As everyone in the community knows, the decision has been made to consolidate the 3 High Schools in Cherokee County. That means that Hiwassee Dam, Murphy, and Andrews High Schools will join under one roof, as one School. Many people have many differing opinions on whether this will be a good or bad thing for the kids and the community as a whole, but I stumbled across the best statement I have heard from either side while scrolling through Facebook the other night. Former Andrews High School Athletic Director Dane Rickett took to Facebook to share his thoughts on the matter, and after reading his post I knew it needed to be shared with the masses. Rickett is an upstanding member of the Andrews and Cherokee County community, and has always been known as a teacher/coach that put the kids first and always had their best interest in mind.
Please take a moment to read what he had to say.
Former Andrews High School Athletic Director Dane Rickett:
“Let me start by saying that I am a Wildcat through and through. I went to Andrews schools, I played as many sports as I could participate in while I was there, and I came back to teach, coach, and serve as an Athletic Director. I loved every second of it. Emotionally I will hate to see that school leave. But my emotions will never outweigh my love for our county but more importantly for doing what is right for our students. I know some people are not going like what I have to say, and I totally understand that. All I am asking is that you read this post in its entirety before you comment. And if you do comment, don’t make it personal, explain where the following points are incorrect and I will gladly consider your point of view.
One School vs Two
The whole premise behind consolidation is that the current state formula for funding teachers does not provide enough staff to needed classes. The state requires a base of core classes and credits for graduation. Once the available teachers for Cherokee County are divided three ways we have no teachers left for electives or vocational classes. This is the reason the county currently funds 24 teacher positions. Even divided into two the county still will not have enough staff to offer our students the opportunities they deserve. I know many have said, “my children have been able to take all of the college prep and AP classes they need.” Yes, that is probably true, but if your child is going to college to pursue a degree they are in the 15% of students. If they complete the degree and become employed in that field, they are now in a 5% category. Can we really set up our entire system for 15% of our students? No, of course not. We have to have vocational classes. The only way to provide this is to pool all of our resources into one school. In addition, two schools of 400 would still require two stadiums, two gyms, two cafeterias, and two facilities not much smaller than the one they are planning to build. This still would not solve the problem of the lack of vocational opportunities because we would still not have the staff without additional county support.
I realize that many of you have had questions about the location of the school and assume that much better places exist, and maybe they do. But consider that TCCC is right there as is Erlanger. They already have automotive, cosmetology, culinary science, welding, and many other trade classes established and locations and teachers for those classes. Erlanger can offer opportunities for our nursing and medical students to log clinical hours. Should the school be built in a different location these opportunities will not be available without much-inflated cost. Also, do you know that students currently get on our REGULAR bus routes, who are stopping on their REGULAR routes, and then ride a transfer bus to TCCC campus and are arriving before 8:00 am? So, yes, the time on a bus will increase, but the time the student has to board a bus will not change. Also, buses can easily be set up for WIFI access on the bus. This would provide great opportunities for students to complete work. Sports travel for practice would increase for students at each end of the county. But currently, there is a plan in place for those students to ride a bus back to their home school to be picked up after practices and games.
Many have pointed to school consolidation leading to less opportunity for participation. However, people saying this are only referring to the big three, football, basketball, and baseball. But when you consider this larger school would include many more sports and teams, opportunities actually will be increasing. The existing sports would have guaranteed JV teams providing students with not only more opportunities in their 9th and 10th-grade year, but would also provide developmentally appropriate opportunities. In addition, students could participate on full teams in cross county, golf, women’s soccer, and wrestling. Any sports parent, who really wants their child to excel, knows that the best way for that to happen is to have competition, not just on game day, but every day. In addition, if you want your child to have an opportunity to play at the next level, this only helps. I cannot tell you the number of college recruiters who I would call as a coach and they wouldn’t even hear me out because we were a 1A school in the mountains. Their assumption was always that our stats and accomplishments were due to a lack of competition, not a presence of talent. I know this point could be debated, but this was my experience as a coach and AD at Andrews High.
At a consolidated high school, the students will have opportunities for chorus, bands, jazz bands, theater, dance, mock trials, debate teams, and opportunities to participate in well-organized and meaningful clubs and organizations. Students will also have the opportunity for lifelong sports such as tennis, golf, and fishing, which can be offered on the campus as electives. Currently, we provide no opportunities for students to explore other interests outside of core courses or online college courses. Again, this is not the fault of the current administration at the school or county level. It is because teachers are funded on a per-pupil basis, and we do not have enough to provide the core courses at three schools, much less provide additional courses. At AHS when I was the athletic director we had 22 sports teams and only 19 full-time employees. Without consolidation, we simply cannot offer things to our students.
Our lack of useful labor is a product of our lack of courses and preparation. Soon in Cherokee County business owners will be paying $15 for a minimum wage worker who likely will not be able to read a tape measure. Snap-On installed a lab in Union County because they had space, infrastructure, and personnel to offer it in hopes of creating employable youth in the area. The Casino is desperate for students trained in hospitality management. Nursing programs would thrive with close proximity to Erlanger. Cherokee County schools would be turning out students with ACS certification in mechanics and Safe Serve food certifications. Students with experience in carpentry, framing, and building would be available to those looking to hire. Students would have experience and knowledge in welding. This would all be in addition to taking advantage of offerings at TCCC. How powerful would it be as a business owner to be able to call the school and ask for the availability of qualified students who are looking to enter the workforce? Or to have a restaurant and be able to hire students with Safe Serve certifications right out of high school. Students could build portfolio’s of their work and accomplishments to present to potential employeers. Even for a private farm, a student could come out prepared after taking agricultural production, agronomy, animal science, horticulture, or soil science. Not only would they have this knowledge they could also market their own products more easily by having entrepreneurship classes, website design, and marketing classes.
The current drug problem in our communities is reaching the point of being an epidemic. However, these young people are a result of what we are putting out as a school system. The entire system is geared toward college prep students, which targets 15% of the students in Cherokee county. Students are leaving our schools with no job skills, knowledge of finances, or the ability to fit into a local job and be productive at $15 per hour. So how do we expect them to be more productive and fit into the local economy? They deserve a better chance at life through educational opportunities. We can do nothing, but we will continue to see this trend for our young people and will eventually begin to spend the same money to try and cure a problem we are currently creating.
Rising taxes are never popular. However, they are coming one way or another. No, we don’t have to build this school. We can continue on the path we are currently on and continue to put out students who are not ready for the workforce. We can continue to have manufacturing companies pass over our county for a lack of a viable workforce. We can continue to have businesses struggle because they cannot hire our local young people. Then we can wait a few years and raise taxes to increase law enforcement, try to maintain county infrastructure, and expand our new jail and social services to deal with the problems we have created. I personally would rather invest in an ounce of prevention than a pound of cure.
I totally understand the emotional connections to our current schools.No matter where you stand just consider what I have said. And if you are going to fight, fight to be sure this school offers everything our students need. Let’s fight for turf fields so all teams and the band can use them. Let’s ensure it has gyms and auxiliary gyms. Let’s demand baseball and softball fields we can be proud of. Let’s make sure we do not skip anything or cut any corners. Let’s get together and demand the very best we can give our students. That’s what they deserve.”