Board OKs purchase of vehicle to help transport homeless students

Published 3:13 pm Thursday, November 16, 2023

Buzz Trexler

Star Correspondent

Homeless students sometimes find themselves without transportation to school. On Tuesday night, the Elizabethton City School Board approved the purchase of two vehicles, one of which will be used to help ensure they make it to class if needed.

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During its regular meeting, the board approved the purchase of a 2024 Toyota Sienna from Alan Jay Fleet Sales with a cost not to exceed $41,000. The purchase will be covered by an American Rescue Plan Homeless Grant and general-purpose Funds. 

“We don’t have a lot of situations where we have students with absolutely no place to stay, but we have some that are hopping from house to house or friend to friend,” John Hutchins said after the meeting. Hutchins, assistant director of schools for operations and Title IX coordinator, said students who have enrolled in the system sometimes find themselves living outside of the city limits, or where the city does not maintain a bus route. 

The board also approved the purchase of a multi-passenger vehicle at a cost not to exceed $60,000 using a state Innovative Schools Grant. Director of Schools Richard VanHuss said the vehicle will be used, for example, to transport students and groups to an event, work-based learning, or other such transportation needs.

 VanHuss announced during the meeting that for the second time in the last five years, the system has received a federal Community-Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant.  “It’s a $458,000 grant,” VanHuss said. “There’s a matching portion for us as well, but we’re focusing on two things: interior doors in the schools, as well as ballistic film for glass doors and windows.” 

In total, the system has received somewhere around $900,000 in grant funding that’s gone directly into making our schools safer, the director said.



Members of the Elizabethton High School “Betsy Band,” who won back-to-back state titles in the Division II Tennessee Marching Band Championship held on Nov. 4 at Stewarts Creek High School in Nashville, were recognized for their accomplishments by board members and those in attendance. 

EHS band director Jonathan Valentine said the 2023 band was “outrageously good.”

“This year, we got off to a little bit of a slower start,” Valentine said. “But at the end of the day, one of the things that was a hallmark of this show was, it was hard. It was really hard. It was harder than anything we had pushed them to do in the past. We took some different risks, in different ways, and it paid off. Once again, they were truly incredible by the end of the year – and they came home as the defending state champions.”

In the competition, the band won first place in the Percussion category; first place, Color Guard; first place, Music; first place, General Effect; first place, Visual; and second place, Drum Major.

The band will be celebrated in the Elizabethton Parade of Champions at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 18, along with Texas Ranger outfielder and World Series champion Evan Carter. The parade will start at the intersection of Riverside Drive and Elk Avenue and will proceed up Elk to Lynn Avenue. Staging for the event will be on East E Street at the intersection with Sycamore Street.



 Also recognized by the board and audience was the EHS cross country team, who captured fourth place in Class A/AA state cross country championships held Nov. 3 at Sanders Ferry Park in Hendersonville. 

“One thing you’ll notice about our cross country runners: they do everything. That’s one of the first things I noticed,” said cross country head coach Matthew Campbell. The coach said some team members are involved in a number of other activities, such as band, swimming, basketball, and working. “They’re able to do all of this and run six days a week in cross country,” he said, explaining that cross country is a six-day-a-week sport. “You only really get to rest one day a week, and sometimes not even that. These kids worked hard for a great season and put together a great season.”

“I’m so proud of those kids,” Campbell said, detailing the accomplishments and personal records against other high-level competitors.

Crystal Fink, vice president of facilities and finance, and Gwen Widener, dual enrollment coordinator, represented Tennessee College of Applied Technology in awarding the Elizabethton High School Career and Technical Education Department with the Fall 2023 Silver Level Partner Award. EHS currently has the second-most dual-enrolled students in the region at TCAT.



Also approved was a change to the current Harold McCormick construction project to

include asbestos abatement, new ceiling tile, and lighting in the cafeteria. The change, which VanHuss said was part of the original scope of work but had been removed to focus on work in the main hallway, will cost $112,923.

“The hope is … that they can go in there over the Christmas break and do all of the abatement,” the director said.

The board approved an agreement with Approve Central Technologies Inc., Knoxville, to install a new intercom system at T.A. Dugger Junior High School at a cost of $44,774.38.

“As you know, the intercom system is a key component of school safety and we have to be able to communicate should there be a situation that we need to get to everyone in the building and the system at T.A. Dugger is on its last leg,” VanHuss said. “They basically Band-Aided that to the point that it can’t handle any more Band-Aids. This would really modernize that system. It does not change wiring and speakers, things like that. It’s just the central hub of all that.”

Board Member Eddie Pless said the intercom issue at that facility was one of the biggest issues when he taught there 20 years ago.

The board also approved on first reading revisions to board policies on school board legislative involvement, school district planning, and promotion and retention. The board approved on second reading the system’s 4.700 Testing Programs, as well as the board 2025-2026 School Calendar.


The board also:

— Approved VanHuss, Pless, Jamie Schaff, and Phil Isaacs to attend the Tennessee School Board Association’s Legislative and Legal Institute, Feb. 12-13, 2024, in Franklin.

— Approved changes of current signers on the Citizens Bank accounts.

— Approved the State Special Education Preschool Grant for 2024.

— Approve request for property/equipment disposal.



The board approved the following new hires: 

— James Cable, interim math interventionist at EHS and systemwide bus drive, effective Oct. 17;

— Brilee Culbert, substitute teacher, effective Oct. 31;

— Rebecca Tyler, educational assistant at T.A. Dugger, effective Oct. 17;

— Colby Garland, substitute teacher, effective Nov. 6;

— Kristy Fenner, educational assistant at Harold McCormick Elementary (HME), effective Oct. 30; and

— the rehiring of Juanita Coley as an educational assistant at HME, effective Oct. 30.


The board approved the following transfers:

— Alexis Bier, TNAC Assistant to INT Teacher, East Side Elementary (ESE), effective Sept. 25-Dec. 20;

— Riley Janes, substitute teacher to TNAC Instructional Assistant, ESE, effective Oct. 23-Dec. 20; 

— James Hatley, bus driver to substitute bus driver, effective Oct. 16.


The board approved the following resignations:

— Larry Smith, custodian at ESE, effective Oct. 20;

— Mindy Salyer, project on track interventionist at ESE, effective Nov. 6;

— Seanna Larkins, education support specialist (ESP) student leader, effective Oct. 24;

— Madeline Holt, ESP student leader, effective Nov. 1;

— Kayleigh Icard, ESP student leader, effective Nov. 14; and

— Christopher Jarrett, computer specialist, effective Nov. 18.


The board approved the following leaves of absence:

— Michael Good, custodian, EHS, effective Sept. 8-Oct. 25;

— Dorothy Casey, an educational assistant at ESE, effective Oct. 26-Nov. 10;

— Laura Bailey, an educational assistant at West Side Elementary (WSE), effective Oct. 23-May 21;

— Nancy Cornwell, an educational assistant at EHS, Oct. 17-Nov. 30;

— Kevin Cornwell, educational assistant at WSE, Oct. 17-Nov. 30;

— Mary Bohlke, an educational assistant at WSE, effective Jan. 19-26, 2024;

— Andrew Kingston, an educational assistant at EHS, effective Dec. 5-Dec. 29; and

— Lisa Peters, an educational assistant at HME, effective Nov. 1-Nov. 10.

The board approved adding Andrew Andes as an ESP student leader, effective Nov. 7.

The next regularly scheduled board meeting will be held 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 19, in the Mack Pierce Board Room of the Elizabethton Board of Education, 804 S. Watauga Ave.