Closing Fort Craig: Maryville City School board makes decision to close school, reconfigure grades

The Maryville City School Board gets ready to vote on school grade reconfiguration and the closing of Fort Craig School of Dynamic Learning Tuesday night. From left are Director of Schools Stephanie Thompson, Bethany Pope, Doug Jenkins, Christi Sayles, Charles West, Denny Garner and Assistant Schools Director Mike Winstead.

Photo by Jolanda Jansma

The Maryville City School Board gets ready to vote on school grade reconfiguration and the closing of Fort Craig School of Dynamic Learning Tuesday night. From left are Director of Schools Stephanie Thompson, Bethany Pope, Doug Jenkins, Christi Sayles, Charles West, Denny Garner and Assistant Schools Director Mike Winstead.

Diane Pezick addressed the school board before the vote to close Fort Craig: “A school of choice benefits the entire district. We created a ‘break the mold’ school of innovation. The idea was to create a school that aggressively looked for learning and teaching techniques. I don’t think we want to lose our school of choice.”

Photo by Jolanda Jansma

Diane Pezick addressed the school board before the vote to close Fort Craig: “A school of choice benefits the entire district. We created a ‘break the mold’ school of innovation. The idea was to create a school that aggressively looked for learning and teaching techniques. I don’t think we want to lose our school of choice.”

Maryville School Board member Charles West said he had been dreading the Tuesday meeting because he would have to vote on closing a school he once attended.

Photo by Jolanda Jansma

Maryville School Board member Charles West said he had been dreading the Tuesday meeting because he would have to vote on closing a school he once attended.

Roger Murphy, a retired MHS teacher, spoke about the overcrowding at Maryville High School that he said started in 1978.  “They had just started using space that was never intended to be used as classrooms. We have remodeled and rebuilt and rebuilt. We’ve been behind a long time. There are teachers under incredible difficulty.  They just come to work and get the job done.”

Photo by Jolanda Jansma

Roger Murphy, a retired MHS teacher, spoke about the overcrowding at Maryville High School that he said started in 1978. “They had just started using space that was never intended to be used as classrooms. We have remodeled and rebuilt and rebuilt. We’ve been behind a long time. There are teachers under incredible difficulty. They just come to work and get the job done.”

If someone walked into the Maryville City School board meeting Tuesday night with a check for $1.5 million, board member Doug Jenkins said he still couldn’t vote to start another Fort Craig School of Dynamic Learning - not right now.

“If today someone came in and said, ‘Let’s create a school of choice with a lower enrollment that costs more per student, I’d say no,” Jenkins said. “For 15 years, we’ve been able to do that. We’re just not at a time economically where we can do that. I’ve heard the concerns, and I see this as an opportunity. Let’s start the healing.”

The board voted 3-0-1 to close the school after the 2011-12 school year with member and Fort Craig parent Bethany Pope abstaining. Board chair Christi Sayles does not vote except in a tie.

Fort Craig was reopened as a School of Dynamic Learning in 1996 as a school of choice with an enrollment of less than 300 and a reputation for excellence, both on the part of students who excelled and teachers who used groundbreaking techniques and procedures to help students learn.

The prospect of closing the school came about this past fall after school system administrators realized there wouldn’t be money to open the new Coulter Grove Intermediate School, which is needed to relieve overcrowding at Maryville High School through a grade reconfiguration. The reconfiguration, also approved by the board Tuesday, Feb. 22, moves the ninth grade out of the high school and into the middle school with the eighth grade. It also creates two intermediate schools - the new Coulter Grove and the current Maryville Intermediate School - for fourth through seventh graders.

Board members were faced with a $1.5 million tab for opening the new school while keeping Fort Craig open, or $800,000 bill for opening the school if Fort Craig was closed.

Many Fort Craig supporters in the community voiced concerns that the system never really liked the school’s concept and was looking for a reason to shut it down.

Board member Charles West said there was a failure in leadership in the past because the overcrowding issue at the high school wasn’t adequately dealt with much earlier and because animosity was allowed to grow regarding Fort Craig.

“The Fort Craig issue, people talk about it and say they like it or don’t like it. They’re a great school. They’re not a cult, and the teachers are outstanding,” he said. “There’s been a short-coming of leadership, and it should have never gotten this way. To set up a school in a way where there is such animosity is wrong,” he said. “Any future school board members should take note.”

West said he dreaded Feb. 22 because he knew he would have to vote on closing a school he once attended. West said he spoke with city council members, principals, parents and grandparents. “The Fort Craig issue is tough, but in the end, we have overcrowding issues, and we have got to get Coulter Grove open as soon as possible,” he said.

West said he appreciated Bethany Pope’s attempt to postpone a vote on closing the school, but a decision had to be made. “I know there are some who just don’t like Fort Craig and will high-five closing Fort Craig, but I’m not going to be one of them,” he said.

Pope made a motion when the closing Fort Craig came up on the agenda to postpone the vote and create a committee to study the issue. Jenkins seconded her motion. “Yeah, I’ll second that,” Jenkins said, “but only for the purposes of discussion. I didn’t intend to do that, but Bethany, you’ve worked hard, so go for it.”

Pope handed out documentation outlining unknowns that the board hasn’t considered which might affect the situation with Fort Craig, particularly the cost of reopening the school as early as 2017. “If the economy improves, and people start moving into our subdivisions, overcrowding will happen fast,” she said.

But when the members voted on her proposal, it was defeated 3-1.

Before the vote on closing Fort Craig, some members of the community spoke for saving Fort Craig, while others shared their concerns for the overcrowding at the high school.

Sayles thanked the parents and members of the public for their input. “This has been a difficult, tough decision. I appreciate people who sent an email or 12, who took the time to meet with me at Vienna Coffee or at my own coffee table,” she said. “Our kids are better because you take the time to care.”

Board member Denny Garner thanked the teachers. “Throughout the challenges, one thing and one thing only you can always bank on: Maryville City School teachers always do a good job,” he said. “Thank you.”

Garner said that no matter how the board voted, it appeared someone was going to have hurt feelings. “I hate to hurt anyone’s feelings, but we have to do what’s best for all 5,000 students,” he said.

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

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Comments » 7

windrider9999 writes:

There is a huge difference in FH and FC from my families prospective. At FH my son was constantly pulled aside a labeled a trouble maker, when in fact he was BORED from not being challenged and encouraged. The FH school leadership suggested we have him tested for ADD. A freind suggested we put him in the lottery for FC. after he got into FC, he quickly began to love school and eventually moved to the top of his class as an excellent student that tutored others and was looked up to as a leader. The leaders and teachers at FC recognized his potential and totally changed his outlook about school and taught him that he could be an awesome student leader. At FH he had been "labeled" as a troublemaker. I am grateful and thankful to the teachers and curriculum style that no doubt has laid the foundation for a great Man of the future. It would not have happened at FH. On another note, not being from the area i had no idea about the "politics" and " attitudes" that are held regarding FC. I have seen it now, and even Mr. Jenkins stated that there would be people who would be high five-ing that FC is closing. SAD.. SAd. Whats wrong with you people? Congratulations on following in our country's footsteps and squashing excellence in favor of Mediocrity

tennessee7 writes:

I think you will survive...let's just hope that the FC students/parents don't go to the other schools with an "attitude". Perhaps someday, we will learn the truth on why they closed the school.

MrBuds writes:

in response to tennessee7:

I think you will survive...let's just hope that the FC students/parents don't go to the other schools with an "attitude". Perhaps someday, we will learn the truth on why they closed the school.

I'm not sure what you mean by "attitude." You do realize that the kids going will range in age from 5-10. I haven't seen to many kids that age have an "I'm better than you" attitude if that's what you are implying. As a FC parent, we are very concerned about the very perception you seem to have. Why do we automatically get labeled as "snobs," or a group that thinks we are better than the community etc. Every school has a few bad apples, EVERY SCHOOL, but those few do not represent the majority. Foothills has a label of being "the rich kid school." Just ask a parent there. They've heard it. John Sevier is labeled as a "poor kid school." Why is that? It's so juvenile. I am worried about my kids being labeled as former FC students at their new school and being talked about, etc. That thought already makes my heart hurt. They are my babies and none of this is their fault. I sincerely hope this entire community will rise above whatever petty differences we have allowed to divide us and come together for all these kids; and when I say that I mean not just FC kids. The changes being made affect every child in our system from the high school on down!

agentorange007 writes:

in response to windrider9999:

There is a huge difference in FH and FC from my families prospective. At FH my son was constantly pulled aside a labeled a trouble maker, when in fact he was BORED from not being challenged and encouraged. The FH school leadership suggested we have him tested for ADD. A freind suggested we put him in the lottery for FC. after he got into FC, he quickly began to love school and eventually moved to the top of his class as an excellent student that tutored others and was looked up to as a leader. The leaders and teachers at FC recognized his potential and totally changed his outlook about school and taught him that he could be an awesome student leader. At FH he had been "labeled" as a troublemaker. I am grateful and thankful to the teachers and curriculum style that no doubt has laid the foundation for a great Man of the future. It would not have happened at FH. On another note, not being from the area i had no idea about the "politics" and " attitudes" that are held regarding FC. I have seen it now, and even Mr. Jenkins stated that there would be people who would be high five-ing that FC is closing. SAD.. SAd. Whats wrong with you people? Congratulations on following in our country's footsteps and squashing excellence in favor of Mediocrity

I am glad your son got the chance to prove himself and succeed just as every kid deserves. I am not surprised. Your tale is just one of many similar success stories to come out of Fort Craig. 'NUFF SAID!!

tennessee7 writes:

I'm sure you and other FC parents have voiced your opinion on the closing of FC, and although the kids range in ages from 5-10, the older kids understand what has happened. they aren't dumb... I don't mean that they will necessarily have a negative attitude, but it might not be that easy of a transition given the unique curriculum that they are coming from.

momoftwo writes:

It is sad the animosity & hatred of Fort Craig has been allowed to continue in this community for 16 years (seriously?). It does sound like there were hurt feelings in the beginning and it was handled poorly (sound familiar?) when it was opened. To allow it to go on this long has been a failure of leadership that trickles down from the administrators, to the teachers, down to the parents. It could have been stopped a long time ago and the community would have been better for it.
There are misleading facts about Fort Craig such as the student/teacher ratio (it is the same except 4th grade), and the cost per student is not entirely accurate.
Has ANYONE asked about the 35 special needs children that attend FC? I understand the other 3 schools do not have many children with special needs as FC does. I'm NOT saying that the teachers will not be as loving,or capable but it will be a learning process.
The director and board made it appear closing FC is a budget issue, but it was an opportunity to close it, or they would have looked at even 1 other option. Maybe closing Fort Craig IS the best thing for our entire school system? However, we were not given the chance to find out.
The director and board have alarmed the community by saying city council will raise taxes "this much" if they don't close it, and "only this much" if they do close it. City leaders have told me either way they are not raising taxes(I agree).
I have been heard they do have the money to open Coulter Grove and have $2.4 million in a "rainy day" fund?? I hope they do have the money to open it because if not, what else will they decide to cut in order to open it.
Did anyone ever question WHEN & WHERE this decision was first brought up? Hmmm....I guess that does not matter to the public, does it?
They will not address the real issue which is the overcrowding at MHS (it is appalling what conditions they are dealing with!)..Would it mess with football too much?
Why have Alcoa schools gone to a year round system, & Oak Ridge school board is researching if they are going to move to a year round calendar (they have 2 schools that are year round, "different"- gasp!) Knox County is getting ready to open a charter school & a new STEM academy (again, gasp!). Why can't our director & board do some research & come up with some innovative ideas they could implement in ALL of our wonderful schools to move forward instead of backward. Does the City of Maryville not want to be leaders in education in the future? The other surrounding cities sure do appear that they are thinking progressively. I am simply asking all these questions and I do not understand why anyone else would not be asking them as well. Look at the bigger picture. It is so much more of an issue than closing a school.

sunshine writes:

in response to momoftwo:

It is sad the animosity & hatred of Fort Craig has been allowed to continue in this community for 16 years (seriously?). It does sound like there were hurt feelings in the beginning and it was handled poorly (sound familiar?) when it was opened. To allow it to go on this long has been a failure of leadership that trickles down from the administrators, to the teachers, down to the parents. It could have been stopped a long time ago and the community would have been better for it.
There are misleading facts about Fort Craig such as the student/teacher ratio (it is the same except 4th grade), and the cost per student is not entirely accurate.
Has ANYONE asked about the 35 special needs children that attend FC? I understand the other 3 schools do not have many children with special needs as FC does. I'm NOT saying that the teachers will not be as loving,or capable but it will be a learning process.
The director and board made it appear closing FC is a budget issue, but it was an opportunity to close it, or they would have looked at even 1 other option. Maybe closing Fort Craig IS the best thing for our entire school system? However, we were not given the chance to find out.
The director and board have alarmed the community by saying city council will raise taxes "this much" if they don't close it, and "only this much" if they do close it. City leaders have told me either way they are not raising taxes(I agree).
I have been heard they do have the money to open Coulter Grove and have $2.4 million in a "rainy day" fund?? I hope they do have the money to open it because if not, what else will they decide to cut in order to open it.
Did anyone ever question WHEN & WHERE this decision was first brought up? Hmmm....I guess that does not matter to the public, does it?
They will not address the real issue which is the overcrowding at MHS (it is appalling what conditions they are dealing with!)..Would it mess with football too much?
Why have Alcoa schools gone to a year round system, & Oak Ridge school board is researching if they are going to move to a year round calendar (they have 2 schools that are year round, "different"- gasp!) Knox County is getting ready to open a charter school & a new STEM academy (again, gasp!). Why can't our director & board do some research & come up with some innovative ideas they could implement in ALL of our wonderful schools to move forward instead of backward. Does the City of Maryville not want to be leaders in education in the future? The other surrounding cities sure do appear that they are thinking progressively. I am simply asking all these questions and I do not understand why anyone else would not be asking them as well. Look at the bigger picture. It is so much more of an issue than closing a school.

Go to blounttoday.com and search for more Fort Craig articles and look at comments. Go to knoxnews.com and search for recent articles on Fort Craig and the comments section. We have been battling about the very issues you bring up. re: larger percentage of special needs students at Fort Craig bring in federal and state dollars that inflate the dollars per student numbers at the school, and the central office could not be bothered to accurately reflect what the local school system is spending on the students. Also, football. $250,000 spent annually on extra pay for athletic coaches. Not a peep has been made about keeping that amount while reducing teacher benefits. No options investigated other than closing Fort Craig, etc. Maryville and Alcoa did look at doing a stem academy but could not find a "financially feasible" site. What about the unused wing of the Maryville Municipal Bldg? LOTS of people are still asking questions, but we're being labeled troublemakers for asking them.

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