​School Board Grapples with Middle School Options

by Leslie Lytle Messenger Staff Writer

“I don’t have enough information to make a decision,” said Board President Cleijo Walker at the Nov. 14 meeting of the Franklin County School Board. She encouraged the board to join her in making a list of questions to address before determining which option would best serve the county: renovating the two aging middle schools; a new consolidated middle school; or two new middle schools on the existing sites.
The board raised several cost related questions. Board member Sara Liechty said the board needed information on the cost of site acquisition and infrastructure for a new consolidated middle school and information on the cost of portables to temporarily house students if the schools were renovated. Liechty also suggested the board consider geothermal heating and cooling with the potential for long-term energy cost savings.
Tim Little representing the engineering firm Oliver, Little, and Gipson (OLG) said geothermal was an option in the new school scenarios, but would add $6.50 per square foot to construction costs. He estimated the payback at 11–13 years.
Board member Linda Jones questioned the need for auxiliary gyms if new schools were built on the existing sites, favoring the plan which incorporated the existing gyms into the structures. Stanley Bean, North Middle School principal who chairs the Capital Building Program Committee, spoke in favor of new gyms. “The existing gyms have had much wear and tear as much as they’re used.”
Jones also asked if the relatively new eighth-grade pods, built in 1997–98, could be incorporated in the new school designs. “We didn’t consider repurposing the pods,” said Little, “but it’s a possibility.”
Adam Tucker, Sewanee school board representative, joined other board members in expressing excitement about the possibility of new schools on the existing sites, but Tucker pointed to the $15 million higher cost, cautioning, “I wouldn’t want to see the new facilities cut off funding for other programs and needs like teacher salary increases.”
Board member Christine Hopkins asked if research suggested students in smaller facilities “learned better.” Jones echoed this concern. Jones interviewed teachers at both schools who feared they would lose the opportunity to develop relationships with students in a large consolidated school. Jones said teachers also cited the way students in lower grades learned from interacting with students in the upper grades in a small school.
Director of Schools Amie Lonas said, “You can find research to support both the small school and large school concepts. It all depends on what kind of leadership is in place. It’s not the building, but the learning community within the school.”
Noting the slightly smaller student population at South Middle School, board member Chris Guess recommended rezoning to balance the number of students at each school both in terms of numbers as well as demographics, insisting, “We need to look at what is equitable, not just in terms of traditional educational parameters, but athletics, music and the arts.”
The board will continue the discussion at the Dec. 5 working session.
In other business, Lonas said five mentors were still needed for Advise Tennessee, a mentoring program designed to increase college attendance and graduation rates. To volunteer, contact Secondary Education Supervisor Diane Spaulding at (931) 967-0626. Nov. 20 is the deadline.
Revisiting a request at the Oct. board meeting to recognize Jeff Taylor, former Franklin County High School (FCHS) basketball star and coach at Franklin County and Tullahoma high school, FCHS Principal Roger Alsup proposed retiring Taylor’s jersey and placing it in a framed glass display case in the gym lobby. Lonas said board approval wasn’t needed for recognition of this type. A ceremony is planned for the Dec. 2 Franklin County versus Tullahoma basketball game when both schools are present to honor Taylor.
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