The thing about life is you get acclimated to it. Good or bad. War or peace. It becomes your normal. Even if you’re eating steak and lobster every day, you’ll be taking it for granted in no time.
News flash: We’re eating steak and lobster. Only it’s better than fancy food. It’s our children’s future.
Stay with me.
Aside from picking a child’s parents — which I still haven’t figured out how to do — the single most outcome determinative thing that happens to children is which schools they will attend. Their lives, including their health, happiness and financial security, are impacted most by the quality and quantity of education they receive. It’s why wealthy parents stand in line to get their kids in the right preschool and why celebrities break the law to get their teenagers in the right college.
Nearly everything a community desires is driven by the quality of its schools. Job growth and economic development, high family incomes, low crime rates and community health — all are largely determined by the quality of our schools. Just ask any Realtor what the first question is when parents go looking to buy a house:
Where will my children go to school?
That’s a sea change from how it was just a half-century ago when schools didn’t matter so much. Most people were paid for what they did. They were farmers, merchants, carpenters, pipe fitters, painters, plumbers, masons and electricians.
In today’s knowledge-based, technology-driven economy, most people are paid for what they know. And with the rapid expansion of automation in manufacturing, retail and transportation, you’d better know a lot, including how to adapt, retrain and reinvent yourself over and over again.
In a global economy, competition isn’t just with Kingsport and Oak Ridge. It’s with Seoul, Beijing and Berlin.
The truest thing I can say about the future is this: The community with the best schools wins.
You know where I’m going with this. Blount County is home to some of the best schools in the South. And I’m not talking about the Clayton Bradley Academy, as fine a school as it might be. I’m talking about our tuition-free, y’all-come, everybody’s-welcome public schools. The schools where you learn not only to read and write but how to live in this pluralistic democracy we call America.
Think about this. A young family can move into Maryville or Alcoa, buy or rent a place for less than a thousand dollars a month and send their children to a world-class school system for 13 years. Just because they live here.
Steak and lobster.
And the teachers! Not only are they smart, well trained and committed. They are the nicest, kindest, most considerate group of professionals in our community.
One of the primary reasons schools in Maryville and Alcoa are so good is because they are in two of the highest-paying school districts in the state. If Blount County wishes to achieve at the same level, county commissioners will have to run on a smarter platform than “I’ll never raise your taxes.” Higher taxes for education are like money spent on roads and industrial parks. They are necessary investments for a prosperous future.
Even the “top dogs” in our local school systems are the kind of people who would give you a pint or two of their blood if you needed it. Blount County Superintendent Rob Britt is the music minister at a Presbyterian church and as good a human as you’ll ever meet. The same could be said for administrators like Maryville’s Brett Coulter or Alcoa’s Keri Prigmore, for example. I say “for example” because their quality — though superior — is not unusual. We have similar people walking the halls in all of our school buildings.
And the quality of the academic and civic education students receive simply for living here is just the entree. The chocolate mousse is the music and athletics.
The two most storied high-school football programs in Tennessee sit side-by-side right here in Blount County. I played on one of those state-championship teams, and I can tell you that the lessons I learned on the athletic field served me as well in life as anything I learned in the classroom.
And that’s just football. From Biddy League and Little League all the way through high school, students are afforded the opportunity to participate in some of the best youth sports programs available in our state. And don’t even get me started about the bands, orchestras, choirs and multitude of extracurriculars like scouting and Young Life that are available in our community.
So buy yourselves a bottle of champagne and drink up, Blount Countians. You are the lucky ones. Not only do you live in one of the prettiest counties in the world, according to a Time Life book I still keep on my coffee table, you also have some of the best schools.
How lucky can you get?