Over the last four years, the Elizabethton Board of Education has supported some of the school system’s most distinguished achievements and programs. During this time, Elizabethton City Schools has achieved a record graduation rate, a Level 5 growth score, and a record composite ACT score while nearly doubling the number of students earning a 30 or higher. Also in the last four years, ECS was named an Exemplary District, and joined the XQ Super School network, receiving the largest funding award in history.
“Sometimes we look back over how a board has progressed over time and what they’ve accomplished, and these members have been particularly cohesive and productive,” said Director of Schools Dr. Corey Gardenhour. “We have all kinds of new projects on the horizon and many in the past that this Board has been involved with. They’ve worked really hard, volunteered at hundreds of functions, and shared a vision that has transformed our school system.”
Many new programs have been introduced in this time to work towards this vision. These include Read to be Ready, Bartleby, Elizabethton Leads, Camp Read-A-Lot, Betsy Book Bus, Cyclone Prints, and the creation of the Student Liaison position on the Board, among others.
“Education is always changing, and I think we’re fortunate to have people in our system that not only adapt to state and local policy changes, but they drive change that makes the most sense for our students,” said Board member Tyler Fleming. “We’re always talking about innovation in education, and that's really what's at the root of it - people that want the schools to be the best they can be.”
In addition to new programs, many existing programs have celebrated unprecedented success. The band has earned numerous first or second place state titles and performed alongside the Pride of the Southland Band. When they needed instrument replacement, the board allocated funding for it. When advanced ensembles were the only public school students invited to perform in the National Memorial Day Choral Festival in Washington, D. C., the Board helped fund the trip along with parents and City Council.
In athletics, numerous teams have competed at state and national championships, and the junior high football team boasts two consecutive undefeated seasons. In the coming months, two elementary runners will compete at the AAU National Championship.
The Board has also completed and begun numerous capital projects. Completed projects include the new high school stadium and music room as well as system-wide upgrades to heating, cooling, lighting, and technology. Currently, the Board is funding an expanded pick-up and drop-off area at Harold McCormick and the conversion of the old hospital property to an athletic field. Member Susan Peters said the Board and Council have an agreement to move the T. A. Dugger expansion project forward as soon as the market is favorable.
As part of an agreement between the Board and the XQ Institute, the high school is now getting a Maker Space, Virtual Reality Lab, amphitheater, commons area renovation, and flexible classroom space. Another part of this contract is the addition of new project-based learning courses, integrated academic courses, and teacher training at the high school.
Board member Phil Isaacs said in every capital project, school safety is the number one priority. “When we review our five-year plan, decide to fund new projects, and approve policies, that is always in the front of our minds,” he said. “We have done what we can not only to make buildings and buses safer, but we’re also looking at how to prepare staff to respond to all kinds of incidents before they happen.”
In the last four years, ECS has added access controls and the new Raptor Visitor Management System at all schools, contracted with a drug and weapon prevention canine program, and purchased new bus cameras. ECS also recently applied for state funding to employ three more School Resource Officers – one in each school. In the coming months, all faculty and staff will be trained in Mental Health First Aid.
Board Chair Rita Booher said many of these projects have been successful thanks to the support of community members and City Council. “This Board has maintained a unified presence – even if we don’t agree, we share common goals and work together, and that helps us work well with City Council,” she said. “Our relationship with them has been stronger in the last four years than I think it’s ever been.”
Peters echoed Booher, attributing the successes of recent years to Board members’ shared goals and vision. “I believe what makes the current ECS Board so effective is our ability to focus on our shared goal of providing all the students of ECS the best educational experience possible,” she said. “We all realize what our task is and are fully committed to it. Therefore, we truly work together as a team.”