After two and a half days of school closings due to inclement weather, Hamblen County students traded in their snow attire for rain boots as they returned to class today.
During the January Hamblen County Board of Education meeting held Tuesday evening, director of schools Dr. Dale Lynch thanked school officials for their efforts after the first snowfall of the year.
“I certainly want to thank so many people here in the room and those who might not be able to be with us tonight,” Lynch said. “Our law enforcement, our highway department, our city officers, the National Weather Service, our emergency management workers; thank you all very much for helping us make tough decisions easier for me.”
The Hamblen County School System has allotted 13 snow days for the 2016-17 school year; there are still 10.5 available.
The HCBOE also continued their efforts with Project Promise 2020 by approving the purchase of 730 student laptops and 665 laptop covers, totaling about $425,000.
Project Promise 2020 is a Hamblen County Schools initiative to place a laptop in the hands of every high school student by the year 2020. This year’s freshman class was the first wave of students to receive laptops, with the recent purchase set for next year’s incoming freshman.
Project Promise coordinator Dr. Brenda Dean provided the board with a status update on computer conditions through the first semester.
“We deployed computers to our freshman class on registration day. One thing that we’ve done as part of this project is that we set check up dates for every freshman group to have their device inspected,” Dean said. “We’ve monitored if they have their device, if they have their bag and the shape that it’s in.”
Dean noted that to date, no computers have been lost.
“We’ve had three digitizers break, 16 broken screens, five chargers either lost or damaged, but zero computers lost,” she said. “The board gave clear directions regarding its policy of care for the machines, and both high schools, administration and teachers, have been faithful in those rules and guidelines.”
New laptops will be distributed to sophomore teachers at both East and West high schools next week.
Harold Jones, supervisor of technology and communications for Hamblen County Schools, updated the board on the emergency notification system used to notify the public of the school closings.
“Before the Christmas break, we sent a test message out to let everyone know to be prepared,” Jones said. “Since then, we have used (the system) about four times to send out messages. We’ve had about 12,000 recipients who received messages.”
Jones said that 12,403 phone calls, 7,598 emails and 1,992 text messages went out with each alert they sent. Out of the phone calls, only 170 calls went unanswered, according to Jones.
“It seems to be working well, we haven’t had any complaints,” he said.
“We are always looking for ways to try and keep our community and parents professionally informed about events that our happening in our school system, and this system is another way that we can do that,” Lynch said.
The board voted to approve an upgrade to West High School’s water pressure throughout the school totaling $12,350.
A bid of $17,500 was also approved for architectural services for new artificial turf and renovations at Burke-Toney Stadium.
During the director’s report, Gina Pavlovich with Niswonger Foundation addressed the board on online education possibilities for Hamblen County high school students.
Pavlovich said a wide variety of classes are offered through the Foundation, including AP classes, languages, physical education and computer science.
She said these classes don’t just teach the content, but also teach important college and career readiness tools such as time management, industry and soft skills.
In the last year, students at Morristown East and West received a combined 126 credits by taking online classes through the Niswonger Foundation, according to Pavlovich.
Also during the director’s report, Dr. Anne Nelson, supervisor of special services in Hamblen County Schools, was awarded the East Tennessee 2016 TAASE Cup for her leadership in special education.
“We are very fortunate and lucky to have Dr. Nelson with us in her area of expertise,” Lynch said. “Our teachers, our schools, and, most assuredly, all of our special needs children have a leader that they can count on.”
School Board appreciation week will be Jan. 23-27. A reception for board members will be held Jan. 20.
The Hamblen County Board of Education will next meet Tuesday, Feb. 14.
-By Jonathan Nash, Assistant News Editor