Another high school option and a center for elementary students with severe behavior issues could open in Blount County Schools as early as next fall, under proposals Director Rob Britt presented Tuesday.
Both ideas are in the early development stage, Britt emphasized during the Blount County Board of Education’s daylong retreat, held at the 510 AMC Center at McGhee Tyson Airport.
“We are looking at the possibility of creating an Eagleton College and Career Academy,” Britt said, adding it would be housed within Eagleton Middle School.
He described the proposal as a “small community high school” with a career focus.
Career and technical education programs of study not currently available at Heritage or William Blount high schools could be offered, such as plumbing, electrical and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC). “Our folks in those businesses tell me they just can’t keep up with the demand,” Britt said. “They don’t have enough employees.”
Other high-demand areas that could be offered include aviation, and transportation and logistics.
“There’s nothing set in stone here,” Britt said of the proposal.
In an interview after the meeting, he said that if the proposal goes forward, the Eagleton academy could begin with ninth graders as early as the 2020-21 school year.
“We’re trying to create a small learning community,” he explained, and students who have come up through Rockford and Eagleton elementary schools and then EMS don’t always make the transition to the large Heritage High School.
Some opt to attend Alcoa High School, which is geographically closer and smaller. “We have some attrition,” he said in explaining the choice of the Eagleton area for the proposal.
Justin Ridge, coordinator of innovative programs for Blount County Schools and principal of the Samuel Everett School of Innovation, is heading an exploratory committee to consider the academy idea.
BCS also is looking at moving classes for about 150 English language learners from EMS to their zoned schools, which would minimize the time they are out of core classes and spend on buses between schools.
Britt told the board that when he asks principals what they need most, the No. 1 answer at elementary schools is help dealing with mental and emotional health issues, particularly as it relates to disruptive behaviors. For middle and high school principals, that’s also near the top, the director said.
He gave the example of one elementary school where a child likely spends most of the morning in the principal’s office because in a classroom the child would make it impossible for the teacher to teach or other students to learn.
“We’ve got to think about what we can do to help these children,” Britt said.
The Behavior Intervention Center he proposes likely would be housed at the Samuel Everett School of Innovation, already home to four alternative school programs.
Elementary students whose behavior is disrupting other schools would temporarily be assigned to the center, with one classroom for kindergarten through grade two and another for grades three through five. Britt told the board it would not be a “suspension center” and is not for students with disabilities.
The center would serve no more than 16 students at a time and be staffed by two teachers, two instructional assistants, a part-time counselor, a social worker and a behavior specialist, with a community partner providing mental health services.
Among the issues still to be resolved is how the district would handle transportation for students assigned to the center.
The Behavior Intervention Center is just one of several proposals to deal with what school officials have described as a rising tide of students with issues that disrupt their learning and classmates.
In statistics presented about the extent of the problem schools are facing, Amanda Vance, BCS special education supervisor, noted that one in five young people show characteristics of a mental illness, such as depression, anxiety or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
A quarter of Tennesseans have reported three or more adverse childhood experiences (ACES) — situations ranging from parents’ separation or divorce to physical, sexual or mental abuse — which research has shown can affect brain development and have long-term consequences without intervention.
The school board ultimately cut $240,000 it had planned to add to the 2019-20 budget to address mental, behavioral and emotional health needs at its 21 schools, including plans for an additional psychologist, a middle school guidance counselor and instructional resources.
Vance emphasized Tuesday that even without that funding, efforts are continuing, such as training teachers in positive behavior interventions. All schools have received training on ACES, and all kindergarten and prekindergarten teachers will be trained in nonviolent crisis prevention intervention, to prevent issues from happening or escalating.
“We’ll rotate every single person working with our babies,” she said. “The babies coming in are just not used to doing school,” such as expectations to sit and do work, she explained.
The Eagleton academy and behavior center were among many proposals presented during the retreat, and school board members raised the issue of funding, particularly since BCS enrollment has declined in recent years.
“We shut down four elementary schools; we don’t have any budget problems,” board member Robbie Kirkland said as the meeting ended.
The Blount County Commission’s Education Committee has requested data about each school’s capacity and enrollment.