Community cites positives - teachers, passion - and negatives - ‘mega’ school, funding - at schools meeting

Setting priorities and making plans - those were the goals the Maryville City School Board set when they started a series of meetings that paired them with leadership teams, faculty and students to create a document that will pose priorities for future endeavors.

The meetings began in April and were scheduled to run through June. The May 13 meeting was the first meeting for public input.

A small group of Maryville citizens teamed up with the board at John Sevier Elementary to discuss the strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities and threats the schools and the system currently has and will face in the future.

Board member Mark Cate was the facilitator of the discussion group. Cate said he wanted the responses to not be specific towards a person or school. He said general answers will help the board create better goals.

The community members said the schools’ best strengths are teacher quality, elementary school choices and the community’s passion for public education. Other strengths are the parental involvement in education, the collaboration between the city government and the city school board and the schools’ reputations.

Weaknesses, the group said, include the lack of current technology equipment; outdated facilities, large classrooms. Some community members said that some tenured teachers should no longer be teaching. But the top three weaknesses are the city’s preference and notion that there should be just one high school, the lack of advance placement courses and complacency attitudes, the community members said.

The top opportunities the community members thought the schools should focus on were newer technologies and state-of-the-art buildings, using grassroots communication between the teachers and parents and revamping the curriculum. Another opportunity listed that presents itself to the schools is outside of the city limits. The group thought the system should rely more on external resources such as Maryville College, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, The Smoky Mountains National Park and The University of Tennessee.

Community members attending identified the threats they said were apparent or looming over the schools. These included funding issues, they said, which are evident from the 2008-2009 $1.5 million budget deficit, the infighting and gossiping inside and outside the schools and the sole “mega” high school. The community members accepted these main points, but Cate disagreed on a few. “I have to argue against some of the things,” he said. “We are not throwing these out. (They are) your perceptions.”

Candy Morgan, mother of two, was one of the community members at the meeting. She said she was pleased with the event but wishes it could have happened years ago. “This should have been done 10 years ago,” she said. “We knew the numbers, and we didn’t do anything.”

Morgan said she and the community, along with Maryville business leaders are becoming concerned that the education may not stay up to par. “We have been more reactive than proactive,” she said. “But with this meeting (the schools) can move in this direction, more proactive than a reactive one.” With planning, she said the system will turn out great and her children will not have to go to the “mega high school with 2000 of their best friends.”

Bob Ramsey, chairman of the county commission, was also in attendance and said it is “great that (the school board) is doing this.” Ramsey said the Blount County School Board had similar planning meetings eight years ago. The results from those meetings are still used today, he added.

The board will have two more planning events with the public at 8:30 a.m. on May 21 and 6:30 p.m. on May 22, at the Maryville Municipal Building. They will then create a database that the steering committee will use to develop guidelines for the schools. It is hoped that these guidelines will be looked upon for potential actions, Cate said.

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