The Blount County Board of Education took the first steps toward expanding Eagleton Middle School to serve grades six through 12.

In separate votes during the board meeting on Thursday, Feb. 6, board members unanimously approved both the concept for the Eagleton College and Career Academy and spending $482,000, to upgrade the building before the next school year.

The Blount County Commission’s approval will be required to spend the money from the school district’s fund balance, money that has not previously been budgeted for other expenses.

During a budget work session before the board meeting, Director Rob Britt said that in addition to those facility costs, staffing for the ECCA may be $460,000 in its first year, 2020-21. However, the district may be able to “repurpose” some positions.

The plan calls for an assistant principal/athletic director, receptionist, four teachers for core subjects and one for career and technical education.

Britt estimated that about 75 of Eagleton Middle School’s current 130 eighth-graders would stay for their freshman year, with the rest continuing to Heritage High School.

“All students from the Eagleton community would be accepted and enrolled in ECCA, however students may choose to attend Heritage High School if they have an interest in a program that is not offered at ECCA,” he said. In the future, he explained, students zoned for Heritage or William Blount would be able to enroll in ECCA for CTE programs offered there, if space was available.

“There will be some programming offered at Eagleton that is new,” Britt said, although officials haven’t settled on exactly what those programs would be.

CTE programs under consideration include: HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning), plumbing and electrical; landscape design and turf management; audio/visual technology, broadcasting and communications; and transportation and logistics, among others.

Students would be bused from Eagleton to Heritage to participate in sports, until the new school has enough participants to field its own teams.

Faster phase in?

Blount County Schools plans to phase in the ECCA over four years, adding one grade level at a time, but board member Robbie Kirkland urged Britt to move faster.

“I would like the timetable moved up on it,” Kirkland said. “I think four years is entirely too long.”

Board Chair Debbie Sudhoff said, “I hear what you’re saying, but at the same time we want to make sure we are successful, so we don’t want to do it too quickly and do a poor job.”

Sudhoff explained to commissioners during a Feb. 4 Education Committee meeting the reason for the ECCA proposal.

“One of the issues we’re having with the Eagleton kids specifically is that we’re losing them,” she said. “If we could keep them in that smaller environment at Eagleton Middle, our success rate, graduation rate with those students might increase, should increase.”

“We lose a lot of kids to Alcoa and Maryville because of proximity,” added commissioner Robbie Bennett, who is assistant principal and athletic director at Heritage High, where the committee meeting was held.

Students who live 5 minutes from Alcoa High School have to travel 25 to 35 minutes to reach Heritage, he said. Students from Louisville must pass through Alcoa to reach Heritage, Sudhoff noted.

Britt told Kirkland at the school board meeting that the district wants to be sure it has the resources, organization and structure in place for a successful program, but if it’s possible to move faster BCS will. “This has great potential,” the director said.

“I just think there’s going to be a tremendous demand for children who want to come back here,” Kirkland said, asking for a survey. He said students he knew did not function well at Heritage. “They were a small group coming into a large group; they did not acclimate themselves.”

He also noted the difficulty students had participating in athletic programs at Heritage because of the distance from their homes.

“I think we need this option on the south end, too,” Kirkland said, but board member Fred Goins said other middle schools may not have the space for such a program.

Eagleton upgrades

Goins abstained on the vote for the spending on the ECCA plan. That funding for the first phase of the transition includes:

• $225,000 for furniture and fixtures. Included in that is replacing furniture for grades six and eight; grade seven recently received new furniture.

• $126,000 for cafeteria equipment upgrades.

• $35,000 for bathroom renovations, which includes replacing elementary-sized bathroom fixtures.

• $30,000 for a new public address and bell system.

• $28,000 for a new digital sign in front of the school.

• $20,000 to remove four portable buildings, to make room for a later addition of a CTE building.

• $18,000 for electrical upgrades.

At the Education Committee meeting, Troy Logan, BCS fiscal administrator, explained that the EMS cafeteria is heavily used. It also prepares breakfast and lunch for the Samuel Everett School of Innovation and dinner for EMS students in the after school Crown Academy program.

Concerns

“My biggest concern with the whole thing is that 11- and 12-year-old girls are going to be with 17- and 18-year-old boys, that’s the age span,” Goins said later in the discussion Thursday.

Sudhoff said when her daughter started school BCS had buildings serving kindergarten to grade eight, and she thought that age span was a bigger concern.

Britt expressed confidence in the ability of administrators and teachers to manage the transition to benefit both middle school and high school students.

Eagleton Middle Principal Mark Dowlen told the board the middle school teachers are eager to have students remain at the school.

“That they’re going to be in our building and under our care, part of our Royal family, for seven years is something they’re excited about,” he said.

Dowlen added that the middle school teachers are looking forward to collaborating with high school teachers.

EMS already works to keep grade levels separate in places such as the cafeteria, Dowlen said, and administrators have a plan to move seventh and eighth graders to the science classrooms without passing the rooms that will hold high school students.

He also assured Goins, “as a dad with two daughters, I’ll have a sixth grade daughter myself next year, I assure you those things are on my mind as we’re planning.”

Amy Beth earned her degree from West Virginia. She joined The Daily Times in 2016 on the education beat covering Alcoa, Maryville and Blount County school systems.

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