School Plan Taking Shape

The Loudon County Board Of Education may be on the verge of voting for a new building plan for Loudon County Schools. At a recent board workshop to discuss the building program, most board members seemed to be in agreement on what their priorities should be.

The two areas identified with the most urgent needs are Loudon Elementary and Fort Loudon Middle and Greenback. Board members discussed merging Loudon Elementary and Fort Loudon Middle by adding a new central cafeteria and office that would tie the two buildings together. Combining the two facilities would greatly reduce overhead and operating costs at the facility. The facility would then be a K-5 elementary. This plan would include building a new 6-8 Loudon middle school on property owned by the board adjacent to Loudon High School. The combining of the older schools and the addition of a new middle school would address the Loudon area education needs for many years. And if the need were to arise, it would allow for the consolidation of Steekee Elementary with the new Loudon Elementary and Philadelphia Middle School with the new Loudon Middle School with still room to grow in both facilities.

Most board members were also in agreement with a new K-12 school in Greenback. Greenback is the third largest school in the county system with parts of the building dating back to the Roosevelt administration. Also discussed was additional class rooms and an expanded cafeteria at Philadelphia.

The Loudon, Greenback and Philadelphia programs would all be included in phase one of the building plan. Phase two of the plan could include a new middle school in the north end of the county which would alleviate over crowding at Highland Park, Eatons and North Middle Schools.     

School combo sparks debate

Loudon plan would merge middle and elementary schools

Hugh G. Willett,

The question of combining elementary and middle schools in Loudon County is stirring heated debate as the school system considers its long-term building plan.

The board was generally enthusiastic about the plan presented this month by schools director Wayne Honeycutt, including the idea of starting in the southern end of the county first, replacing the elementary and middle schools and building a new school for pre-K to high school in Greenback.

The initial plan is built around the concept of eventually transitioning the county to a consistent pre-K-to-eighth-grade model, eliminating the current middle school.

The first stage of the plan would involve converting the Fort Loudoun Middle School into a pre-K-to-eighth-grade school at a cost of about $18 million. Steekee School would also be converted to a pre-K-to-eighth-grade school.

Combining elementary and middle school grades enhances student achievement, Honeycutt said.

"Every time a child transfers schools, achievement dips," he said.

Board member Gary Ubben, a professor of education at the University of Tennessee, told the board that the pre-K-to-eight model was finding favor with educators for several reasons.

It "builds a better community," Ubben said. "Teachers get to know the students."

It's also more flexible in that having more grades in a single building allows for easier adjustments of classrooms based on the number of students in specific grades, he said. One school requires only one administrative staff, he added.

Board member Scott Newman, representing the city of Loudon, said he has heard universally that Loudon parents do not want to eliminate the middle school.

"Just because it's a middle school doesn't mean it's not a community school," Newman said.

Bill Marcus, also representing the city of Loudon, said that he was concerned that in order to make the proposed model work, children would have to be zoned into certain districts, leading to economic stratification.

Newman joined Marcus in his concern about segregation of minority students into certain schools.

Van Shaver, who had previously indicated that he was not advocating any specific structure in the pre-K-to-eight vs. middle school debate, asserted that he was definitely not for any plan that required zoning.

"I can tell you one thing that will never happen," he said. "We will not have zoning in Loudon County schools."

After the workshop, Shaver said that he believes the building plan will progress in a form not much different from Honeycutt's proposal, but probably not based on a pre-K-to-eight model. A pre-K-to-fifth-grade model would accomplish many of the same goals without having to eliminate the middle school, he said.