CARYVILLE—A group of community leaders met Tuesday night at the Cove Lake State Park Pavilion to unveil an ambitious strategy for economic, community and education development for Campbell County.
Mayor William Baird spoke to a crowd of 64 invited guests about the group’s vision, which begins with improving the education of the county’s current and future work force. The guest list included members of all county governing bodies.
“Education is one of the most important things we can provide for our children,” said Baird. “We know that it’s bigger than any of us. We didn’t know how to tackle it.”
To start, the group — known as the Campbell County Community Foundation — enlisted several professionals in advisement roles. Among them are Buzz Thomas, president of the Great Schools Partnership in Knoxville, co-chair of the Public School Forum of East Tennessee and a member of the State Collaborative on Reforming Education.
Thomas said the job market is much more competitive than anyone realizes. He stressed the need for more graduates from secondary school and community college technical programs, especially with a new uranium processing facility being built in nearby Oak Ridge.
“I’m very excited about what’s going on in Campbell County. There’s a lot going on here,” said Thomas.
One of the projects being pondered by the Campbell County Community Foundation is a learning academy for students in grades 1-12 at all county public schools. The idea is to have mentors and retired teachers tutor struggling students to bring them up to grade level.
Another potential project is an academy for high school school dropouts, which would be a partnership with Roane State Community College.
“These are some of the things we can do to help take the burden off teachers and move the kids forward,” said Baird.
Director of Schools Donnie Poston told the group that Campbell County came within a point of being the sixth most-improved school system in East Tennessee.
“It takes a bunch of pro-active principals and teachers like we’ve got,” said Poston. “If anybody deserves a pay raise, they do. We welcome anybody that desires to make a change in the life of a child,” said Poston.
Other initiatives the Campbell County Community Foundation is undertaking include the improvement of 1,900 acres of industrial property at the 141 exit of I-75 for mega-site status and a rail spur linking the site to the Norfolk Southern railroad line coming through Royal Blue.
However, since an educated work force seemed to be the determining factor for luring potential industry to the area, the group decided to concentrate on helping to improve the local school system in order to make its long-range vision a reality.
“The community with the best schools wins,” said Thomas. “More than ever before, companies go where they want to go. I heard the mayor say your school system was in the bottom third in the state. But here’s the good news: you can solve that problem. You can’t get anywhere until you tell each other the truth.”
Thomas is a big proponent of community schools, which involves everyone in the process and not just educators.
“It’s reclaiming the school as the center of the neighborhood like it was when we all grew up,” said Thomas.
Campbell County School Board Chairman Rector Miller liked the enthusiasm on display during Tuesday’s meeting but said it would all be for naught if the county commission continues to operate schools on a bare bones budget.
Bill Stanley, a concerned citizen who attended the meeting with his wife, Gale, an educator, agreed with Miller.
“Education is a national security issue that is second to none in our country,” said Stanley.