’s not traditional Mexican food. For us, we use a lot of natural ingredients. We have our own spices and seasonings. Tex-Mex style is cumin-based. We don’t do too much with the ingredients because simplicity is key whenever you’re trying to create something that tastes wonderful.

“Queso will be cheddar-based. Growing up in Texas, we always like to add things to our cheese. Again, it’s just simple ingredients but when you mix them all together it creates this wonderful design.”

Cardenas certainly has the background for the task at hand.

She earned her Bachelor’s Degree at Full Sail University and ran the kitchen at the Winter Park, Florida Olive Garden.

Waninger earned her Masters at Full Sail in Marketing and Design and was also a culinary professional at Olive Garden.

According to Cardenas, the initial plan includes a beer license and a “quick service” style restaurant. 

“We’re not going to have serving staff or anything. Up front will be three chalk boards. You come up to the counter, order, sit down and we’ll have someone bring your food out to you. You’ll go up and get your own drink.”

She added that to-go service would also be available and that they plan to source locally and stay as fresh as possible (including homemade chips).

“Everything we’re making is basically fresh. Beans will be made fresh. Rice will be made fresh daily. Ground beef, all of that. We’re trying to stay away from as much frozen food as possible by sourcing locally.”

Other features will be a salsa bar, limited seating outside, vegetarian options and gluten-free dishes.

“We know what it takes to keep our customers happy,” Cardenas said. “We know what it takes to make sure everything in the back is functioning right. ‘These are my standards. This is where they are, and they’re not going to drop because there’s no reason for them to go below that’.

“We never want to be inconsistent, it’s the key to everything.”

“A Taste of Texas” will have phone service on Sept. 7. Their website will soon be online at

In Photos: Taking an oath of leadership

Chancellor John Rambo (left) assists the newly named Washington County Mayor, Joe Grandy (center), joined by his wife Lucinda (right), in the county’s swearing in ceremony on Friday, Aug. 31 at the George Jaynes Justice Center in Jonesborough. The ceremony inducted new and re-elected school board members, county commissioners and other county officials into office, while family, friends and Washington County citizens watched at the standing-room-only event. Grandy was met with applause at the swearing in ceremony and took a moment to say thanks to county citizens after taking oath as the Washington County Mayor.



Title IX issue? Crockett softball lighting updates left in the dark

Crockett’s softball lights shown above with football lights in the background.


Staff Writer

County officials recently discussed a request for updated lighting at David Crockett High School’s softball field. For now, the project has been left in the dark, but it could result in a Title IX violation.

Title IX is a civil rights law that requires both male and females are given “equitable opportunities to participate in sports.” This includes equal opportunities in areas such as equipment and supplies, scheduling of games and practice time, and practice and competitive facilities. The issue in regards to Title IX requirements and Crockett’s softball field lights is that the neighboring Pioneer baseball field is well-lit, while the softball field lighting is, as Interim Director of Schools Bill Flanary told county officials, lacking in comparison.

“The current lights are just not sufficient,” Flanary said at the Aug. 9 Health, Education and Welfare Committee meeting. “More importantly, the boys baseball field is well-lit.”

An example of the softball lights at Crockett.

Currently there are six poles placed around the field to light the Crockett softball diamond for late afternoon and night games. However, the school system’s maintenance supervisor, Phillip Patrick, confirmed that the lights are outdated and would require new poles and fixtures — with a price tag of $150,000 — in order to properly light the field.

“It’s not lit to the level that the men’s baseball field is and mainly because of the type of lighting it is,” Patrick said. “It’s the old mercury vapor lamps. We can’t even buy fixtures for them anymore.”

Patrick said the Lady Pioneer Softball Team currently schedules two to three night games a season. While they hope to add more night games to their 2019 schedule with adequate lighting, the Crockett team said they’re left working with what they have.

“Every year we start the season, we have at least 20 or more lights out of about 40 that have to be replaced,” Crockett Head Softball Coach Carla Weems said. “Even when they get them all working, the lighting is still very bad and the girls have trouble seeing the ball. I hope, for the girls’ sake, we get them.”

However, the county is holding off on the project.

The Washington County Health, Education and Welfare Committee’s split 2-2 vote on the $150,000 request left the call for updates at a standstill this month, while budget committee members put the request’s approval on hold.

The lighting project was included along with other requests listed in the school system’s newly drafted maintenance plan for the 2018-2019 school year. However, approval and funding from the Washington County Commission is required in order for any of the school system’s projects to go into effect.

School officials presented the request to the two county committees, with Patrick explaining that if someone calls the Office of Civil Rights Regional Office in Atlanta, Georgia, “that’s when it becomes an issue.”

However, Flanary told the Herald & Tribune that as of Aug. 16, the school system has had no communication with any state or federal agency regarding a civil rights issue and Crockett’s softball field lighting.

At the county’s budget meeting, Mayor-Elect Joe Grandy said he acknowledged the call for equity within the athletic program, but said he wanted to get more out of the field improvements.

“A $150,000 investment, to me, doesn’t seem to make sense,” Grandy, who is also the budget committee chairman, said. “I’m not trying to minimize the Title IX issue. That’s really important that we do everything (required) there. It certainly is about covering the legal basis, but if it’s the right thing to do for equity, then I think we should do it.

“It’s just that for a very few number of meetings per season, it seems to me that this takes a long time to get our value out of that project unless you can use the field differently and expand the use of it. These are the questions I sort of have on this.”

Commissioner Todd Hensley asked if softball games could be played on the baseball field. Patrick said Ridgeview Elementary and Grandview Elementary currently adapt their fields for baseball and softball use. However, he said temporary fencing would have to be installed at the Crockett baseball field, should it be adapted for softball. He also added that softball requires a different mound.

Meanwhile, Commissioner Tom Krieger said he felt that talk of a potential Title IX violation seemed to suddenly pop up. He also asked if the money for the project could come from another fund, rather than the capital projects fund.

“This Title IX issue, that’s something that’s 28 or 29 years old and we’ve set there for years with that field like it is,” Krieger said. “And it wasn’t on the (previous) five-year plan. All of the sudden it came out of nowhere. I don’t know if there’s a rumbling of something that’s going to happen from a Title IX suit or something.

“But I also wonder if (the $150,000) can’t come out of an existing budget rather than additional money from the commission, from their capital plan. Those capital dollars are going to be so critical as we look towards these other schools.”

Paws in Blue: Fundraiser to help raise K-9 money, awareness

Loki is currently the town’s only K-9 officer.


Staff Writer

Any dog lovers in the area, who also happen to be competitive doughnut-eaters, should make certain their calendar is open on Saturday, Sept. 8, between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.

And for those who REALLY love dogs, there will be a dog-kissing booth.

The “Paws in Blue” fundraiser, to be held at Persimmon Ridge Park, will raise funds towards the purchase and training of a K-9 unit for the town.

“It’s amazing what these dogs can do,” Chairman of the Paws in Blue Fundraising Committee Ruth Verhegge said recently. “It’s almost unlimited the benefit that these dogs have had. They’re truly amazing.”

The Town of Jonesborough currently has one K-9 unit, “Loki”, a chocolate lab trained in narcotics detection and tracking.

Verhegge added that K-9 dogs can be trained in two specialty areas:

• Article searches for weapons, contraband, narcotics, explosives, other evidence types

• Tracking and search for criminal suspects

• Search and rescue tracking for lost or missing children and elderly victims

• Physical apprehension of fleeing or combative suspects

• Building and open area searches for suspects

• Handler protection against assault by suspects

• Establishing probable cause by alerting to the presence of narcotics

• Establishing probable cause by alerting to the presence of explosives

The areas in which the new K-9 will most likely receive training will be explosives detection and apprehension.

Such specialized training is not cheap, and Verhegge hopes the fundraiser will raise a large portion, if not the entire sum, of the cost of purchasing and training the canine.

“Police dogs cost between $13,000 and $15,000 by the time the dog is trained and the handler is trained. There’s several certifications both of them get, so it’s not an inexpensive process.

“I’m real hopeful that this event on the 8th (of Sept.) will generate a pretty good amount of money.”

The newest member of Jonesborough’s K-9 unit will be purchased in Michigan, and receive training alongside his or her new handler at the same location.

Officer Dustin Fleming and Loki.

According to a Police K-9 Information release, “Initial Handler School for a ‘green’ dog and handler consists of six weeks of intense training in all K-9 functions. K-9 teams must complete a minimum of 16 hours of training in all functions monthly, with most handlers completing 24 to 30.”

For certification, the JPD chose the North American Police and Working Dog Association, which “is considered to be the premier certifying agency in the Police K-9 industry.”

Once training has been completed, the new police pup will live with the handler, although the town will be the owner.

While adding another K-9 to the force will certainly benefit officers and citizens, ultimately Verhegge envisions more than two K-9 units.

“Our ultimate goal is to have four dogs. So we’d have one on duty on every shift and then one that could fill in when, say, you have vacation or something like that.

“My dream is that even once we get the dogs, we will continue to have fundraising to support the K-9 program, because the town has to pay the vet bills, buy the food, all these kinds of things to continue to support the K-9 program. I’m really hoping that we’ll start some real community buy-in to this program.”

The “Paws in Blue” Fundraiser will showcase the skills police dogs use to aid police departments and give the community a chance to meet Jonesborough’s current K-9 team.

“We have invited all the area police departments that have K-9’s to bring their dog or dogs, so they can compete. The idea is that they’ll compete doing things like searching a building or looking for drugs,” Verhegge said.

“We’re hoping we get the prison to bring down one of their bloodhounds so we can show the bloodhound tracking somebody. We want to demonstrate the things police dogs can do.”

Ultimately, Verhegge’s goal is much more ambitious.

“My dream is eventually we’ll have a regional competition where we’ll end up with a regional top police dog. That’s the dream.”

Many area businesses and clubs have volunteered or donated in order to help with the event, which will require supplies to build the facilities needed.

“(Lowes is) donating all the materials that we need to build all the things we need for demonstrations. And all these things that are built will go up and be in a training area so the (Jonesborough) dogs can continue training in it. That’s what we’re going to use all this stuff for. They will train on this monthly.”

With a training area available for the local K-9 units to use, JPD can eliminate travel costs and any other expenses to maintain their monthly training requirements.

According to Verhegge, Lowes will also be giving away smoke alarms at the event.

The local Civitan branch has chipped in, as well. “A huge one is the Civitan Club. And Jonesborough Area Merchants & Services Association. You have to have some money to raise money. And they’ve made that possible.”

Tractor Supply is donating a large dome doghouse, while Fresh Market is donating for a raffle.

Two food trucks, “Let’s Taco ‘Bout It” and “Auntie Ruth’s Doughnuts”, will provide sustenance at the event, along with Pizza Plus.

Local resident John Abe Teague and his son will also be cooking up hamburgers and hot dogs.

If watching highly trained police dogs chase down “suspects” and sniff out “contraband” inspires competition among the attendees, a Doughnut Eating Contest around 1 p.m. will provide an outlet.

Natural Pet Supply plans to set up a dog washing station for those who bring their pups to the park. The event will also feature exhibitors such as the Humane Society, Off Leash K-9 Training, Camp Ruff N More, Dianne’s Pet Projects, Sticky Paws and Kayla Byrd.

If the whole family joins the fun, Wetlands Water Park is another option.

“The pool will be open. Normally it closes on Labor Day and they’re going to open it for us so people can swim for a donation,” Verhegge said.

For those who attend the event, make sure to keep an eye out for “Loki”.

As Verhegge said, “His most dangerous weapon, other than his nose, is his tail.”

Boone JROTC continues its excellence

Cadets proudly show off their new JROTC Marine Corps Reserve Association Award for Boone.


Staff Writer

Trophies and awards already line the walls and shelves of the JROTC department at Daniel Boone High School. But now, it’s time to make a little more room.

The school’s JROTC program just earned the Marine Corps Reserve Association Award given to the top school in the region. The award marks the school as one of the top five MCJROTC programs in the nation. This is the third consecutive year the Boone group has clinched the honor and is the sixth time since 2010 that the award has been taken back to Gray, Tennessee.

“Most of the other schools that are getting this kind of award are bigger, urban schools that are massively larger than us,” said Major Steven Sessis, the senior marine instructor at Daniel Boone. “So it’s kind of neat that out here in Northeast Tennessee, we are six-time winners of that award. It’s become a legacy now.”

The award is given to the school with the highest aggregate score in competitions, community service, and annual inspections from the MCRA. For Sessis and Michael Gardener, the school’s marine instructor, the award also supports the idea of building well-rounded young adults. That includes not only hitting the mark with their drill, marksman, orienteering, academic and physical fitness team competitions; it includes working within the community.

“We want everyone to know that there’s a group of kids out there who bust their tail to do the right thing,” Sessis said. “They’re not necessarily going to serve in the military — as a matter of fact, the vast majority of them do not — that doesn’t mean there are not things that they cannot learn in high school that will benefit them and the community long after they’ve left high school.”

For the two program members who have risen to the top of the ranks at Daniel Boone, JROTC has been an opportunity to work hard and gain experience in various areas.

Madalyn Darnell (left) and Samantha Miller (right) are proud to represent Daniel Booone High School’s JROTC program.

Senior leaders Madalyn Darnell, who is the senior executive officer, and Samantha Miller, who is the senior commanding officer, have both been on almost each of the program’s five teams. Mostly, they said, being a part of the program has given them valuable skills and lasting life lessons.

“It offered me everything — something as basic as time-management skills to being able to lead a group of 100 people,” Darnell said. “We have opportunities as 17-year-old girls that some people don’t get in their 20, 30-year careers.”

Miller, who is also the captain of the marksman team, said her work in the program has opened her eyes to what she’s capable of and what all the program has offered her.

“When I came here I was very shy and to myself, but this program really opened me up to the things that not only I can do but what others can do,” Miller said. “I learned that I’m good at marksmanship and that I’m good at drill, it’s very easy to help the community, organization, responsibility — all the things you don’t usually get the opportunity to learn.

“Leading the program, it makes me feel empowered. I want to let all the others — not only females — have a chance at that kind of empowerment.”

While Miller plans to pursue a career in education and Darnell plans to pursue a career in constitutional law after high school, the two senior leaders are mostly looking forward to what will come before graduation, including the 30-40 JROTC competitions and events in places such as Washington D.C., South Carolina and Nashville.

In considering their senior year, the two best friends said they have work to do, an award they’re hoping to win one last time and a JROTC family they’re hoping to inspire and embrace before their time is up at Daniel Boone.

“If it wasn’t for JROTC, I don’t think I would have found a friendship like what Sam and I have,” Darnell said. “It always comes back to this is a family. This is the place where the kids who don’t necessarily fit into band or a sport, they can come here. There is something for everybody here. I think that in and of itself is a reward of the program. It’s a lot, but it’s a lot to be grateful for.”

Of all of the trophies adorning the walls of their favorite place on Daniel Boone High School’s campus, Darnell and Miller might be most proud of the legacy built and that is continuing on in Gray, Tennessee.

“There is a line from the musical Hamilton. It’s ‘Legacy, what is a legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.’,” Darnell said. “To think about that and to think that what I do today is going to affect cadets tomorrow, next week, in two years, in five years, in the next century — it feels like there’s a lot on your shoulders.

“But as long as we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing and performing how we’re supposed to be performing, then the legacy that we leave, we’re setting it down and the next group of cadets are picking it up.”

Sell not to seek re-election on BMA

David Sell won’t seek reelection in the upcoming Jonesborough Alderman race.


Staff Writer

Three candidates have joined the Town of Jonesborough’s latest edition of alderman musical chairs. There will be two “chairs” available for the three entrants, although current Alderman David Sell is not one of the challengers.

“The main reason is my business,” Sell said about his decision not to seek re-election.  “We’ve been in business over 20 years and we’re phasing out the ACE Hardware and we’re going to be doing locksmith service and work, commercial, residential and automotive.”

Those seeking a seat on the Jonesborough Board of Mayor and Aldermen include Virginia Causey, who temporarily filled the vacancy left when Chuck Vest was appointed mayor; Stephen Callahan, proprietor of the Tennessee Hills Distillery; and Charlie B. Moore. The election will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 6.

“The climate’s changed in the past 10 years, with the box stores and the internet and all that,” as Sell explained his planned departure from the board. “It’s really put a damper on things. We’re moving from this location (on Jackson Boulevard) to next door where the old service station was (across Jackson Blvd from the Justice Center). We’re remodeling it and our locksmith business is going in that building. My business is changing … I guess you could say I’m kind of starting all over. It’s going to take a lot of time to get this thing done. And my time is very limited. We’ve gotten some out of state contracts. I’ll be on the road quite a bit.”

Sell added that he would have considered running again had his business not required a change.

“It’s in good hands with Chuck (Vest), the new mayor,” he said. “He’s a good leader and he’s been on there a long time. He knows what’s going on. So it’ll be left in good hands. They’ve got a good board.”

He also had some advice for those seeking public office.

“Run for the right reasons. Don’t have an agenda. That was the same advice that was given to me when I ran. Run to be able to serve the people. That’s what it’s all about.

“If you’ve got an axe to grind, with a department, or a person that works for the town, and you’re going to run, that’s not the right reason.”

As a temporary alderman filling Mayor Vest’s former seat, Virginia Causey has some knowledge about the position, but also believes her background helped prepare her for the seat.

“I was Executive Assistant for the Town Administrator. I worked for the town for almost 40 years. During that time I worked with Mr. (Bob) Browning, who worked directly with the Board. And I feel like when they asked me if I would fill the vacant position, my husband and I talked about it and he said, ‘You want to get in there and see what you think’.

“Well, I feel in my heart that I can help the town because I know a lot of what has been the process for years. It’s not like I’m coming in blind-sided on how to handle a board meeting.”

The temporary alderman said that continuing the current path of progression appealed to her.

“I would like to see the town keep progressing. We have progressed so much in the past 10 years. And we have so many people coming to town now. I’d like to see that continue.”

Causey concluded that her experience as a town employee would be beneficial.

“I love the town. I love the people. I love the employees. And I do feel that I would be an asset for the employees because I was an employee and I know what it’s like.”

Stephen Callahan, who opened Tennessee Hills Distillery less than five years ago, said that a younger voice on the BMA would add another dimension.

“Having somebody that the younger generation could come and talk to and relate to and not be afraid to bring new business into town.

“We need to attract the younger crowd … (for me) to be a sounding board for them. I think that’s going to be a huge asset to the BMA. That’s something that I could relay to the other Board members and kind of be a spokesman.”

Callahan added that his business has given him the knowledge he believes necessary.

“I own a business and I know how to manage money. I didn’t major in finances or accounting, but I also went to school and I own a pretty profitable business here in downtown.”

The spirit brewer believes that Jonesborough’s last 10 years of progress provided the necessary environment for a successful small business such as his own.

“I definitely want to keep us from going back 10 years. I want to keep the things that people have done here in recent years … that’s the reason I’m here in town.

Callahan said he would be the model candidate for small businesses.

“The best thing I can do is basically be a spokesman for the small business people here in town.”

The final candidate, Charlie B. Moore, has been employed at the Tennessee Department of Transportation for eight years.

Moore is a former Alderman and said he would like to be involved with the town again.

“I love being a part of the decision making for the town of Jonesborough, and as everybody knows Jonesborough is growing by leaps and bounds and I think we’ve got a lot to offer people, but we’ve probably got a little growing pains right now I believe. But that’s a good thing.

“I like to be involved in everything. I’m hoping to get back in there and help everybody that I can. Help the taxpayers, help the employees, and I just enjoy helping people.”

Moore believes his job would benefit Jonesborough’s infrastructure.

“I’ve been certified in concrete and asphalt, so I’ve been well-versed in construction. Roadways, bridges, etc. So I think that would be a big asset to the town when we have projects going on. I know it’s a plus when you’ve got somebody that knows whether the job’s being done right or not. And I think sitting on the board that could be important to ensure the taxpayers are getting their bang for their bucks.”

Sprouting an interest: Students learn from classroom garden

Second grade students (from left to right) Addison Huffine, Bryson Key and Ellie Morrill show off their freshly picked veggies from Betty Jo Dempsey’s garden at Jonesborough Elementary.


Staff Writer

When you step through the back door of Betty Jo Dempsey’s second grade classroom at Jonesborough Elementary School, you’ll find students curiously peaking over healthy leaves and stems to get a look at the latest harvest of zucchini, beans, carrots and tomatoes. And around this time of year, the harvest provides enough fruits and vegetables for each student to happily tote at least one homegrown crop back to the classroom, with pride in his or her freshly picked item also in tow.

Jacoby Flew, Kaitlyn Dykes, Katelyn Broughton and Charlie Broyles-McIntosh examine a radish from the class garden.

Dempsey has cultivated a garden behind her classroom for eight years and has seen a plethora of fruits and vegetables shuttled from the garden to the table sitting in the back of the classroom for all to see the latest pickings. She said her longing to step outside of the classroom and her deep love for plants first made her pick up her gardening gloves.

“I got the idea for a garden from being a student with a classroom that had windows,” Dempsey said with a laugh — meanwhile her students anxiously await their journey to the beloved garden. “I’ve just always been interested in plants. I just think it’s a miracle you can plant one little teeny seed and you can get something that’s got a gazillion seeds in it.”

Abileny Saucedo holds fresh tomatoes.

Dempsey started the garden thanks to a grant she received from Tennessee Farm Bureau’s “Ag in the Classroom” initiative to provide teachers with resources for similar outdoor projects in order to educate students on agriculture. This summer, Dempsey received a $250 grant with the Farm Bureau for on-going garden needs. Dempsey said that grant would be used to put fresh soil in the raised-bed garden area.

Grants haven’t been the only thing keeping this garden alive; students have put in work recently by planting, weeding and watering the garden in order for it to thrive.

“I’ve involved the kids as much as I can,” Dempsey said. “It’s such a learning experience, too. It just involves so many life skills and it gets them hands-on with everyday things and a real garden.”

It’s also cultivated a love for stepping outside of the classroom and rolling up those sleeves — which is something one student, Lucas Verble, said he also practices at home by caring for his Tommy Toe Tomato plant.

“You need to get some plant food,” Verble suggested to Dempsey. “Because plant food, they just help them grow. I have a Tommy Toe plant. I put plant food in mine and in a week it got taller than me.”

Though the kids are enamored with selecting a homegrown good to shuttle back to the classroom, they’ve also gotten to brush up on their vocabulary by spending time at the garden.

Aurora Rodriguez and Haiden Wilson grin with their zucchini and tomato.

“At the end of May, we had to cultivate and we learned the word ‘harrowing’. So it’s vocabulary-building. They also made water jugs to help water it from old milk cartons — so they learned how heavy a gallon is,” Dempsey said with a chuckle.

The students walked back through the classroom door with enough fresh, leafy greens to fill the surface of the large table at the back of Dempsey’s classroom, but the Jonesborough teacher hopes to leave her students with more than just a robust, ripened tomato to appreciate.

“I think they need to know where their food comes from,” Dempsey said, standing next to the fresh crop of fruits and veggies from the class’s fresh picking. “I’m not going to say it’s a survival skill, but at least they know that they could grow their own food if they wanted to.”

BMA issues proclamation for United Way kick-off


Staff Writer

During Monday night’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting, Mayor Chuck Vest proclaimed Aug. 23, 2018 “United Way of Washington County TN – Local Kickoff Day”.

Vest presented United Way of Washington County President and CEO Kristan Ginnings and United Way of Washington Co. Chair/Washington County Commissioner Gary McAllister a plaque during his proclamation.

“Two thousand eight hundred forty-one Jonesborough residents received assistance from or took part in programs supported by United Way of Washington County T in 2017,” Vest said, reading the proclamation. “And the United Way provides more than $1.7 million dollars of assistance in our area each year.”

After Vest’s comments, Ginnings added, “Last year with the funds raised, (United Way) supported 53 percent of the residents in the town of Jonesborough. And there’s still a lot of needs.”

McAllister then gave a few details regarding the Kickoff event but added a bit of mystery.

“Aug. 23 is going to be our kickoff. It’s going to be at Rotary Park (in Johnson City), and we’re having a very special event,” McAllister continued. “Former Mayor Kelly Wolfe is going up against Kenny Hawkins of WJHL in a special event. I’m not going to tell you what it is but it’s not cage-match wrestling or anything.”

In addition to the Kickoff event, Ginnings detailed another United Way program in the county.

“We just implemented our new Vello reading program. It’s a virtual volunteer reading program. We’re piloting that in 10 second-grade classrooms. Two in Lamar, two in Westview, one in South Central for Washington County and then Mountain View school in Johnson City.

“If there’s anybody interested in volunteering for that program, it’s 30 minutes a week. You can do it right from your cellphone, right from your computer at work … it’s going to help about 70 children in these ten classrooms be proficient in reading by the time they reach third grade.”

Following the meeting, Ginnings said, “We’re not telling all the details because there’s going to be a surprise element to it … Coach Steve Forbes at ETSU will be our speaker. We have, of course, Kenny Hawkins and Kelly Wolfe. (They) have always had a little competition going on with each other, so they are both going to be there, and have a fun competition between each other.

“We are just doing something that’s going to be fun that is also going to have community impact. And that’s kind of the part we’re not sharing. It’ll be a different format from what anybody used to coming to a United Way function (is used to). But that’ll be the format of how we do things going forward.”

When asked about the secretive nature of the event, Ginnings said, “Even our board of directors does not know.”

‘Makers Market’ debuts on Main Street

Melinda Copp, owner of the new Mill Spring Makers Market with Deborah Kruse, owner of Corner Cup.


Staff Writer

Yet another new business has set up shop in downtown Jonesborough.

The market plans a grand opening on Aug. 31.

The Mill Spring Makers Market opened July 16 and many of the items offered are local hand-made crafts and artworks. The store provides space for artists to display and sell their creations.

While the market sells many unique products, classes and workshops taught by local artists will also showcase and teach the skills each artist used to create their art.

Owner Melinda Copp, formerly the full-time Main Street Jonesborough Director, purchased the old town hall building in partnership with Corner Cup owner Deborah Kruse.

“It’ll be a little bit of everything,” Copp said, “It’ll be all kinds of different things that our artists want to offer. We’re just getting the feel right now for what our artists that are here want to offer and what our community wants to learn.

“We see that whole corner as where the community comes together and they can sell their things. It’s kind of like a little entrepreneurial center where people can get their feel for their art and display it and sell it to the public.”

While the Corner Cup has been open for almost three years, the idea for Mill Spring Makers Market blossomed when Copp and Kruse were on a business trip in Colorado. According to the two partners, the town sent several local business owners to a marketing and business development workshop for four days of training. From store setup to signage, they covered all matters of small business ownership, and received a valuable tip.

“One of the things they talked to Deb (Kruse) about was owning your space,” Copp said. “And she was sub-leasing the space here (at Corner Cup). This building had been for sale for a while but they weren’t actively selling it. After we came back, the building was put on the market and Deb said ‘Oh my gosh, Melinda. What am I going to do?’”

Kruse said that she feared she would be forced to move the coffee shop somewhere else in town.

The previous owners had an active business there previously, but had moved to Florida and “were not giving the building the attention it needed,” Copp added.

Kruse and Copp jokingly chatted about buying the property, but that joke and the business acumen the two had gained evolved into an opportunity.

“We bought the building together with the idea that I would eventually have a business on the other side. So we have a partnership in the building,” Copp said.

The two spent months brainstorming how the building would best be utilized and two weeks physically transforming it into their vision.

“We worked hard. 14 days, every day, it was manual labor. The other part of it has been a gradual creation. That’s kind of what we envisioned, a soft-opening.

“People come in and it looks inviting. It’s bright, it’s colorful, open and not cluttered. That was the first phase and to keep going, we probably have 15 more phases,” Kruse said, which prompted a laugh from Copp.

They believe the two stores can co-exist and will be mutually beneficial. Copp explained, “We’ve found now that we’ve opened, people definitely come into both places. A lot of times they’ll come in one door and then they’ll go through the middle area (which connects the two stores) and leave out the other door. They’ll go get a coffee and then shop around our place or vice versa.” 

While the two have noticed the flow between the stores, Kruse believes there is more potential.

“As we start doing some special events such as highlighting local artists and having a gathering here, like a reception, that’s when it’s going to really start flowing back and forth.”

Space in the Mill Street Makers Market has begun filling up but areas remain for more products and by utilizing social media, Copp said the store has been contacted by additional artists.

“We still have space available and we’re still getting it filled with good variety.”

Artists also have the opportunity to teach classes or host workshops on their specialties. The Market has an area designated as a “makers section”, where the sessions are held. Weekly yarn classes are held on Tuesday afternoons with “Stitch Therapist” Deb Burger. Burger also has a dedicated space in the back of the store where her own business resides. “The Yarn Asylum” sells supplies and tools for knitting, crocheting and more.

“(Burger) has been here probably since the beginning and has grown and evolved and has been very successful,” Copp said.

In addition, regularly scheduled quilting classes taught by Angela Harris are scheduled to begin by the end of August.

Special events are also scheduled to be held in the Makers Section. A Sunflower Paint Party is set for Friday, Aug. 17, from 6 to 9 p.m. For a class fee of $40, attendees will also receive an appetizer. The event is BYOB. Future events include a Lightning Bug Paint Party and a Mosaic Beach Box class.

Plans for a Grand Opening weekend are tentatively scheduled for Friday, Aug. 30, around 11 a.m. with a ribbon-cutting. Saturday, Aug. 31 will feature an artist’s reception from 5 to 8 p.m.

Copp, who now works for the town part-time, said she has always been interested in downtown businesses and knew owning one would be time-consuming.

“(Moving to part-time) was a decision I made on my own. Being a business owner, I knew was going to take up a lot of my time so I knew I couldn’t juggle both (jobs). I felt like I wanted to be more hands-on with the business and we talked back and forth about I could still be full-time and have somebody else help run the business, but that’s really not what I wanted to do. If I wanted to have a business downtown I wanted to have my mark on it.” 

Contact info for the Mill Spring Makers Market is 423-557-3499 or email at

Info for The Yarn Asylum is 828-553-7545 or at

BOE candidates tackle top challenges

Seven of the nine candidates for Washington County School Board were on hand last week to participate in a special Johnson City forum.


Staff Writer

City and county residents gathered on Thursday, July 26, to hear Washington County Board of Education candidates sound off on the top issues surrounding the school system.

Seven of the nine candidates running for the six spots available on the county BOE attended the candidate forum. District 1 candidates Kerrie Aistrop, Annette Buchanan and Keith Ervin were joined by District 3 candidates Donald Feathers, David Hammond, Trevor Knight and Mitch Meredith on the panel. Candidates Jason Day (District 1) and Chad Fleenor (District 3) were both unable to attend.

The event started off with two universal questions, the first being “How do you propose to address the needs at the Jonesborough School?”

Kerrie Aistrop talks school projects as Keith Ervin watches on.

The Jonesborough School project has been an ongoing debacle for the school board with over a year’s worth of presented design plans for the future K-8 school. Throughout the ongoing discussion involving the project, Aistrop said the project conundrum was what first drew her into attending meetings. To answer the question, Aistrop said she feels the board is close to a decision now that the school’s architect has presented “Scheme 6”, the newest design plan which would include renovations and additions to the current Jonesborough Middle School building.

“The only thing I was advocating for was a safe learning environment,” Aistrop said. “Many people, including school board members, had no clue how bad (Jonesborough Elementary)  was. We can’t use 90 percent of the water facilities, spigots and water fountains because rust comes out of them …The board did not understand completely the issues we had in our school.

“But we have Scheme 6 and they have my blessing on it. They are going to gut all the pipes out with the plan they have with remodeling it and adding onto the side. I’m excited we’re going to move on with the project. It’s in budget so the county commission can approve it. I think we’re at a solution.”

Feathers, who is a former first responder and environmental specialist, said he would like to walk through Jonesborough Elementary to view the facility through an environmentalist’s perspective.

“I’d have a field day at Jonesborough Elementary School and at Boones Creek Elementary School. I’d have it shut down probably within about 10 minutes,” Feathers said. “I’ll make you a promise, I’ll come down to Jonesborough Elementary School and volunteer my free time as an environmental specialist and I’ll look through that school for you because it’s a mess and Boones Creek Elementary School’s a mess. You’ve got this problem that’s been there for 25 years? That’s a big environmental issue.”

The other universal question was, “The per-student rate for one city student is $1,400 higher than one county student. How do we address this gap or how do we provide a more equal education for our students?”

Ervin, who is up for reelection, said it isn’t so much the school board’s decision as it is the state’s. Meredith, who is a certified professional accountant and a former county commissioner, echoed Ervin’s take on the matter while adding that there are changes that would have to occur at the state level in order to bridge the per-student gap.

“There really is no way to close that gap under the present situation. The City of Johnson City makes a special appropriation for their school system to the tune of about $10 million a year and that’s what effectively creates that $1,400 gap,” Meredith said. “Of the tax rate (in Washington County), about $24 million goes towards the schools — that’s split half and half between Johnson City.

“The BEP formula, which provides funding, is comprised of a fiscal capacity component. That is determined on a county-wide basis. If it would change to a system-wide basis, you could see that gap narrowing tremendously. It wouldn’t be good for Washington County as a whole. It would cost the city actually more dollars than what it would bring in to the city of Johnson City. The best thing to do is for the county school board and the city school board to sit down together and figure out how to keep that little bit of Armageddon from happening.”

Meredith, Ervin and Buchanan said they felt the county had a need to boost its career and technical education services. Meredith said he felt adding a Tennessee College of Applied Technology in Washington County is something he hopes the city and county school systems can discuss. Meanwhile, Ervin stressed the need for CTE courses throughout high school and beyond.

“I’m a strong CTE person,” Ervin said. “We’ve got to teach these kids a trade. Not every child is going to go to college. I didn’t go to college. I’m a dairy farmer. I can weld, I can (do) electric, I can fix it because it’s what I learned to do. The CTE classes are one of the most important things.”

Buchanan, who is up for reelection, said she felt one of the biggest issues she’d like to work on is the student-to-teacher ratio.

“When you overcrowd our classrooms, you cannot expect these teachers to have the time to spend with every single child every day,” Buchanan said. “The more time they have with each student, that’s your impact right there. The teachers impact our student learning in the classroom with smaller class sizes. That’s what’s going to impact our K-3 and getting them ready to read, getting them reading.”

School safety was also part of the discussion.

Knight said he felt there was no issue of more importance than that of school safety. While answering a question on arming teachers, Knight expressed his hope that a school resource officer be placed in each county school.

“Currently there’s not (an SRO in each county school), but there are plans for there to be in the fall,” Knight said. “But if that’s not the case, I’m going to make it my goal to make it the case. I think that police presence at every school is important.

“The door I came in tonight said I couldn’t have a handgun on me, so I went back to the vehicle and put it back. I’m for carrying a gun if you want to do that and you have the permit to do it. But for arming all of our teachers, I think there are many who would not want to do that. We can look at those extreme measures, but I think for now, we just do what we need to do with the SROs, and with the door locking, cameras and things like that.”

While school safety has become an issue for school systems across the country, board members also touched on very specific topics as well. Hammond, who is running for reelection to the board, responded to the question, “what is your opinion of funding the sports complex over money for classrooms.”

The county recently opted to have a study conducted in order to see how many athletic facilities could be placed on the property setting adjacent to what will soon be the Boones Creek K-8 School. However, in light of the Jonesborough School project roadblocks, some have questioned whether an athletic complex is necessary.

“I have played sports, my children have played and play sports. I’m an advocate of that,” Hammond said. “But first and foremost, we must make sure the classroom is covered. Period. From payroll to facilities. So I cannot support anything on the back of education. That may upset a few, but education is the business we’re in and that has to be first.”

The general election and final day to vote will be held on Thursday, Aug. 2. For more information, go to


What you need to know:

Event co-sponsored by the Johnson City Press and Jodi Jones (District 11 Washington County Commission candidate)

Held at Memorial Park Community Center in Johnson City

What the candidates said:

Director of Schools: “These teachers understand the needs of these students and, sometimes, I feel that we are not giving these teachers enough respect. So we have to build a culture in our school system to where these teachers want to stay in Washington County, because if we can make them want to stay, the money is not going to be as important.” — Kerrie Aistrop, District 1

Class sizes: “The teachers impact our student learning in the classroom with smaller class sizes. That’s what’s going to impact our K-3 and getting them ready to read, getting them reading. That’s the key right there, to make sure that those ratios are small on that scale.” — Annette Buchanan, District 1

Teacher raises: “If we get money from the state to go towards raises, we ask the county commission for enough money to give everybody (in the school system) a raise. That’s as fair as fair can be. I get down on my hands and knees and beg (for teacher raises). If you all want to get down on your hands and knees and beg, go for it. Because that’s the only way. — Keith Ervin, District 1

Fiscal stewardship: “We need someone to stop making excuses and start looking at the good ol’ boy network where they’re just spending money like crazy. That needs to stop.” — Donald Feathers, District 3

Nepotism: “I tried to introduce policy on two occasions this past year where no sitting board member can apply for a job or give a family member a job while sitting on the school board. I also took it a step further to where we could not apply for a job or a family member apply for a job a year after that board member’s term is up.” — David Hammond, District 3

School safety: “I think we need to step back and look at the big picture. To me, the most important issue in Washington County Schools is what should be the most important issue in every school right now and that is security and safety.” — Trevor Knight, District 3

Career and technical education: “There are plans to create a TCAT (Tennessee College of Applied Technology) in Washington County. There’s 26 or 27 of them in the state and there are only two that are east of Knoxville. We need another one here and we need it in Washington County. I think a joint effort by both school systems could make that happen.” — Mitch Meredith, District 3