Outlining a list of shortcomings and needs focused mainly on additional classroom space, Bradley County Commissioner Thomas told his fellow commissioners he believes county government has neglected its schools.
Outlining a list of shortcomings and needs focused mainly on additional classroom space, Bradley County Commissioner Thomas Crye told his fellow commissioners he believes county government has neglected its schools.
Crye made his comments Monday during the County Commission’s voting session. A copy of the comments was provided to the Cleveland Daily Banner.
“County government throughout the past several decades has neglected maintaining the school system infrastructure and deferred required maintenance to the point of being held together by duct tape,” Crye said. “During the past five years significant efforts have been made to improving the situation. Major initiatives taken include the construction of a new academic building at Lake Forest Middle School and approval and implementation of a $16 million energy savings program at the existing schools.”
Crye noted that program included new air-conditioning systems windows, plus electrical, plumbing and lighting upgrades. He added the program allowed “new life to be put into our facilities.”
Crye also noted significant progress has been made in school security to include one gate guard plus two SROs in the high schools. However, more remains to be done, he said, including the immediate need for expansion of Black Fox and North Lee elementary schools “necessitated by safety and space issues and not increasing of student load.”
Earlier this month, Bradley County Director of Schools Dr. Linda Cash presented to the County Commission’s Education Committee her concerns about overcrowding at Black Fox and North Lee. Crye repeated those concerns in his comments.
“Black Fox portable classrooms have been cited by the fire marshal for not having two exits for each of the classrooms and will be condemned without corrective action being taken,” Crye said. “Inadequate space became a serious issue with the 2011 tornado and destruction of Blue Springs Elementary School. All Blue Springs students were reassigned to other schools and caused an immediate classroom space issue which has not been addressed in the past eight years.”
Crye noted that North Lee has four classrooms for each grade except second grade.
“These classrooms are brimming full,” Crye said, adding he doesn’t wish to see any family having their children spend kindergarten and first grade years at North Lee and then be turned away in second grade due to lack of space.
“Additionally, there have been numerous state and federal requirements within the past 10-plus years reducing classroom student (sizes),” he said.
Crye said areas that require critical attention and space include:
• Speech and language services are provided by the schools. The speech pathologist and assistant serve students daily in closets.
• Occupational therapy is provided by a therapist in the school to improve the ability of the students to perform daily activities.
“They are also meeting and having therapy in closets,” Crye said.
• RTI (Response to Intervention) was added approximately 10 years ago and offers students additional services before being identified for special education testing. Crye said “adding extra instruction with a strategic program has made a great difference for our learners at-risk.”
• The need for onsite mental health services continues to increase. Crye said services include counseling, special education testing, student interviews with DCS personnel and behavioral intervention.
“Privacy is required in most, if not all, of these situations,” Crye said. “Hallways and foyers are not conducive to providing these services. Again, these students are receiving services in closets.”
• ESL (English as a Second Language), which Crye said “became a growing need 20 years ago,” serves “a significant portion of our students” who arrive in class speaking Spanish, Russian or other foreign languages.
“Before learning English, our ESL programs requires space conducive to teaching these students,” Crye said. “Currently, Black Fox and North lee have 70-plus students in this category. Many more exist in the other schools.
“Related arts programs and leadership activities have increased with art classes, choirs, bucket bands, basketball, cheerleading, Beta Club, STEM Club, Lego Robotics, and more,” Crye said. “These services also require space larger than closets since these are group activities.”
Crye said “construction of an addition to Black Fox and North Lee with a combined cost of approximately $1,200,000 is more cost effective than building a new elementary school for $20 to $25 million.”
“Challenges remain to ensure all our students are job ready or college ready upon graduation,” Crye said. “Great strides have been made to prepare students to be job ready.”
Among those efforts is the recent approval and development of the Partnerships in Industry & Education Center. Crye said Bradley County government paid $2.2 million for the PIE Center site, Bradley County Schools committed $1.3 million to preparing the facility, Gov. Bill Lee pledged $1 million to the facility, and $700,000 from the sale of GOAL Academy will help prepare the site to house GOAL Academy.
Crye said the PIE Center will:
• Create a skilled workforce
• Prepare students with opportunities to enter careers that provide a living wage
• Become a model for employment training and college and career development in Tennessee
• Align with employers to become a regional site for dual training opportunities
“In summary, county budget time is upon us,” Crye said. “We have made and continue to make great progress in our education system. Bradley County government contributed $2.2 million to the purchase of the PIE Center site; our citizens must always be aware of our system’s needs and provide support for improvement.”
Commissioner Mike Hughes said he has been to Black Fox, adding "it is something that has to be looked at very seriously."
Commissioner Charlotte Peak asked which fire marshal deemed the portable classrooms at Black Fox unsafe. Crye said it was the state fire marshal.
"It is also sinking," Cash said of the portable classroom, which is a leased building that doesn't belong to the schools.
Crye’s comments were made during the portion of Monday’s meeting set aside for reports from commissioners. The County Commission took no action regarding Crye’s comments.
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