Fort Craig Controversy: Administrators, school board and parents offer their perspectives

Fort Craig School of Dynamic Learning, a kindergarten through fourth grade Maryville city school, may be closed due to funding issues associated with overcrowding at Maryville High School and the opening of the new Coulter Grove Intermediate School.

Photo by Jolanda Jansma

Fort Craig School of Dynamic Learning, a kindergarten through fourth grade Maryville city school, may be closed due to funding issues associated with overcrowding at Maryville High School and the opening of the new Coulter Grove Intermediate School.

The first thing you have to understand about the Fort Craig controversy is that Fort Craig isn’t bricks and mortar. It isn’t a quaint neighborhood school that everyone’s grandmother then mother attended. Fort Craig, in its current configuration is only 16 years old, a mere toddler in school years.

To the parents and teachers, what Fort Craig is is a concept. A different school calendar, a different pace, different attitudes about learning styles with classroom sizes and resources to indulge the pace and attitudes. Most Fort Craig parents you talk to say the school is “a godsend for my child,” and you hear it across the board, whether the child is “gifted” or “challenged.”

And now “they” want to close it. Anytime changes are proposed to a school, emotions always run high -- whether it is building a brand new high school or deciding who gets rezoned to relieve overcrowding at a middle school. The emotions over the Fort Craig closing have run especially high for several reasons. First, parents say the decision has “come too quickly.” Second, parents say other options have not been studied completely. And third, the totally emotional, gut-level belief that “they never liked us anyway” and money is a convenient scapegoat to close the school.

Blount Today wanted to know how this all unfolded and whether any of those reasons were based on anything other than emotion and sadness at losing something that is loved. So we asked the questions, and everyone we talked to answered.

Maryville City School Director Stephanie Thompson doesn’t hesitate nor stumble when the whispered allegation comes to her in the form of a straight question. Is the current budget crisis a convenient way to close a school that you don’t think fits in the Maryville school system?

“That school has had great success, and I don’t think we would be having these conversations at all or even considering closing Fort Craig, if we were not in the economic situation we’re in,” Thompson said. “I’m sorry to see it have to close if the board decides it has to happen. As far as issues or things they think I don’t like about the school, if that were the case, I could have very easily fixed them.”

How it all started

It all started with a master plan, enrollment projections that didn’t happen and a serious budget crisis. Thompson said when Maryville City Manager Greg McClain came on board shortly before she did three years ago, he began delving into the city’s finances and long-range projections. The school system had started a master planning process in 2004. “When Greg got on board and started looking at what our master plan was, expectation was that we needed to do something with the high school, and it could cost up to $50 million or $60 million. There was a need for an intermediate school. There were future needs for renovations at the middle school and the high school,” she said.

“Greg very quickly brought us up to speed that there wasn’t going to be money for all that. When we started the master planning, we didn’t know that on the front end.”

Building a new intermediate school, which became Coulter Grove, was part of that master plan. Thompson said the decision to build Coulter Grove was based on projections from 2007, when it was determined that space would be needed in the elementary and intermediate levels.

Thompson said the decision was made to go ahead and build Coulter Grove Intermediate School. “We started that with money we had in our building fund with the knowledge the city wasn’t going to have the money to open it, and that they had put in a 26-cent tax increase specifically for the purpose of getting a $25 million bond. That is when the economy tanked,” Thompson said.

Thompson said that in 2007, there were three grade levels in a row of 400, 420 and 440 students. “Those kids, at that time, were in first, second and third grades. Based on those really large classes, we thought the growth would continue. It didn’t happen that way. Those large classes are in fourth, fifth and sixth grades now,” she said. “We adjusted because the classes behind them have been more normal with 360, 370 students. In adjusting those projects, the need in our elementary schools was not as severe, but we learned we will need space in the intermediate school.”

In the fall of 2008, the work was halted and Coulter Grove mothballed because the bond market was so bad. “The interest rate was so high it would’ve been foolish, so we did some site prep and mothballed what we had,” Thompson said.

At this point in 2009, the system got the opportunity to apply for a federal recovery bond through the state.

Thompson said the city council was fearful the school system wouldn’t have money to open the school once it was built. “We met with them and said, ‘Here is an opportunity to apply for a bond issue that will save taxpayers millions of dollars. It is a very low interest rate, the payout is a shorter period with 17 years rather than 30 years.’ The city council agreed, and said they would work with us to do what was needed to open the school. In the back of our minds we are thinking, ‘how are we going to open that school if city council is not willing to raise taxes?’ You have to find money.”

An overcrowded MHS

And the problem with Maryville High School just kept growing. “Since that time, we’ve been working on solutions at Maryville High School and what we can do at Maryville High School to relieve overcrowding,” Thompson said.

Many options were considered, with five different plans presented to the parents and the public, ranging from a brand new high school, a second high school, buying land behind the school and expanding and even putting temporary building all over campus.

Thompson said the system did a feasibility study with Alcoa High School and went through a year of visiting schools in Ohio and Alabama, looking to create a joint STEM school that would focus on science and technology. That proposal was dropped when the state didn’t fund it with federal Race to the Top funds.

The high school has been overcrowded for at least six years now, Thompson said. The school administrators increased their dual enrollment courses to get students off campus. There are 15 traveling teachers every period. Art classes meet in the commons, classes regularly meet in the teacher dining area, and there aren’t enough computer labs, she said.

“That is where we are at the school, and it has been like that for years. It is going to get worse when the large classes start coming through,” she said.

The schools director said the board considered putting portables at the high school. “They didn’t really want to have a bunch of portables sitting in the parking lot at the school. That option wasn’t very feasible,” she said.

Thompson said that six months of looking at options for dealing with overcrowding at the high school turned into a year and a half. “That put us at last summer, knowing we had to do something. Then, around early fall, we started talking about how we were not going to be able to expand at Maryville High School, so we started looking at enrollment projections, doing research and studying grade configurations, looking at the pros and cons of all these options and the possibilities. We could see we weren’t going to have opportunity for expanding at Maryville High School,” she said.

Shaking up the grades

The reality of the problem with Maryville High School and the stabilization of growth at the elementary school level led to the proposal to change the grade configurations, moving 9th grade out of the high school and combining 4th through 7th grades. If Coulter Grove could open, the grade configuration would work, Thompson said.

The school’s director said she and others on the Leadership Team -- which is made up of the director of schools, assistant director of schools, Jan Click and the seven school principals in Maryville City Schools -- realized the other dilemma was finding money to open Coulter Grove. “What happens if we don’t have the money to open Coulter Grove? How can you do the reconfiguration without Coulter Grove opening?” she said “We knew we had to have Coulter Grove open for the new configuration to work to move the seventh grade to the intermediate school and take the ninth grade out of high school.”

The Leadership Team -- and Thompson said they quickly drew facilities director Richard Harbison into that team -- had a planning meeting in October of 2010, and they started talking about funding and space.

“It quickly became apparent our other elementary schools could absorb students from Fort Craig,” she said. “And when we started putting numbers down as to what it would cost to open Coulter Grove as a fourth through seventh grade configuration and then close Fort Craig for four or five years, the difference in cost was $800,000 a year,” she said. “That is when that idea developed, and we started looking at it.”

Thompson said at that point, the city hadn’t increased their contribution to the schools in three years, but yet expenses continued to grow. “This current year, just retirement for teachers and fulltime staff was over $500,000, not counting health insurance and education index raises,” she said. “You don’t have a choice about paying that - that is something we get hit with every other year. With income being where it was, we really struggled.”

For those who say no other cuts were made and closing Fort Craig was a convenient “fix,” Thompson said $1.7 million in “Tier One” reductions were found through retirement of 24 employees, changing programs, reducing staff development, reducing hours for bookkeeping, changing how special education personnel’s hours are allocated and eliminating the employer portion of dental insurance. On “Tier Two,” another $540,000 was found by freezing steps on local salary scales and by eliminating two additional positions.

Thompson said the difficult aspect of budgets is the state doesn’t let systems know until spring how much they are sending. “That is the thing about doing budgets for school systems,” she said. “We don’t have good data until April.”

‘Happening too fast’

Thompson said the Leadership Team began working on estimates and numbers earnestly in October of 2010, looking specifically at how to open Coulter Grove and change the grade configurations.

“In November I started talking to individual school board members about grade configurations and showing what we were thinking about,” she said. “We presented that information and started to talk about opening Coulter Grove in 2012 and issues we saw remaining. This is probably the most involved the board has been in the budget process.”

Board chair Christi Sayles said she remembered talking to Thompson briefly about the proposal before the board went to Nashville for the Tennessee School Board Association meeting. “That is when she lightly presented it to me,” Sayles said. “I thought, ‘Wow, really?’ It was almost an acceptance that the financial situation had gotten where it is.”

Board vice chair Doug Jenkins remembered they had a public meeting about solutions and ideas and reconfiguration was thrown out, but Fort Craig wasn’t discussed. “The next step was that we evaluated how much reconfiguration would cost and realized the cost was over $1 million (which included opening Coulter Grove) and that is when I remember Fort Craig coming into play,” Jenkins said.

Board secretary Denny Garner said Thompson came to the board members after a Leadership Team meeting to gauge their opinions. “The way Stephanie does business, after they meet with the Leadership Team, is they have a plan of action, and she calls us in one at a time, feels us out and gets our opinion on the direction she is headed,” he said. “This happened sometime late in the fall.”

Board member Charles West remembered first hearing the proposal in November. “It took me back because it was that one hadn’t crossed my mind,” he said.

Board member Bethany Pope, who became a school board member in November, said she first heard the idea before she was sworn onto the board. “I was invited to the TSBA meeting with them (in Nashville) because I was an incoming school board member and that is when I first heard about it,” she said.

Why Fort Craig?

If Fort Craig is such an innovative school, as many parents and Fort Craig teachers believe, why was the decision proposed to shut it rather than another school?

“The main reason is it is a smaller school,” said Thompson. “They have 280 students.” The schools director said that in order to provide equal service, a school of 280 students costs more. “When you have a school with 280 students as opposed to 550 students, it naturally cost more money to operate,” she said. “Fort Craig is at their programming capacity, within a few students. Based on Fort Craig’s programming capability, 290 is their limit. In order to be feasible economically, our studies show that elementary schools today need to have the capability of having 500 to 550 students.”

The schools director said there are 22 classrooms at Fort Craig and 15 of those are actually grade classrooms. The other rooms are for music and art and special education and intervention.

“You could theoretically, if you eliminate all other programs and put them on carts, you could get 400 students in Fort Craig,” she said. “It has had that many before, when it was the other Fort Craig and had K through 5. But the teacher/pupil classroom ratio was higher then.”

Fort Craig principal Dr. Ramona Best said currently they average 19 students per class in grades kindergarten through third grade, and on average there are 18 students in each fourth grade class.

“Sometimes we’ll have parents who pull a child out at fourth grade because their siblings will be on the other calendar, and they’ll make that choice to pull that last student out so they won’t be on two different calendars,” Best said. “We also try to minimize transitions. It doesn’t make sense to come to Fort Craig for one year. We know transitions aren’t desirable.”

Thompson said with the size of the building and the number of students in Fort Craig, it is simply a smaller school that costs more to operate.

“We initially made a plan knowing we would need elementary space in five or six years, so we would love to be able to expand Fort Craig to be about the same size as other elementary schools with 500 to 550 students. That way, as far as per pupil costs, it is more cost effective,” she said.

The schools director said that when all is said and done, cost is the driving factor in proposing to close Fort Craig. If Fort Craig remains open, the schools face a $1.5 million cost in getting Coulter Grove open. By closing Fort Craig, that amount is reduced to roughly $795,000. “It’s cost,” said Thompson. “When you look at an $800,000 difference, that is a pretty substantial amount of money, especially knowing our city is struggling, and our citizens don’t want to raise taxes any more than they have to. That’s the dilemma we find ourselves in,” she said.

And the school board says…

When asked if the school board members are looking at other alternatives, some said there were a variety of measures on the table, and others said this was the best choice.

“We have looked at a laundry list of other alternatives,” Sayles said. “I don’t think you would pursue this as an option if you hadn’t gone through that process.”

Sayles said they looked at not opening Coulter Grove. “Unfortunately that still leaves us with the remainder of the grades still overcrowded. We looked at moving the ninth grade to Coulter Grove. We looked at putting the ninth grade at Fort Craig. We looked at putting them at BiLo or doing something at the Blount County Children’s Home,” she said. “We looked all kinds of space utilization and costs associated with that to consider what we could to address the high school overcrowding. When it comes down to it, what we have to do is open Coulter Grove. That is the long-term solution.”

Jenkins said he has had many conversations with residents. “We’re looking at all facets of the budget. I’ve been really involved in the budget process, and I’m on the benefit committee,” he said. “We’ve had to cut benefits and raise deductibles. I feel we’re evaluating all options and evaluating many scenarios.”

Garner said at present closing Fort Craig temporarily and reconfiguring grades is the best plan they’ve got. “If anybody has a plan that exceeds ours and can perform better and meet the needs of our 5,000-plus students and the needs of our community, stakeholders and taxpayers, let us know,” Garner said.

Garner said they have looked at varying different grade structures in different buildings and at all kinds of options as far as cutting budgets. “We went line-item by line-item to make sure we don’t have waste,” he said. “We’ve cut ourselves plum to the bone and this is about the only option we have left to accomplish everything we have to accomplish.”

West said they are still hearing different alternatives. “From Day 1, we’ve put every one of the alternatives on the table,” he said.

Pope said one option was to move the ninth grade academy to Coulter Grove but she said she isn’t aware of any other options being discussed apart from closing Fort Craig. “That is my big hang-up with the budget. I don’t feel I can make an educated decision on whether to close Fort Craig. I haven’t seen where we are even going to find $1.5 million to open Coulter Grove if we do not close Fort Craig, and the $800,000 if we do close Fort Craig,” she said. “I feel I’ve not seen where we’re going to make the cuts, and how we can afford to open a new school at this juncture.”

Mike Winstead, assistant director of schools, said closing Fort Craig reduces the number of new people who have to be hired at the new school. “We have a principal at Fort Craig. We could move that principal position to Coulter Grove. All the teachers would be moved to other positions in the school system, and we wouldn’t be adding as many positions,” he said. “We wouldn’t have to hire as many new people.”

When asked if all tenured teachers are guaranteed teaching positions, Thompson said the system does not negotiate. “But we know what good teachers we have in our school system and at Fort Craig, and we want to take care of our teachers,” she said. “We are going to do everything we can to move our teachers who are tenured hopefully to somewhere they want to be.”

Thompson said when parents ask why the decision needs to be made now, she said that these kinds of changes take time to do thoughtfully. “With major changes such as grade re-configurations, we have look to at every staff member and see what they are qualified to do and make a whole plan,” she said. “We have to be very thoughtful about where to place staff members. We want them be happy, be comfortable, and we want them to achieve and do the best they can for all students.”

Thompson said she expects the school board to approve the new grade configuration -- which would mean two fourth-through-seventh grade curriculums at Coulter Grove and Maryville Intermediate at the Feb. 22 board meeting. “We have a lot of planning to do in the next year and half before Coulter Grove opens,” she said. “We still have $800,000 to find, even if Fort Craig closes.”

The Fort Craig concept

Some Fort Craig parents are questioning the school system’s wisdom in closing what they consider to be an innovative program that enhances the reputation of the Maryville City Schools.

Chris LeGeaux, a Fort Craig parent, said there is no denying the Maryville School System provides one of the best educations available in the state but he doesn’t believe every option has been explored. “Obviously there are many different directions a school system can go,” he said. “I don’t think the budget process has been exhausted.”

LeGeaux said the administration is telling the parents to trust them to take care of their children, even if it is in other schools.

“I caution everyone that when government says, ‘trust us,’ be extra wary,” he said. “Questioning the government or elected officials is in no way saying you don’t believe them, but questioning them can certainly give you confidence in their decisions.”

Mary Bogert, a Fort Craig parent, said she is not confident that all options have been explored.

“It is funny, when I started down this journey, I was more partial to the school board’s position because I believed it was a funding issue,” said Bogert. “I couldn’t believe our city wasn’t going to fund the difference. The more I met with people -- business leaders and city officials -- I started to question my position. I’m not confident, and I feel I should be. I feel, as a taxpayer, the reason I’m uncomfortable is there doesn’t seem to be a collaborative effect. The attitude is, ‘this is the way it is going to be.’ We can go to the forums and speak, but no one is going to answer you. I don’t see how that is involving the community.”

Bogert said she doesn’t think this is a budgetary issue. “To close a school that has performed so well for so many over the years, and one that it took so much effort and energy to create, over a $750,000 deficit, doesn’t make sense,” she said. “I know it is a tough economy. I appreciate that. If we were talking about a $3 million or $4 million deficit, but $750,000? I don’t believe that.”

Bogert said she hasn’t seen a line-by-line breakdown of the proposal. “We see the larger dollar amount, but not line-by-line what it takes to get to that number. I’m not convinced every option has been explored,” she said. “I think that the Fort Craig concept should be taken and placed elsewhere in the school system. Make Coulter Grove a Fort Craig. Fort Craig is not a building but a program.”

LeGeaux said besides solving the eminent threat to Fort Craig, the bigger challenge is restoring relationships in the aftermath of the crisis. “Central office, parents and all faculty and staff are working toward improving our relationships and that is being worked on by everyone, regardless of how this vote turns out,” he said.

“This cloud that is hanging over us is in part because Fort Craig is burdened by that bad history,” LeGeaux said. “Central office acknowledges that and is working on it.”

LeGeaux said Fort Craig is similar to magnet schools in its programming and choice to go there, and it also shares common drawbacks of a magnet school.

“Any magnet school anywhere has the same relationship issues with other schools. It is a very common problem. It is not jealousy, it is competition, and it is tension. It is many different things, and we have those typical things to deal with.”

LeGeaux said any school closing is emotional. “Low performing schools close. We bring our kids to school, they do their homework, and they are successful, and we’re still closing,” he said. “It is really tough for everybody, especially when you try to do everything to be successful, and it does succeed. That makes it that much tougher.”

A step back?

Thompson said that in the 16 years since the Fort Craig concept has been around, Maryville schools have become more alike than different.

“I think our elementary schools are more alike than different, including Fort Craig, especially in the past five years,” Thompson said. “Our teachers have collaborated across the system.”

Thompson said teachers in all the elementary schools have training in Quantum Learning, textbook software and they all have Promethean boards. “We have all those resources and tools in all our schools,” she said.

Thompson said she and those in the school system want parents to understand they are going to care for their children. “The teachers are trained professionals and very caring and love children, and they will meet the needs of the children in the classroom,” she said. “That is where the most important thing going on is -- between the teacher and children. That is not changing at all. I feel very confident our teachers and other schools will take care of every child.”

Jenkins said he doesn’t think closing Fort Craig is taking a step back for the school system. “Maryville people always step up,” he said. “This going to be a challenge and an opportunity, whatever we decide. We’ll make it work and work well, and it won’t deprive students. We’ll do what’s best for the kids.”

West said if the quality of education at other elementary schools was worse, the system would be taking a step back. “But since all four elementary schools are strong, I don’t believe we are taking a step back,” he said.

Pope has a different perspective. “Yes, I think all the elementary schools are great schools, but they are all different, and not one is better than the other,” she said. “I hate to see a year around program go away. That is what other countries are doing, and they are ahead of us. I definitely think we’re going backward instead of forward. Again, I understand the budget is tight, and you have to make cuts when a budget is tight, but I don’t know that this is the right avenue.”

Garner said he was on the school board 15 years ago when Fort Craig School of Dynamic Learning opened. “I was a founding member and was very supportive of it. They’ve performed average to the rest of our elementary schools and are not any different than the rest,” he said.

For her part, Best said the staff at Fort Craig are professionals who are looking forward to the next school year, even if it is their last one at Fort Craig. “If the board decides to close us, we still have to educate these children for another year. We really want, regardless of that, to have a great year next year,” she said. “The way we view it, we are here to educate the children we’ve got, and we’ll do that again next year as well. If we can move forward and have a great year next year, and if they close us in Spring of 2012, we’ll be able to transition our faculty and students in a positive way.”

© 2011 blounttoday.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 30

agentorange007 writes:

Like many families, we searched the Knoxville metro area for the best schools and moved to Maryville specifically to attend Fort Craig. We were sorely disappointed when the lottery did not favor us. I was not impressed at all with the school for which we were zoned. But fortunately a spot opened up at Fort Craig and we were elated! My kids have thrived at Fort Craig and actually look forward to going to school! That was one of the goals that founding principal Laryy Holt desired. Despite what Stephanie Thompson says, the Fort Craig learning culture is different enough to make, well..., a difference.

When my 4th grade daughter started Kindergarten at Fort Craig, in the very first week another parent told me she hoped we would get to "finish out" at Fort Craig. I asked her what she meant. She said that Stephanie Thompson was being groomed to take over the top spot when then schools director Mike Dalton retired. When he did retire, there would be a sham search for a new director but Thompson would be unaminously selected. She would then move to shut Fort Craig down ASAP. Why? She apparently didn't like it from the beginning. I thought this other parent was nutty as a fruitcake at the time but her predictions are turning out to be remarkably spot on!

The visionary triad of Gary Hensley, Mike Dalton, and former school boards started Maryville City Schools on a path to excellence. The new triumvirate of Greg McClain, Stephanie Thompson and the majority of the current board could more aptly be called the "village idiots." They have already started Maryville City Schools down the slippery slope of mediocrity.

Since I am being critical, I would be remiss if I did not offer a proposed solution.

Since John Sevier has the highest percentage of free/reduced school lunch students, and since these kids are at increased risk for academic difficulties, I would propose a combination neighborhood school/school of choice. Convert the entire school to the Fort Craig program, allot a percentage of enrollment to zoned students and another percentage to students "city wide" as a "school of choice" like Fort Craig is now. Advantages: more students (especially at risk) could benefit from the Fort Craig culture, property values in the John Sevier district go up, and Maryville City Schools get their new intermediate school.

MrBuds writes:

Once again, spot on Agent! What was one of the first things Mrs. Thompson did when she took over, got rid of Mr. Carter, Fort Craig's former principal, and brought in a new principal to put her plan into action. I have no reason to dislike Dr. best personally, but I am having a hard time dispelling the rumors that she was hired with the understanding that this would all transpire and that she would be eventually given a larger school, John Sevier. I think that she has since come to love the school, staff and families included, but she has a job to do. Just read the other article on here. The current principal at John Sevier is in the running for Alcoa City School's director, which leaves a convenient vacancy at John Sevier. Prior to that, he was already being named the future principal of Coulter Grove. Coincidence???

tennessee7 writes:

would be interesting to see what the test scores are for each of the elementary schools.

agentorange007 writes:

in response to tennessee7:

would be interesting to see what the test scores are for each of the elementary schools.

Since you asked....

Tennessee Department of Education Report Card

---------------------2009---------------------
--------------Math---Read/Lang--Social Studies---Science

FortCraig:------66-----64----------63------------------64---
SamHouston:-61-----62----------61------------------60---
Foothills:-------58-----61----------60------------------60---
JohnSevier:---57-----59----------60------------------58---

Years 2006-2008 tell the same story but are not included here because I am too lazy to type all of that data.

I guess school board member Denny Garner is WRONG. Fort Craig is NOT average when scores are compared to the other schools.

Got to http://www.tn.gov/education/reportcard/
and one can compare school systems and schools.

MrBuds writes:

Mr. Garner's argument is also that Fort Craig students do not grow academically at the rate that the other schools do. What he is not telling is that all of the students test scores are averaged together to get the total; that includes the special needs students who the school requires to take the TCAP tests. He also says FC is not socioeconomically diverse and because of that, FC should be blowing the other schools out of the water. My point in stating all this: Is this really about $$$? Apparently not with him. He has personal reasons for wanting the school closed. His children once went to FC, but after a disagreement with an administrator, he pulled them out and has been against the school ever since then. That is not rumor; just ask him. I feel it is a conflict that he even gets a vote on this!

agentorange007 writes:

in response to MrBuds:

Mr. Garner's argument is also that Fort Craig students do not grow academically at the rate that the other schools do. What he is not telling is that all of the students test scores are averaged together to get the total; that includes the special needs students who the school requires to take the TCAP tests. He also says FC is not socioeconomically diverse and because of that, FC should be blowing the other schools out of the water. My point in stating all this: Is this really about $$$? Apparently not with him. He has personal reasons for wanting the school closed. His children once went to FC, but after a disagreement with an administrator, he pulled them out and has been against the school ever since then. That is not rumor; just ask him. I feel it is a conflict that he even gets a vote on this!

Sounds like Mr. Garner has got that socialist "life is unfair" chip on his shoulder.

Once again, the numbers do not lie. If one was to study the makeup of Fort Craig's student body, almost exactly 1/3 is from the Foothills district, 1/3 is from Sam Houston, and 1/3 from the John Sevier zone. I don't know how more diverse one can get than that.

Also, the Fort Craig lottery is configured such that those children who qualify for reduced/free school lunch have a higher priority. Why these families do not take advantage of the situation, I do not know. Maybe it is just plain parental apathy. Some have suggested transportation is a barrier. If so, that is a responsibility of the school system and not the school.

Interesting point about Mr. Garner holding a longstanding grudge. What is Christi Sayles' beef?

supermom writes:

Can anyone confirm or deny that there is $1MM in a 'rainy day fund' in the budget? And if so, isn't it a rainy day?

MrBuds writes:

in response to supermom:

Can anyone confirm or deny that there is $1MM in a 'rainy day fund' in the budget? And if so, isn't it a rainy day?

I have heard that there is $2.5 M in an "emergency fund" that the school system is going to tap in to to make it look like they have saved the day and not had to raise taxes.

supermom writes:

Why haven't we heard more about this $2.5MM and pushed the school system to use that money to have as few interruptions in our school system as possible?

agentorange007 writes:

The City of Maryville has money--a lot of it.

http://www.ci.maryville.tn.us/Pam/FY1...

The City’s total Cash and Investments of $48,063,125 at June 30, 2010 is classified below:
Table 1: Total Cash and Investments at June 30, 2010

Petty and working cash $ 2,500
Local financial institutions – checking and savings accounts 10,212,159
Cash held by investment firms 116,930
Certificates of Deposit 4,600,000
State of Tennessee Local Government Investment Pool 20,819,207
Investment in federal, state, and local government securities 12,312,329
Total Cash and Investments $ 48,063,125

POLITICALLYNEUTRAL writes:

FortCraig:------66-----64----------63------------------64---
SamHouston:-61-----62----------61------------------60---
Foothills:-------58-----61----------60------------------60---
JohnSevier:---57-----59----------60------------------58---

The scores should be a lot better since the student population is hand picked! I would put FHE up against any school for overall education. I hate that the elitist have to give up their own little world of a school but the schools have to tighten the belt like everyone else. I am soooooo tired of hearing about how much better Ft Craig is than the other elementary schools and those "other" schools should be mad as heck at the back-handed insults being thrown by the members of the Ft Craig Cultist that rant and rave. All I can say is way to go Director Thompson, Denny Garner and Christy Sayles! stand your ground and close this publicly funded private school.

agentorange007 writes:

in response to POLITICALLYNEUTRAL:

FortCraig:------66-----64----------63------------------64---
SamHouston:-61-----62----------61------------------60---
Foothills:-------58-----61----------60------------------60---
JohnSevier:---57-----59----------60------------------58---

The scores should be a lot better since the student population is hand picked! I would put FHE up against any school for overall education. I hate that the elitist have to give up their own little world of a school but the schools have to tighten the belt like everyone else. I am soooooo tired of hearing about how much better Ft Craig is than the other elementary schools and those "other" schools should be mad as heck at the back-handed insults being thrown by the members of the Ft Craig Cultist that rant and rave. All I can say is way to go Director Thompson, Denny Garner and Christy Sayles! stand your ground and close this publicly funded private school.

Funny but I would have thought that Foothills with it's brand new building and zoned for the high dollar elistist neighborhoods like Cross Creek, Royal Oaks, Oxford Hills, and Wimbledon would be blowing everyone into the weeds.

Let's do the math for Fort and Foothills, Foothills, shall we:

Math: 66 - 58 = 8; 8/58 = 13.8% higher score
Reading/Language: 64 -61 =3; 3/61 = 5% higher
Social Studies: 63 -60 = 3; 3/60 = 5% higher
Science: 64 -60 = 4; 4/60 = 6.7% higher
Those are statistically significant percentages, especially that 13.8% in math.

The parents of the other "cookie cutter" schools should be mad as heck that their schools have not adopted innovative 21st century educational methods. If they did, there would be no need for a school like Fort Craig. They should be directing their jealousies to the principals, schools director, school board, and the city council for an "excellence culture" in ALL schools. There is no reason it can't be done. The same people you are cheering for are the ones letting you down!

For the last time, Fort Craig students are not "hand picked" elitists. Every child is picked from a lottery with higher priority for socioeconomically disadvantaged children.

For sure, there are some kids from millionaire families attending there. There are also many more kids whose families fall below the poverty level line. And there is a spectrum of socioeconomic diversity in between. The one thing each of these families have in common is that they put a high premium on education and feel that Fort Craig is a better elementary school "choice."

Again, I wish that all schools were more like Fort Craig. Then I believe test scores would not only equalize but improve systemwide. Isn't that what all of us want in the first place?

POLITICALLYNEUTRAL writes:

I don't have the research but I would like to see these "lottery" results on paper. If you believe it is a lottery then I have a goose that lays golden eggs for sale.

agentorange007 writes:

in response to POLITICALLYNEUTRAL:

I don't have the research but I would like to see these "lottery" results on paper. If you believe it is a lottery then I have a goose that lays golden eggs for sale.

How much do you want for it?

tennessee7 writes:

why would you consider closing an elementary school with what appears to have the highest test scores? hmmm..someone must have really gotten on the wrong side of the school board. my kids went to John Sevier and got an excellent start in their education. BTW..each child went on to get a master's degree and is doing very well in their respective careers. all the parents that I've known whose kids went to Fort Craig always felt "superior" to the rest of us. so, what's the big deal? your children will still be in the Maryville school system and hopefully you will still be an involved parent. In fact, I bet your brilliant children will now raise the test scores in Foothills, John Sevier and Sam Houston. I'm sure everyone in Maryville will sincerely thank you.

teamplayer23 writes:

in response to POLITICALLYNEUTRAL

"The scores should be a lot better since the student population is hand picked! I would put FHE up against any school for overall education. I hate that the elitist have to give up their own little world of a school but the schools have to tighten the belt like everyone else...."

First of all, I am a Ft. Craig parent and I take great offense at being called an elitist. My husband and I work for a living as does every family in that school. Does that make us elitist? If you have a question about how the lottery at Ft. Craig is handled, then ask Stephanie Thompson about it. The drawing has always been done at Central Office by the Director of Schools. Are you accusing her of handling is unfairly? I have no doubt that is is done fairly becuase I have had friends that would have been a great addition to the school who didn't get in. It breaks my heart when someone who wants to come to Ft. Craig doesn't get the opportunity and I know for a fact that it sincerely bothers the teachers too. We have wished for a bigger facility for years. I can honestly say that I didn't know about any scores when I chose this school for my daughter in 2005. We went to the Parent Information Meeting and we felt it would be a great fit for her, so we signed up....simple as that. I have NEVER said that Ft. Craig is better than any other school and I have NEVER heard anyone at Ft. Craig say that. The only people who say that are people like you who are determined to keep the animosity between the schools alive and well.
We are one city...we are one school system...we are supposed to be on the same team and work toward the same goal. There is no reason that Ft. Craig can't be a part of that without all of the negativity that goes with it.
...

MrBuds writes:

in response to POLITICALLYNEUTRAL:

I don't have the research but I would like to see these "lottery" results on paper. If you believe it is a lottery then I have a goose that lays golden eggs for sale.

My children go to FC and my husband works 2 jobs so we can make ends meet each month. Why would my children be hand picked??? Do you consider our family elite? When I filled out an application for my first child to go there, I was new to this area, this State even. Each school in our system has the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor within their walls. I cannot make factual statements about Foothills, John Sevier, or Sam Houston because I have never walked those halls. Why are so many people making statements about this issue based on what they have heard, rather than based in their own accounts? It really devalues the discussion. Just an honest question?

rocketdog writes:

Aren't those who live in the MCS system, and are pointing their fingers at parents of children that attend Ft. Craig and calling them "elitist" or "superior", essentially calling the kettle black? I would venture to say that a very large percent of those folks with children in the city schools choose to live in city limits because of the excellent reputation of our schools. Otherwise, you wouldn't be living with in city limits, would you? I wonder how many parents who send their children to Blount County schools sit around and refer to us as "elitist" or feel that we think we are "superior" to them because our kids go to city schools? Maybe we should remove the plank from our own eyes first.
My opinion is this: a child is going to succeed in education to the best of their ability based on the school systems available resources, quality teachers, and how much invested interest a parent has in their own child's education.
I am a Fort Craig parent. I love that my two wonderful, yet average children have the opportunity to learn in a school that is safe, educationally and socially nurturing. I KNOW that they would receive that kind of education and environment in any one of our city or county schools. I KNOW that my child will be academically successful to the best of their abilities because my husband and I do and will continue to to be invested in their education. And I would speculate that every school everywhere has parents just like us.
My husband and I chose to send our kids to Ft. Craig. Truthfully, not because of the difference in the curriculum, style of teaching or multi-age classrooms - we were somewhat clueless of that- but because of the school's year round calendar. It gave us flexibility when scheduling vacations. But in the 5 years that we have been involved in Ft. Craig, we have grown to appreciate not only the school's calendar, but unique learning environment the school has offered. We have witnessed first hand the benefits our children and others have gained by being in that learning environment.
Fort Craig is a school of choice- among many other things, you are choosing for your child to learn in a non-traditional way. And if it doesn't work for your family or your child, then you have the option to go somewhere else.
Closing Fort Craig, gives our community, one less option, one less elementary school, one less opportunity for a child to be academically successful in a learning atmosphere that is best suited for their needs.
Instead of bickering like children, we should be urging our school board, and our city council to wait until they have all the information they need, such as the budget for the next year, in front of them, before they decide to close the school and take away this program that works for so many.

Manfrommaryville writes:

With all of the bickering between the Ft.Craig fans and haters about the pros and cons of closing Ft.Craig there has been little discussion about the grade shuffling changes that are going to affect every child in every school from now on. With the new grade configurations, 9th grade is pulled out of the highschool and is in with 8th grade and 4-7th grades are together. Maryville City Schools (all of them) are some of the top in the state and making such changes to a system with such a strong track record should be a concern to every parent.

One potential solution that I believe the school board looked at early on but ruled out because it has its share of trade-offs deserves a closer review. Move Sam Houston (staff & students) to Coulter's Grove and use the Sam Houston school as an extension of Maryville High. The proximity of Sam Houston to the high school is ideal and could provide a roadmap of expansion to connect the campuses in decades to come. The distance between Sam Houston and Coulter's Grove is less than 3miles so that is the maximum additional distance that the Sam Houston children would have to travel on the bus. The Sam Houston students & staff would get to stay together and get a beautiful new facility. All of the disruptive grade reconfigurations are avoided - although there still would be a small logistical issue to overcome since Sam Houston isn't connected to the high school. From an economics standpoint it looks good. Without closing Ft.Craig it's going to cost an additional $1,800,000 per year to open Coulter's Grove. The vast majority of this due to hiring of additional staff. By closing Ft. Craig, the additional amount needed drops to $800,000 per year and introduces the grade configuration changes. If Sam Houston is moved, the amount needed drops to almost zero because no additional staff is needed and the grade re-configurations/shuffling/disruptions are avoided. Even if I'm $300,000 wrong on the cost savings per year (but I don't see it), it would still be $500K/Yr less that the taxpayers have to cover, would avoid the disruption to the entire school system and the eliminate the risk being introduced to entire Maryville School System's academic program.

sam3rd writes:

First, congratulations to most of you on your ignorance.
I am a recent graduate of the Maryville system and a proud graduate of Fort Craig and let me be the first to tell you that most of the "facts" that you are throwing up on this post are completely false. I will (obviously) admit that the statistics that you give are valid and provide a great point but the majority of the argument is based on "he said, she said" about rumors that are flying around like this is middle school--not a conversation between adults. I can understand people's anger and frustration but let's get to the root of the cause--which was clearly stated multiple times in the article for those of you who "conveniently" overlooked it--money. No one (well except Denny, perhaps) will deny that Fort Craig students perform at a higher standard than the other elementary schools but no one seems to be bothered by the "why" of the statistic. The numbers that were previously given mean nothing without context. And here is the context--Fort Craig students perform better because the environment is more conducive to this. The classroom sizes are smaller which leads to a smaller teacher: student ratio so there is more one-on-one attention. The only problem with this--its super expensive and money is the driving force behind the proposed closing of the school. Many of the previous comments talk about how Stephanie Thompson doesn't like Fort Craig and wants to see it closed but has anybody heard her say this specifically? I didn't think so. Before we continue to throw around vicious rumors about the "village idiots" on the school board, why don't we stop being ignorant bloggers and do something productive about it? I am writing on here because I find the previous comments from the "educated" public to be humorous in their ignorant discourse. The entire thought that Mrs. Thompson was groomed to be Director of Schools to specifically shut down Fort Craig from the beginning is completely invalid and honestly laughable, but agentorange007, I suppose that if your "fruitcake" of a neighbor said it, it must be true. You might want to go take a quick intro to psychology course where the first thing you will learn is that correlation doesn't lead to causation...aka your coincidences are merely that--coincidences.

sunshine writes:

in response to Manfrommaryville:

With all of the bickering between the Ft.Craig fans and haters about the pros and cons of closing Ft.Craig there has been little discussion about the grade shuffling changes that are going to affect every child in every school from now on. With the new grade configurations, 9th grade is pulled out of the highschool and is in with 8th grade and 4-7th grades are together. Maryville City Schools (all of them) are some of the top in the state and making such changes to a system with such a strong track record should be a concern to every parent.

One potential solution that I believe the school board looked at early on but ruled out because it has its share of trade-offs deserves a closer review. Move Sam Houston (staff & students) to Coulter's Grove and use the Sam Houston school as an extension of Maryville High. The proximity of Sam Houston to the high school is ideal and could provide a roadmap of expansion to connect the campuses in decades to come. The distance between Sam Houston and Coulter's Grove is less than 3miles so that is the maximum additional distance that the Sam Houston children would have to travel on the bus. The Sam Houston students & staff would get to stay together and get a beautiful new facility. All of the disruptive grade reconfigurations are avoided - although there still would be a small logistical issue to overcome since Sam Houston isn't connected to the high school. From an economics standpoint it looks good. Without closing Ft.Craig it's going to cost an additional $1,800,000 per year to open Coulter's Grove. The vast majority of this due to hiring of additional staff. By closing Ft. Craig, the additional amount needed drops to $800,000 per year and introduces the grade configuration changes. If Sam Houston is moved, the amount needed drops to almost zero because no additional staff is needed and the grade re-configurations/shuffling/disruptions are avoided. Even if I'm $300,000 wrong on the cost savings per year (but I don't see it), it would still be $500K/Yr less that the taxpayers have to cover, would avoid the disruption to the entire school system and the eliminate the risk being introduced to entire Maryville School System's academic program.

I know how we can find $250,000 in savings. Let the $250,000 in the "bare bones" budget going to athletic coaching supplements be financed by fans, fund raisers and the private sector.

sunshine writes:

in response to MrBuds:

Mr. Garner's argument is also that Fort Craig students do not grow academically at the rate that the other schools do. What he is not telling is that all of the students test scores are averaged together to get the total; that includes the special needs students who the school requires to take the TCAP tests. He also says FC is not socioeconomically diverse and because of that, FC should be blowing the other schools out of the water. My point in stating all this: Is this really about $$$? Apparently not with him. He has personal reasons for wanting the school closed. His children once went to FC, but after a disagreement with an administrator, he pulled them out and has been against the school ever since then. That is not rumor; just ask him. I feel it is a conflict that he even gets a vote on this!

Which school board member is a (former?) dogfighter and bookie. Which school board member would like FC to be vacated and sold to the hospital to benefit family members with land connecting the two. Which school board member's family benefited financially from the building of Coulter Grove school?
Follow the yellow brick road.

sunshine writes:

in response to sam3rd:

First, congratulations to most of you on your ignorance.
I am a recent graduate of the Maryville system and a proud graduate of Fort Craig and let me be the first to tell you that most of the "facts" that you are throwing up on this post are completely false. I will (obviously) admit that the statistics that you give are valid and provide a great point but the majority of the argument is based on "he said, she said" about rumors that are flying around like this is middle school--not a conversation between adults. I can understand people's anger and frustration but let's get to the root of the cause--which was clearly stated multiple times in the article for those of you who "conveniently" overlooked it--money. No one (well except Denny, perhaps) will deny that Fort Craig students perform at a higher standard than the other elementary schools but no one seems to be bothered by the "why" of the statistic. The numbers that were previously given mean nothing without context. And here is the context--Fort Craig students perform better because the environment is more conducive to this. The classroom sizes are smaller which leads to a smaller teacher: student ratio so there is more one-on-one attention. The only problem with this--its super expensive and money is the driving force behind the proposed closing of the school. Many of the previous comments talk about how Stephanie Thompson doesn't like Fort Craig and wants to see it closed but has anybody heard her say this specifically? I didn't think so. Before we continue to throw around vicious rumors about the "village idiots" on the school board, why don't we stop being ignorant bloggers and do something productive about it? I am writing on here because I find the previous comments from the "educated" public to be humorous in their ignorant discourse. The entire thought that Mrs. Thompson was groomed to be Director of Schools to specifically shut down Fort Craig from the beginning is completely invalid and honestly laughable, but agentorange007, I suppose that if your "fruitcake" of a neighbor said it, it must be true. You might want to go take a quick intro to psychology course where the first thing you will learn is that correlation doesn't lead to causation...aka your coincidences are merely that--coincidences.

Congrats on getting the opportunity to be a student at Fort Craig. Budget figures do look dire, and the schools have assured us they have cut all they can, including reducing staff and cutting teacher benefits like dental. Just a tiny peak into the budget, however, shows us that they budget $300 per student athlete to pay $250,000 for coaching supplements. This money is funding extracurricular activities at the expense of other programs (required educational programs) for the rest of the schools.
When you're assured all expenses have been cut and the next step is going to directly affect the education of the students in the system, it is very surprising to find something like this still in the budget. So some begin to question the very motives and honesty of those in charge.
Maybe Fort Craig has to go because of finances, but it makes much more sense to close it as part of an overall budget reduction where all questions as to "show me the money" are answered.

tennessee7 writes:

you want to save money? merge some school systems..3 systems in one county? ridiculous. but, can you imagine the comments? Maryville/Blount County is changing and one day it may not be such a desired place to live. pretty pitiful leadership..

sunshine writes:

in response to tennessee7:

you want to save money? merge some school systems..3 systems in one county? ridiculous. but, can you imagine the comments? Maryville/Blount County is changing and one day it may not be such a desired place to live. pretty pitiful leadership..

I agree. Eliminating 2 director of schools positions alone could fund 6 or more new teachers.

agentorange007 writes:

in response to sam3rd:

First, congratulations to most of you on your ignorance.
I am a recent graduate of the Maryville system and a proud graduate of Fort Craig and let me be the first to tell you that most of the "facts" that you are throwing up on this post are completely false. I will (obviously) admit that the statistics that you give are valid and provide a great point but the majority of the argument is based on "he said, she said" about rumors that are flying around like this is middle school--not a conversation between adults. I can understand people's anger and frustration but let's get to the root of the cause--which was clearly stated multiple times in the article for those of you who "conveniently" overlooked it--money. No one (well except Denny, perhaps) will deny that Fort Craig students perform at a higher standard than the other elementary schools but no one seems to be bothered by the "why" of the statistic. The numbers that were previously given mean nothing without context. And here is the context--Fort Craig students perform better because the environment is more conducive to this. The classroom sizes are smaller which leads to a smaller teacher: student ratio so there is more one-on-one attention. The only problem with this--its super expensive and money is the driving force behind the proposed closing of the school. Many of the previous comments talk about how Stephanie Thompson doesn't like Fort Craig and wants to see it closed but has anybody heard her say this specifically? I didn't think so. Before we continue to throw around vicious rumors about the "village idiots" on the school board, why don't we stop being ignorant bloggers and do something productive about it? I am writing on here because I find the previous comments from the "educated" public to be humorous in their ignorant discourse. The entire thought that Mrs. Thompson was groomed to be Director of Schools to specifically shut down Fort Craig from the beginning is completely invalid and honestly laughable, but agentorange007, I suppose that if your "fruitcake" of a neighbor said it, it must be true. You might want to go take a quick intro to psychology course where the first thing you will learn is that correlation doesn't lead to causation...aka your coincidences are merely that--coincidences.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Would there be any more credibility to the claims if that "nutty" parent was also a Maryville City Schools employee?

Since you are a recent graduate of MCS and Fort Craig, you must be relatively young. Wise up kid and take a look at how the real world works.

skng writes:

Ok so we compared test scores for 2009. How about the scores for the entire lifespan of the school? How about the percentage of Fort Craig students that went on to be Valedictorian of Maryville High School. Or the number who were accepted into Ivy League colleges. Fort Craig prepared its students for lifelong learning - far beyond proficiency test scores.

jepezick9692 writes:

I was a student at Fort Craig from first to fourth grade. Since then, I have gone through MIS, MMS, and, finally, MHS. I graduated in 2010. Fort Craig is the only school in Maryville I drive by without cringing...in fact, I smile, because all my memories of Fort Craig are good ones. It is a school that allows its students to be themselves, and to learn in whatever way suits each individual child best. Every employee had the kids' best interests at heart. I will always see Fort Craig Elementary as a blessing. It is what all elementary schools should strive to be... a place of dynamic learning and, more importantly, a second home to its students. I know nothing of the monetary benefits Maryville City may gain from closing Fort Craig, but I do know what Maryville City will lose...
a school that truly inspires its students far after they leave it.

sunshine writes:

in response to jepezick9692:

I was a student at Fort Craig from first to fourth grade. Since then, I have gone through MIS, MMS, and, finally, MHS. I graduated in 2010. Fort Craig is the only school in Maryville I drive by without cringing...in fact, I smile, because all my memories of Fort Craig are good ones. It is a school that allows its students to be themselves, and to learn in whatever way suits each individual child best. Every employee had the kids' best interests at heart. I will always see Fort Craig Elementary as a blessing. It is what all elementary schools should strive to be... a place of dynamic learning and, more importantly, a second home to its students. I know nothing of the monetary benefits Maryville City may gain from closing Fort Craig, but I do know what Maryville City will lose...
a school that truly inspires its students far after they leave it.

Ditto for my kids.

3rdShifter writes:

Treat people right, do the right thing.

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