A1 A1
Go with the flow: Transportation tangle as Alcoa City Schools starts classes with road construction

Alcoa parents better check the latest school maps before driving to drop off or pick up their kids starting today, July 21. Allow plenty of time, and pack an extra bit of patience.

As Alcoa City Schools begins the 2021-22 school year today, road construction bordering the campus for both Marconi Boulevard and Faraday Street has required detailed planning with traffic flow and timing.

The main ACS website, www.alcoa schools.net, includes a road closure map, but parents need to check individual school pages for specific instructions.

The elementary school has one map for morning drop-off procedures and two for afternoons, one for kindergartners and another for first and second graders. Morning drop-off routes at the middle school are different for those going to the cafeteria to eat breakfast and those who are not.

School resource officers will be out to help direct traffic. To allow school buses to line up at the middle school, parents arriving too early in the afternoon might have to wait in the parking lot of Alcoa First United Methodist Church.

School and city officials have looked at all the options to “accordion out” the traffic, Alcoa High School Assistant Principal Tony Spears told the school board during a work session Monday, July 19.

AHS will start and end 15 minutes earlier than in the past — a school day of 8:15 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. — to allow the least-experienced drivers time to clear the area. The high school typically starts the school year with about 150 to 175 student drivers, and that increases as sophomores get their licenses.

Teen drivers eager to miss the traffic run to their cars, Spears said. “The Lord willing, our buses, our drivers and most of our parents will be clear within 15 to 20 minutes of us dismissing,” Spears said.

An school resource officer at the intersection of Faraday and Lodge streets directing traffic will keep drivers from from turning right and interfering with middle school traffic.

The intermediate school will dismiss at 2:45 p.m. and the middle school 45 minutes later. “I think we need every minute of that,” Spears said. The bus pickup for middle school students will be at the AIS awning, so officials hope to clear as much traffic as possible from the intermediate school lot.

The elementary and intermediate schools are on the same schedule, and ACS Director Beck Stone noted families prefer for that to be staggered, but for flow, the middle and intermediate need to be staggered.

“The intermediate and elementary are going to have to be patient,” Stone said.

With free breakfast available for all Alcoa students at every school this year, dropping off early could be the best option for families to avoid traffic in the morning. Both the elementary and intermediate schools will open their doors at 7:10 a.m.

School officials are continuing to look at options, such as a shuttle service for students who normally would walk across the campus to meet a sibling.

This week, ACS will have only a third of the students on campus each day, with everyone scheduled to be together on Monday, July 26. Spears said it usually takes a couple of weeks for traffic patterns to settle for the school year.

Stone said Alcoa city officials are hoping the road construction will be done by November.

Alcoa City Schools' $562,000 federal grant covers nurses, COVID-19 tests and more

The Alcoa Board of Education approved a healthy addition to its 2021-22 budget Tuesday, July 20, a federal grant for more than half a million dollars that will pay for its school nurses, COVID-19 testing and more.

The Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity Grant through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention totals $562,120.53 and for one year will cover the cost of a full-time nurse for each of Alcoa’s four schools. Including salaries and benefits, that will free nearly $280,000 in the school’s budget to be used for something else.

The grant also will cover a $100,000 contract with Winbigler Medical for COVID-19 testing, supplies and reporting, and $130,060.80 for medical supplies, including personal protective equipment. Winbigler already contracts with the district to provide a clinic for school employees, their spouses and dependents at the high school.

During the past school year Winbigler also provided drive-up COVID-19 testing in their driveway, so an employee could have a test Friday and know by the end of the weekend if they were positive.

“We received the grant because we said we would have the ability for our nurses to do COVID testing,” Patty Thomas, the district’s director of federal programs, grants management, nursing, and career and technical education, told the board during a work session Monday, July 19.

Thomas said Winbigler had approached the schools about offering more testing last year. “I was a afraid of it; the nurses were afraid of it. We were afraid of bringing lots of symptomatic people into the building or even into the parking lot, because there were still a lot of unknowns this time last year,” she said.

They tested the process on Thomas last Friday, July 16, with a school nurse administering the test. “It’s not one of those jab your brain swabs; it’s more like a tickle inside your nose,” Thomas said. A courier picks up the tests and takes them to a Blount County lab. By Saturday afternoon Thomas was able to log in and see that she was negative.

“Our nurses will be able to do the same for faculty and staff and for students,” she said, at no cost because of the grant.

Under Alcoa policy a student with a fever is sent home, and now the school district can offer COVID-19 testing on campus if the parent wishes.

Thomas told the board that the Blount County Health Department is concerned that parents who must return to work may send students to school who may be ill.

“It’s pretty much going to be on the honor system for parents to do the right thing,” Thomas said.

The grant includes some funding for stipends for nurses for COVID-19 related work, such as contact tracing on the weekend. Last Halloween, Thomas said, the intermediate school nurse spent the entire Saturday doing contact tracing for an event.

“We’re hoping we don’t see as much as last year,” Thomas said.

Another $23,601.68 from the grant can be used for upgrading school clinics, which may include computers.

Two new vehicles

Alcoa also is spending about $16,000 under that grant for a Kubota RTV to provide easy transportation for nurses, equipment and supplies among the four schools on Alcoa’s campus.

That’s the third vehicle Alcoa has purchased through a grant Thomas has won.

The first was a mobile career exploration bus, and the second is a $42,128 eight-passenger SUV to transport students in Alcoa’s nursing program to clinical sites.

Tuesday, the school board also approved the budget for the $758,134.70 Innovative High Schools Grant ACS received in partnership with the Tennessee College of Applied Technology, announced earlier, which will allow students to complete the first trimester of a licensed practical nursing degree before they graduate from high school.

Board member Steve Marsh noted during the Tuesday meeting those two grants alone total more than $1.3 million.

“That’s not a drop in the bucket of what she does,” Director Becky Stone said.

Thomas has said before that applying for grants brings out her competitive side, and at Tuesday’s meeting she told the board, “I do this for the kids.”

With the LPN program she noted they can be ready for the LPN exam the December after they graduate from high school. “They never have to leave Blount County to get their nursing certification,” Thomas said.

More grants

During Tuesday’s meeting the board also approved a $50,000 federal Perkins Reserve grant and a $27,000 grant from the Arconic Foundation to cover career exploration materials, equipment for career and technical education classes and industry certification training.

The board approved new leases for 11 photocopiers under a state contract and updates to the 2020-21 budget too. With revenues higher than expected, the school board did not need to use $80,000 from its fund balance, previously undesignated funding.

The district also was able to cover $170,000 the schools expected from the city to help cover the cost of Chromebook computers as in previous years but did not receive in 2020-21, which ended June 30.

Budget Director Tom Shamblin explained during Monday’s work session the city was concerned that another year of consecutive funding may affect the calculation of how much “maintenance of effort” the city must provide in funding under state law, but he expects the city will provide funding for the computers during the 2021-22 school year.

Race relations symposium looks to build a 'beloved community'

Blount County needs to work toward the “beloved community” espoused by Martin Luther King Jr., civil rights activists said during a weekend summit.

The Alcoa-Blount County branch of the NAACP along with Blount County United hosted the second annual Race Relations Symposium over the weekend — the two-day virtual event conducted over Zoom that touched on several issues that affect people of color in the Blount County community and beyond.

Local NAACP Vice President Charles Carpenter kicked off Friday’s session by introducing a number of honorable guests who laid out the mission of the organization and the weekend of discussion.

“These difficult conversations are important,” Alcoa City Commissioner Tanya Martin said, “and they must take place in order to create lasting change.”

Throughout Friday’s session, several speakers reiterated the mission to build towards the “beloved community,” a concept popularized by Martin Luther King Jr. that is described by the King Center as “a global vision in which all people can share in the wealth of the Earth.”

“We should all be able to grasp the concept of the beloved community,” the Rev. Willa Estell said.

Estell is president of Alcoa-Blount NAACP and chair of Blount County United.

“This concept of the beloved community runs through the mission of what we are about. It’s not this utopia kind of state that we believe we’re already in, but it’s one we’re working toward,” Estell explained. “It’s one that we want other people to embrace. This concept of humanity, all of humanity, being important and all of humanity not being judged on anything other than their character. And so we’re working to address those disparities that cast some people out and include some people.”

Friday’s keynote speaker was LaKenya Middlebrook, a Knoxville attorney who serves as executive director for the city’s Police Advisory and Review Committee and worked with U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign.

Middlebrook reiterated Estell’s comments on the beloved community concept, and spoke at length about the problems Black Americans are facing in today’s society — problems, she explained, that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This past year and half have been especially challenging,” Middlebrook said. “The pandemic brought to light and brought exposure to disparities in health, employment, housing, economic security, and education in communities of color and poor communities.”

The symposium continued on Saturday, when organization leaders and guest speakers were joined by local law enforcement and education officials. Maryville Police Chief Tony Crisp, Alcoa Police Chief David Carswell, and Blount County Schools Director Robert Britt all joined the virtual event.

“We are your partner in this journey to a beloved community,” Britt said, “and certainly part of what we feel like is part of our mission to provide the highest quality education to our young people in developing that community.”

Local NAACP Second Vice Chair Keri Prigmore moderated Saturday’s session, which featured discussions on the racial wealth gap, examining stereotypes and assumptions, voting rights and critical race theory, which has recently become a controversial subject nationwide.

Through it all the focus remained on achieving that beloved community, a place where diversity, equity and inclusion are embraced.

“We have a goal. And we understand that it won’t happen overnight, but it definitely won’t happen if we don’t work towards it,” Estell said. “So all that we do is working towards that community, so hopefully for our children and our children’s children, it will be a better place.”