Perry talks alternative school plans at board meeting

Members of the Meadowview Middle School choir sing at the Hamblen County School Board meeting Tuesday evening.

Hamblen County School Superintendent Jeff Perry addressed concerns about the future of the Miller-Boyd Alternative School at Tuesday night’s monthly Board of Education meeting.

“The alternative school is not going away. A lot of people have asked about that,” Perry said. “We plan on making some changes, but the alternative school will stay open.”

Perry is proposing a more proactive approach to how the school operates, accepting at-risk students before they get into trouble in a preventative environment with a smaller teacher-student ratio.

“We have a lot of kids who are struggling and broken, that if they have the right kind of help, they would be successful,” Perry said. “We need to take a proactive, instead of a reactive, approach to helping these kids succeed.

“It’s like damming a river. It’s better to wall it off upstream than waiting for it to roll downstream to dam it off.”

Perry also proposed to the board that students with more severe and disruptive infractions be moved to an evening school, where substance abuse counseling will also be held. He hopes all members add their own ideas, however.

“This is my vision of what the alternative school should be,” he said. “I certainly want to be a voice, but I don’t want to be the only voice.”

Perry will be meeting with staff and administrators at Miller-Boyd to develop a long-term strategy for the school next week.

Elementary students with behavioral issues from kindergarten through fifth grade who would have previously been sent to Miller-Boyd will, in the future, be housed at the Hamblen County Transition Academy located at Manley Elementary. The target date for that move is the end of this month.

In other business, the county’s high school students will have to pass a civics examination in order to graduate.

Dr. Rebecca Drinnon, an English teacher at Morristown-Hamblen West High School, addressed the board about the change in state policy. Last year, legislation that was passed in 2015 was amended to require that all high school students in the state pass a civics test in order to earn a diploma, beginning with this year’s graduating class.

There will be a minimum of 52 questions on the exam, which is derived from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Naturalization Test. At least 29 questions on the exam will be on United States government, 16 questions on U.S. history, and seven questions on integrated civics. Students can pass with a minimum score of 70%, and there are no limits on chances to take the exams with a notation of passing score on students’ transcripts.

There will not be a civics prep course for the exam. Tenth-grade government students, and all seniors who graduated in December took the exam before the end of the first semester. Study materials have been provided to all government teachers and to each high school to review with seniors as needed.

“Instead of having a civics course, (the information) is spread out along the social studies curriculum,” Drinnon said. “I think the legislation wanted a more informed electorate and get a better idea of how our government works.”