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School scare prompts LHS principal

Loudon High School Principal Scott MacKintosh shared a post Dec. 1 on social media to start a conversation about school safety.

Following a recent incident at neighboring Sequoyah High School in Monroe County, the message intended to reassure parents and students, while also telling them how they can make their school more secure.

MacKintosh said he did not originally intend to make any statement since the situation did not involve his school, but felt it necessary after seeing some initial responses.

He said he wanted to let parents know local educators feel for them, to let them know the school is doing everything possible to stay safe and to encourage everyone — whether directly impacted by the incident or not — to come together and show grace toward one another.

School incidents have become commonplace in the United States, with the Oxford High School shooting in Michigan the latest in an ongoing epidemic. Less often, however, something occurs at a nearby school that parents and students have been inside.

MacKintosh said all schools have district-wide plans in addition to local procedures.

Mike Garren, Loudon County director of schools, said administrators and staff undergo training for a wide variety of events, ranging from armed intruders and medical emergencies to severe weather events and fires.

“We practice those drills every year,” Michael Casteel, Greenback School principal, said. “And, as a matter of fact, with the two incidents, the one in Sequoyah and Michigan, we’re going to have a small assembly and go back over all our procedures and let our students know how much power they actually have and what goes on in our school by sharing information for them, and that it’s OK to share that information to us. The best safety plan is when students trust us to do the right things for them and they share that information with us.”

MacKintosh emphasized the importance of students reporting any concerns.

“We actually, it needs to be advertised probably a little better, but we have a tip line where you can anonymously tip, text something that’s going on within the school, and the appropriate people are alerted to the text — our SRO officers, myself, other administrators within the building,” MacKintosh said. “But the main way is I have an open door policy, my assistants have an open door policy where if you ever feel like you need to come in you can speak with us. Or each of our students have a student email account where you can email me at a moment’s notice.”

Getting students to feel comfortable sharing concerns requires the right atmosphere, something Casteel said the Greenback administration was aware of.

“We are regularly out in the hallways and communicating with our kids and getting to know them, know their parents,” Casteel said. “We are outside at drop-off every morning welcoming our kids and so forth. I believe here at Greenback that we have fostered a good trusting relationship that they understand there’s parameters for which to operate, but they also take a great deal of pride of having a safe school. They know that we have their best interest at heart and that we care for them because we’ve shown them over the years in many different ways.”

Garren agreed.

“I believe school culture is the most important aspect to a safe school,” Garren said in an email correspondence. “Students that have pride and respect for each other and the school will show that respect with their actions.”

Schools cannot only rely on students reporting concerns, however, and have several more measures in place. Every county school has a school resource officer assigned by the Loudon County Sheriff’s Office, with two SROs at each high school. Cameras are also in place and doors all have secure locks, requiring visitors to come in at the front of the building.

With such measures in place, schools could easily feel oppressive. Preventing that comes down to the relationship fostered with students.

“Greenback has two officers, we have two officers in our hallways, and we consider them part of or teaching staff, they walk in and out of our classrooms every day” Casteel said. “They’re building a relationship with our students as well. So many of our kids, some of our kids would go to an SRO officer first because they have a relationship. Once again, it’s about building good student and adult relationships, and that’s how you keep your building as safe as possible.”

“The best answer to that question is we build a respectful relationship,” MacKintosh added. “Our goal is to build a respectful relationship with our kids from day one, to let kids know that we’re a part of their lives more than from just 8 (a.m.) to 3 (p.m.) and part of their academics, that we’re not here just for their academics, that we want to see them flourish inside and outside of our school.”

Run LoCo back after COVID hiatus
  • Updated

A full slate of runners enjoyed clear skies Saturday for the third annual Run LoCo marathon, half-marathon and 5K.

Whether for a personal record or simply the challenge, 214 runners came from as far as Alaska, California, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Participation was down from 257 in 2019 for the Loudon County Education Foundation fundraiser after the nonprofit was forced to cancel last year due to COVID-19 concerns.

Christina Adkins, Run LoCo race director, said 313 runners were involved in the inaugural race in 2018.

“The numbers aren’t quite what we’d hoped for, but it’s only year three for this event,” Adkins said in an email correspondence. “This year we have 17 states joining us in Tennessee. This is nearly double the states we had in year’s past. We added several new features to this year: professional photography throughout the course, three different style shirts and medals for each race distance, new logo and pacers for the half-marathon.”

Runners in the marathon and half-marathon lined up at The Venue at Lenoir City, while those in the 5K ran in Loudon.

“Many components make this a special event,” Michele Lewis, LCEF executive director, said in an email correspondence. “The local support for this race is overwhelming. The fact that it is about so much more than the foundation, the people it brings to Loudon County — the exposure it gives to all the great things that you can find here to do, it’s a great event for the whole county and raises money for education.

“... I think that captures it — a really successful fundraiser appeals to different people for different reasons,” she added. “It is important to us to raise these funds because education is so important to building a successful community. We are assisting in creating students that can compete for jobs and secondary educational opportunities. We have to be able to attract and support businesses and industry. Education is an important part of that equation.”

This year featured a Run LoCo Challenge. A runner who beat the race-time records of 2:59:03 for males or 3:43:18 for females received a free brunch, dinner and overnight stay at La Quinta Inn in Loudon.

John Bizzell of Louisville, Ky., completed the challenge with a race time of 2:46:37.

Steve Moseley came from Knoxville for the half-marathon for the first time. He said he had been training about six weeks.

“I’ve ran three halves in the last month, and so just doing it today’s not a concern,” Moseley said. “It’s just how fast you can do it, right? This one’s hilly so you have to tamper down your expectations a bit. ... I mean most runs have a cause, right? You look at them when you sign up, and that’s a factor of travel and cost and logistics and the date and the charities.”

Having never participated in the course, he simply wanted to run.

“On this course I will not be trying for a (personal record),” Moseley said. “I’m hopefully going to have a good run and enjoy the scenery. If it is a flat course it would be a PR attempt, but this one is absolutely not.”

Mark Sisson and John Sarphie learned of the run through their employer, Kimberly-Clark.

For Sarphie, this was one of several marathons he’s participated in over the years.

Sisson ran in his first half-marathon.

“This one’s pretty hard as far as the marathon and so I’m just mainly trying to finish it,” Sarphie said. “On my normal one if I was doing I’d pick a different one and if it was flat I’d go for a time.”

“I just want to finish in one piece,” Sisson added.

Run LoCo is the final fundraiser of the year in what Lewis believes has been a challenging year for LCEF.

“It has been a hard year, technically harder than 2020 because the expectation that these hard times will quickly pass has not been realized,” she said. “Labor costs, supply cost, rising gas prices always have a negative impact on fundraising. However, we were able to contribute over $84,000 to education this year. Our total contributions since 2012 exceed $884,000.”

Loudon holiday tradition resumes

Local kindergartners watched Friday as more than 200 of their handmade ornaments were placed on the Christmas tree in Veterans Park in downtown Loudon.

With a drink and cookie in hand, students from Loudon, Philadelphia and Steekee elementary schools sat with friends as Loudon Utilities Board workers hung the ornaments. The children also had the chance to speak with Santa Claus about what they wanted for Christmas.

Students were given undecorated ornaments the first week of November, Ramey Lyle, Loudon Parks and Recreation Department program coordinator, said.

COVID-19 derailed the tradition last year. There was some consideration to not bring the kids out for the second year in a row, but Lyle said after speaking with school officials the city agreed to move forward.

“Really the kids are loving it,” Lyle said. “Everybody’s glad to kind of try to get back to normal anyway.”

In years past, Lyle dressed up in Elf on a Shelf attire and sat atop the Veterans Park sign. With a laugh, he said this year he got his brother, Sjohn Ross Lyle, to do that, which gave Ramey the opportunity to take photos and oversee the event.

“This is one of my favorite things to do. I just love it,” Lyle said. “The kids love it, they get to see Santa, they get to see Elf on the Shelf. Everybody gets a cookie and a drink. The kids, you can tell by all their smiles, their smiling faces, they’re having a great time. It’s just a good little trip for them to get out of school for a little while to start off the Christmas season. ... We just wanted basically a small event to kick off the Christmas season and what better way than to invite your kindergartners out to decorate the tree.”

Loudon Elementary School teacher Andrea Bowers guided students in line to see Santa.

“Oh they love it. They enjoy it so much,” Bowers said. “We get to get out in the fresh air, we get to come, they’re getting a chance to see Santa, including they get to help decorate the ornaments and be a part of their community in that way.”

Bowers emphasized such events serve as a reminder to simply enjoy life.

“That just helps me remember that our job is to educate and to prepare them, but there’s also you have to take time to have these moments in your life where it’s not just about the education,” she said. “It’s about life experiences and being a part of their community.”

Buffy Freels, with a phone in hand, watched as her son, 5-year-old Bailey, walked up to see Santa. She has a 25-year-old daughter and 12-year-old twin sons who have also helped decorate the Loudon tree.

“It’s really fun for the kids and it’s fun for us to watch them and meet Santa,” Freels said. “It’s the first time Bailey’s seen Santa this year. They’re really excited about getting out of school for a minute, so I love it. I love they do this for the community and for the kids.”

LCSO deputy saves woman
  • Updated

Thanks to the quick action of a Loudon County Sheriff’s Office deputy, one woman will have another chance at life.

LCSO Deputy Mark Rodriguez was dispatched Nov. 29 to an unresponsive woman in a vehicle at the intersection of Highways 444 and 72. The caller told dispatch his wife had been experiencing chest pains and left arm pain while on their way back home. She then became unresponsive and stopped breathing.

When Rodriguez arrived, the husband was giving his wife chest compressions. Rodriguez immediately got an automated external defibrillator and removed the woman from the vehicle.

“I just knew what I had to do,” Rodriguez said. “Before I go on scene, I always run scenarios in my head. It just better prepares me for situations, and I mean all I knew was I had to get her up. Obviously her heart isn’t going because she isn’t breathing, and just take step by step, try to remain calm.”

With one shock the woman was brought back. Paramedics arrived shortly thereafter, stabilized the woman and transported her to Parkwest Medical Center.

LCSO Cpl. Zac Frye witnessed Rodriguez in action.

“Without Deputy Rodriguez’s quick actions and medical training, the outcome of this call could have been much different. This act is the greatest example of service to our community,” Frye said in an LCSO press release.

Rodriguez has been since recognized by LCSO.

“I have my kids calling me a hero, and even though sometimes this job can be emotionally draining, it’s these moments like this it reinforces the reason why I’m doing what I’m doing,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez is one of 12 deputies who recently completed the Emergency Medical Responder Certification Program through a partnership with Priority Ambulance, the agency that provides advanced life support and critical care EMS to the county. The program was facilitated by Priority EMS Director Travis Estes and instructor paramedics Keith Sarten and Drew Slemp.

Deputies were able to learn medical and trauma emergencies, airway management and basic skills to get a patient ready for EMS.

“Any type of training just betters officers, just betters the community,” Rodriguez said. “Especially having equipment like the AED or any type of medical training, just basics just to be able to keep them alive, is always a plus, especially after this outcome. There’s no telling if we were five minutes, 10 minutes or where we’re at. It’s just a blessing that she gets to spend the holidays with her family, so in the end that’s the best thing about this whole situation.”

LCSO has four AEDs deployed that were sponsored by Priority at no cost to the department. To help fund the purchase of additional AEDs or medical equipment for Loudon County emergency medical responders, contact LCSO Sgt. Matt Fagiana at