By Heather Mullinix
Director of Schools Donald Andrews will be taking a close look at elementary school athletic programs, as well as bringing the Cumberland County Board of Education more information on possible short- and long-term building plans for the school district.
Those were among Andrews’ top five priorities outlined at Saturday’s fall retreat work session of the board, held at the Central Services office.
“The one that comes up more than any other is elementary athletics,” Andrews said as he discussed co-curricular activities as a priority area. “I want to gather information and take a look at it.”
Andrews said some had suggested not making any changes to elementary athletics.
“You’ve pretty much directed me to mess with it because we want to ensure we’re giving students fair and equal opportunities across the spectrum,” Andrews said.
Others priorities identified include the public perception of the school system, accountability and strategic planning and funding issues.
“These were identified by talking with the individual board members and different groups and stakeholders,” Andrews told the board, adding the areas were areas he saw in need of attention in order to keep the school system moving forward.
In later sessions during the day, board members confirmed the need for elementary athletic program guidance for schools, and those present state support for continuing the kindergarten through eighth-grade school model in use, as opposed to a middle school program with middle school athletics.
“One of the complaints I’ve had about changing from a K-8 program is the community schools that would lose their athletic programs and limit participation,” said Vivian Hutson, 6th District representative.
David Bowman, 7th District representative, said, “Every year, the idea of middle school sports comes up. Each school has their own traditions, their own history and their own pride. I played football for North Cumberland whenever I was there and one of my proudest moments that I’ve ever had was when my boy played football for North Cumberland and he wore my old number.
“It was years and years ago, but that’s the pride I have in my community and my school. And every community has that.”
He said he wanted each school to have its own athletic program and to put the issue of middle school sports teams to rest.
Dan Schlafer, 9th District representative, noted he’d advocated joining the Tennessee Middles School Athletic Association when he was first elected to the board. There was resistance to that because it limited the ages of those who could play, preventing fourth-grade students from competing. But, he said the school system could take from the TMSAA and TSSAA policies to craft something that would work for the county’s own specific needs.
“We’re all over the place,” Schlafer said of elementary athletics. “There is no policy.”
Andrews plans on a public forum to hear from the many stakeholders in the community on the topic in the near future.
In the building program, Andrews noted that he’d seen three different studies on school capacity, all with different numbers.
“We need to know what the capacity really is,” Andrew said.
Josh Stone, 4th District representative, noted that whatever course the board chose for a building program, it would need to seek funding from the county.
“All these are important and all are needed. We need to get our ducks in a row and support the same thing or we’ll be laughed out of the county commission,” Stone said.
The question of capacity is something needed to discuss if the board wants to add on to existing schools or to move forward with a previous plan to construct a new elementary school at the Baker’s Crossroads area. Under the question of student attendance zones, board members noted the school system needed to look at schools that were busing students to schools farther away than a nearby community school due to space limitations. However, school policy and state law allows for open enrollment in schools, provided the request is made by June of each year and there is space available in the school and it is an educationally sound choice for the student.
Among other issues identified by the board for the coming year was the long-term viability of the school resource officer program, which is currently in place. Earlier in the week, an agreement with the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Department and the school system, which is funding about $233,000 of the program this year, hit a snag with the Cumberland County Commission.
The commission raised questions of long-term funding of the program, as the school system stated during budget sessions its funding was a one-year funding of the program. Also questioned was other possible ways to provide officers in schools, such as hiring private security officers for schools as done in Knox County or not providing vehicles to deputies.
Bowman, who is also a deputy with the Sheriff’s Department, noted private security officers were not authorized law enforcement officers and would have to call for law enforcement if, for example, an arrest needed to be made at a school. Those individuals also could not carry a weapon on school grounds, he said.
Stone said, “I feel comfortable with the way we have it. I’d like to have eight officers instead of four.”
Bowman noted he saw the reports being generated by the SROs currently in place in Cumberland County Schools.
“They’ve had a lot of drug-endangered, at-risk children reports and referrals, and after school, they’re going to the houses to check on kids that may be being neglected or need help,” Bowman said.
The board will be considering an inter-local agreement on the SRO funding agreement as soon as it is prepared by the county and school board attorney.