By COLLIN BROOKS
The Partnership for Academic Excellence was supposed to have its first meeting on Wednesday, but after a lengthy discussion between Washington County Commissioner Paul Stanton and Washington County Director of Schools Kimber Halliburton, the group won’t meet until next year.
Stanton said that with Johnson City Schools Superintendent Dr. Richard Bales making the announcement of his retirement and with new chairmen possibly being voted on in the school boards, this period of transition just isn’t the right time to start such a serious discussion.
Yet Stanton is still hopeful about its future.
“If something was to work, what kind of special school could we have? Because we aren’t talking about consolidation of schools. We are talking about one project and if you wanted to make it something special, that both city and county could be proud of, what would it look like?”
Commissioner Paul Stanton
“There have been some attempts in the past, some by the county and some by the city, but looking back at some of those, they didn’t seem to be well organized,” Stanton said.“I know that a collaborative can work, if people want it to.”
Members of the current partnership are supposed to be Halliburton; Johnson City Schools Superintendent Dr. Richard Bales; Johnson City and Washington County Commissioner David Tomita; Washington County Commissioners Joe Grandy and Lynn Hodge; Washington County Board of Education Chairman Todd Ganger; Johnson City School Board Chairman Tim Belisle; Johnson City Commissioner Jenny Brock; and Johnson City School Board Member Lottie Ryans. However, Stanton said that some of those members may change when the group gets together next summer.
“I wanted it to be positive people that could accomplish things,” Stanton said. “Everyone of these people is a do-er and achiever and they pledged that they will be positive. Every one of the people is a friend and I’ve had an open conversation with each one that will be serving. And if anyone would have told me — and nobody did — that they didn’t want to serve, then they wouldn’t. But this group all sort of lit up and got excited about possibilities.”
Stanton has experience in getting two groups to work for one common goal. He accomplished that feat as the President of East Tennessee State University when he worked on a project that allowed Northeast State to use ETSU’s facilities at their Allendale campus in Kingsport.
“That worked really well. A lot of people thought that it wouldn’t, but it did,” Stanton said. “Because we went at it — between the two colleges — wanting it to work.”
He is hoping that a similar mentality will accompany this committee.
“I really want them to be positive in the beginning on what might be; nobody is going at it saying it will be,” Stanton said. “I don’t want people to come into it negative from the beginning.”
After introductions, the goal of the group will be to discuss what they think the possibilities could be, if a collaborative school were to happen.
“If something was to work, what kind of special school could we have?” Stanton said. “Because we aren’t talking about consolidation of schools. We are talking about one project and if you wanted to make it something special, that both city and county could be proud of, what would it look like?
“And I think that where we will end up is talking about things such as technology demonstration school, magnet school and things like that. Things that are, in my opinion, a notch above anything that we currently have in city or county.”
A three-year period has been set as a timeline for the group, because that is the schedule in which the new Boones Creek K-8 will open — to start the 2019 school year — and the Partnership for Academic Excellence will be exploring whether a collaborative school could be an option for that facility.
Stanton notes that there are probably a number of barriers in the way for making this an attainable goal and that the committee will discuss them during their meetings, but “I am a believer that if you want something to work, you can get past those barriers with a working plan.”