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Coming together: Town celebration honors school project

Washington County School Board Member Phillip McLain adds his handprint to the school mural. (Photos by Marina Waters)

By MARINA WATERS

Staff Writer

[email protected]

Members of the Jonesborough community found themselves at the McKinney Center on Jan. 8, just as they were five months ago when the Town of Jonesborough unveiled its proposed Jonesborough School project plan. 

But this time, there was more celebrating than there was uncertainty.

“It’s humbling to be back here with all the county commissioners and the school board members who really made this possible and the Board of Mayor and Aldermen,” Jonesborough Mayor Chuck Vest said at the school celebration. “One thing that I’m proud of is that we all came together and we trusted each other. I felt like to get this thing done, we were going to have to just have some trust. If we didn’t trust each other we would have been unsuccessful. To see us back here after five short months after we launched this thing, it’s truly humbling.”

In August of 2019, The Town of Jonesborough unveiled a proposal to build a new K-8 school in Jonesborough, which the county will lease from the town. The plan also includes building athletic and community recreational facilities on the 48-acre tract on North Cherokee Street in Jonesborough. The BMA and the school board approved the plan in August, followed by the county commission in October. 

However, the work for a Jonesborough School project started long before the town’s proposal.

Seven schemes over three years had been created by the school board’s architect for the Jonesborough School project following a 2016 tax increase, in part, to fund the project. Since then, school board members, county leaders and dedicated community members have seen a range of plans including renovations at either the current elementary or middle school buildings in Jonesborough, a renovation and academic magnet school plan, a school built in phases, and a plan to tear down the round building at the elementary school site. 

“For the school board and the county commission, this has been work that has been going on for about four years,” Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy said. “We wouldn’t get to where we’re going now without the tenacity of the teachers and the parents, specifically, who kept pushing, and pushing, and pushing after scheme, after scheme, after scheme of school plans to get a project for Jonesborough. Y’all are the ones who made this opportunity take place.”

The work is far from over though; Currently the design committee for the project is comprised of school board members Todd Ganger, Mary Beth Dellinger, Phillip McLain, Jonesborough teacher Jan Allen, School Maintenance Supervisor Phillip Patrick, Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy, Washington County Commissioner Jodi Jones, Jonesborough Mayor Chuck Vest and Town Administrator Bob Browning. 

At Monday night’s BMA meeting, the board also voted to add Jonesborough residents Brian Barnett and Laura Cusick to the committee.

Through recent work on the project and years of design plans and continuous meetings, Grandy and Vest both said one thing truly kept the Jonesborough School “dream” alive — the people.

For one of those dedicated community members, Kerrie Aistrop, who is also a Jonesborough School parent, the past few years have been about a vision for a new school and sticking to it. 

“I was told early on that you can fight city hall but you can’t win. That phrase has stuck with me throughout this whole entire process,” Aistrop said at the school celebration. “I remember I was ready to give up. I sat outside the courthouse before a (Health Education and Welfare) committee meeting and I prayed. I prayed to God and I said, ‘Give me a sign to just stop, to just walk away and just realize this is your dream Kerrie, but that you didn’t call me to do this.’ When I got in that meeting, God gave me the sign to keep going. I decided we weren’t going to stop.”

Aistrop said her hope is that when the canvas covered in community member handprints from the school celebration is hung in the future new school’s hallway, Washington County students will be reminded of what hard work can achieve.

“When Jonesborough School opens and those handprints go up, I hope that we can inspire these kids to believe in their vision and never give up,” Aistrop said. “I hope that they know a group of ordinary people, ordinary parents who have no political affiliation, never gave up. I hope that these kids shoot for the moon because even if they miss they’ll land among the stars. 

“Thank you for believing in our vision and taking care of our Jonesborough students. And thank you for voting ‘yes’ for Jonesborough to get a school.”