North families like high school idea

Mike Garren, county director of schools, left, and Matthew Tinker, county high school supervisor and career and technical education director, review survey paperwork recently sent to North Middle School families.

Results from a recent survey of North Middle School parents show families are interested in a new high school on the north end of Loudon County.

Loudon County Director of Schools Mike Garren sent the survey last month to parents with children in grades 5-8. Results had to be back by Oct. 22.

Of the 499 families who responded, 64% said “yes” and 6% were “maybe” to a new school.

“I feel like the survey is very encouraging,” Garren said. “It shows that the board is moving in the right direction with what the community wants. I anticipated about 70% and that’s where we’re at because North is comprised of about 80% county students and 20% city students, so there’s an 80-20 split there. ... I figured that some county students because their parents had gone to Lenoir City High School and things of that nature and that the city students would probably want to go to Lenoir City high School and then a portion of the county students that their parents are their legacy Lenoir City Panthers that they would probably would still want to as well.”

Matthew Tinker, county high school supervisor and career and technical education director, said he was pleased with the results, especially since there are so many unknowns right now about the possible project.

“I think that the further you go down in the grade levels the more you see interest because the kids are younger, the parents are younger and right now the seventh- and eighth-graders are worried a lot about going to high school so that they can go wherever their friends are going,” Tinker said. “... It’s not yet built, it doesn’t have a reputation, we don’t know who the principal is and where it’s going to be located and what kind of athletics it’s going to have, so there are a lot of factors that go into it.”

Of those who favored the new school, 102 responses came from parents of fifth-graders.

When asked if families would be interested in bus transportation to Loudon High School, 83 said “yes,” 155 checked “maybe,” 243 were “no” and 18 didn’t respond.

Among eighth-graders, 23 families favored transportation and 52 said “maybe,” which fell in line with what Garren said could justify a route.

“Our magic number was about 25 to be able to break even cost-wise, so I’ll share those numbers with the board,” Garren said. “Because we had them put their addresses, my transportation director will look at the addresses to see if it’s possible to get all of those families in one round as far as where they live location-wise. We’ll have to map that out to see if we can do a route. ... We wanted to get a good survey sample, and plus with the transportation piece, I wanted to see if there was interest beyond the eighth-graders because once we start that route we’d need to sustain it. Is there going to be interest to sustain that route throughout those other grade levels and they all seemed to be about 20 or so.”

“The further it goes grade level down the more interest there seemed to be,” Tinker added.

Garren hopes to present survey results to the Loudon County Board of Education at Thursday’s workshop. He said the next move will be up to the board.

“I’m going to have the transportation director plot out to see,” he said. “If she plots it out and says, ‘Well, it’s going to take two routes,’ then that will impact their decision. I won’t ask them to vote on that until probably January on the buses because she won’t be able to get all that. I haven’t even sent her the addresses yet, so there’s no way she can get that done before the workshop (this) week.”

Garren also plans to discuss a contract with Cope Architecture for site analysis on the northern end of the county for a potential school for grades 7-12, along with a facility assessment for an addition at Philadelphia Elementary School.

“This is the initial phases of discussions on this planning so there will be lots of variations and changes I’m sure as we move through and respond to different ideas, different suggestions from the board, but I believe we’ve got a good solid start based upon the directions that they gave me last month on what information they wanted to see to help them make a best-informed decision,” Garren said.

As a county commissioner, Tinker believes it’s prudent for the district to plan for growth.

“Tennessee is the third-best place that people are moving to from around the country, and even if we’re kind of heading into a time when our economics in the country might not be good, here in Loudon County and Lenoir City our economics are still good and the people are wanting to leave areas, bigger cities they’re being more impacted by higher taxes and poor economic conditions to come here,” Tinker said. “Even if we have a country-wide housing decline, I don’t think that’s going to happen here and so we are just trying to plan for the future, the growth that we are having and the growth that we foresee coming in the next couple of years. We don’t want to wait until it’s here and then have to throw something together at the last minute.”