Lenoir City schools ready to spend more time on education, less on controversies

By Hugh G. Willett knoxnews.com

LENOIR CITY As Lenoir City Schools director Wayne Miller prepares for another school year, he's planning on focusing all his energy on helping the district adjust to new, mandated standards.

Miller had to deal with more than a few distractions last school year. The district made national news more than once for controversies connected with social issues.

The director, whose system is composed of a high school, intermediate/middle school and elementary school, said he hopes this year will be less exciting. Wednesday is the first full day of classes.

One change that's obvious: School board meetings will be opening with a moment of silence instead of a prayer.

In February, the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation requested that Lenoir City stop beginning school board meetings with a prayer. After a series of exchanges between Miller and the organization, it was agreed that a moment of silence would be substituted for the prayers. The foundation made several other accusations, including prayer at athletic events, that Miller disputed.

The issue came to a boil early this year when Lenoir City High School student Krystal Myers was denied permission to publish in the school newspaper an essay on atheism and the influence of Christianity on students at the school. The essay was subsequently published by the News Sentinel and other news outlets across the country.

The Lenoir City High School yearbook will also have a new adviser this year. Journalism teacher and English Department chair James Yoakley, who advised the yearbook staff for the past six years, will no longer be teaching at the high school.

Yoakley, who also was faculty adviser for the school newspaper, was transferred to Lenoir City Middle School after some parents objected this spring to an article in the yearbook that described the experiences of a gay teenager.

School board chairwoman Rosemary Quillen found herself on the front lines during last school year's controversy. She said she is confident that the actions taken by the administration are in the best interests of the school.

"As a school system we have taken corrective steps to make sure it does not happen again," she said.

That said, Miller said he plans to work hard on helping the district succeed under new Common Core standards adopted by the state.

The district did well under TCAP standards that are now being used to evaluate schools, teachers and students, Miller said.

"The hardest part is getting our best students to do even better," he said.

Under the Common Core standards used across multiple states it will be easier to make comparisons concerning the quality of education. New methods of teaching and interacting with students are also being introduced.

"It's going to change the way teachers teach," he said.

Miller said he has been working hard to attract good teachers. One of the biggest challenges is finding good math and language arts teachers, he said.

Last week, Quillen was nominated by the Loudon County Republican Party to run in the November election for the seat of former Loudon County Commissioner Austin Shaver. Shaver resigned his position in June due to relocation. Quillen said she will continue as chairwoman of the school board if elected to County Commission.