Middle School Idea Unpopular In Auburntown

BOB STOETZEL, Courier Contributing Writer

Middle School Idea Unpopular In Auburntown

School Board member Chris Blackburn speaks during the Middle School Forum in Auburntown Tuesday.
The committee to study the feasibility for a county Middle School met with parents and educators of the Auburntown Elementary School in the school’s gym Tuesday night. The left side of the gym was standing room only. Many of the visitors got chairs and put them in the corner of the gym floor to listen the comments from the audience and the committee.

The committee was appointed by the School Board to address the impact on the local school community, and their feelings about the county wanting or needing a middle school.

Those on the committee are: Chris Blackburn, second district school board member; Marcia Melton, Supervisor of Instruction; Lisa Black, Transportation Coordinator; Kim Parsley, Woodland Principal; Shannon H.  Davenport, school board member; Karen King, Principal of Eastside Elementary and Robert Sain, Westside Principal.

Director of Schools Barbara Parker welcomed the people and thanked them for coming. She told those assembled that there wasn’t any set plans to build a middle school and that they had not even considered it until an article came out in the Cannon Courier. And because of the nature of rumor mills in the county and the impact that the article had on the parents of the different local community schools, the board named a committee to search the pros and cons of a middle school. Being educators as they are they have researched the subject extensively.

The schools office had prepared a PowerPoint presentation on the Ideal Middle School. There was the age balance that they could control in a middle school where all the grades could be separate from each other. They could incorporate elements from both the elementary school and the middle school. They believe it would help in the transition to High School. They feel that an ideal school would make the students feel more comfortable. Furthermore it would not be a watered down version of high school, it would be a school with an environment of its own. It would be broken down into smaller clusters geared to the needs of the students.

The educators believe the middle school would create more socially accepted behavior, and give the students more of a feeling of independence, there could be specialized classes in this environment. They also feel like there would be more curriculum activities available to them and would promote enrichments opportunities. One important thing to look at would be the possibility of being able to intervene earlier with behavior problems; by being able to identify them earlier.

The committee also went on to show what they thought the downfall of having a middle school verses having the small community K through 8 schools. These were, that there would be a larger pupil student ratio; some students they say would not be mature enough for a larger environment at their particular age. With a large school environment there could be attendance issues, and there would be less students participating in organized sports. Athletes would have to travel farther to be able to compete in the age/grade level. The school would most likely be less personable to each student. They also feel that the transportation cost could be overwhelming, and maybe even some local schools would have to be closed. One thing that was also s concern was they felt with a school such as this concept would bring less parent participation.

The people assembled were ready to voice their opinions about the matter. It can be safely said that Auburntown Community appears to be 100% against the idea of creating such a situation. Many people in the audience spoke their thoughts about breaking up a community school such as theirs. Some people went through the middle school/junior high systems and except for two members of the committee they had nothing good to say about them, and their feelings and experiences with middle schools were less than enjoyable. Most of their comments were in the area of  studenst “ losing” themselves in the system of a large school when they are at the very critical age of self awareness and in need of self esteem; one thing very important to a maturing adolescent.

An educator from DeKalb School system Brad Leach, who is an Auburntown native, addressed the committee. He spoke firsthand on the pitfalls of creating a middle school. One reason was the influence of older students on the younger ones and the bad influences that come about from older children.

“We compare your test scores to ours,” he said, and that “you are to be congratulated.”

Leach has been an educator for 16 years and told the committee and audience that “if you like your test scores you should leave your system alone.” Leach also addressed the discipline problems a middle school brings. He said 90% of the problems came from freshman students. And he indicated that those kinds of problems were not seen in a system where the kids stayed in the K through 8 schools.

Stan Garrison came from the Nashville school system and said that learning disabilities were identified earlier in a school such as Auburntown.

Bill Melton spoke and told of his grandchildren who are in the county school system and stated that “a middle school is like a private school, you separate the students from the real world.”

Laurie Reed, a mother of two says that Auburntown has the best school in the county. One woman joined the Auburntown community a year ago and said that her children were “not just numbers to the teachers.”

An Ohio parent who had moved into the community said that she was a special education teacher and she spent all of her time on addressing behavioral problems in Ohio’s middle school system.

One parent addressed the committee and before she spoke she asked  the Director of Schools if she was allowed to use the word Christian, which of course she was. She said that her children’s teachers were helping her raise her children up as Christians by their daily examples in front of the students. “I am successful as a stay at home mom because if these teachers.” She too was afraid to lose what the Auburntown School offers them.

Donald Fann is an Auburntown native; he is the director of our award-winning Arts Center in Woodbury. He told the committee that he had lived in Rutherford County for the last 12 years and had put his children in their school system. He stated that he had 3 school age children and that 2 of his children had fallen through the cracks of the Rutherford School system.

Fann and his wife came back to Cannon for the small community school and told everyone that by being in the Auburntown School that his situation with his kids had reversed itself and now the children were all prospering.

The general consensus of those attending and speaking was that building a middle school was not an answer to any problem that the school system had.  “People are moving towards Cannon County because of our schools” said one speaker.

Committee members were given a chance to speak before the meeting ended. Marcia Melton stated that “we are all passionate when it comes to our children.” Mrs. Melton said that she is persuaded by research and said that the committee has not decided either way.

It was pointed out by the crowd and by the committee that Robert Sain, Shannon Davenport and Chris Blackburn favored a middle school. But Blackburn took offence when Ricky Scott from the audience told the committee that most people in Auburn thought that the committee’s meetings “were just a formality and that it was already a done deal.”

Blackburn explained that he could truthfully say that he was still undecided but, that he was committed to doing what he thought was best for the county. He had already been told from the audience that being the school board member from Auburntown that his vote “is already no” meaning that Blackburn is supposed to vote the wishes of the majority, and it was clear to see that the majority of the community was against the middle school concept.

The meeting lasted almost three hours and was deemed to be successful to the committee because of the community’s participation. Three county commissioners were on hand for the meeting, the two second district commissioners Jimmy Mingle and Todd Hollandsworth and fifth district commissioner Bob Stoetzel.

There was one meeting left for the committee to hold and that will be tonight at Short Mountain School.