New high school talk

Monroe County School Board member Bob Lovingood speaks at the Board of Education meeting on Thursday night. Lovingood has proposed that the school system look at adding a new high school if enrollment growth continues.

Could Vonore and Madisonville get their high schools back?

Second District School Board member Dr. Bob Lovingood sparked the conversation with one sentence at the Monroe County School Board meeting on Thursday.

“I think consideration should be given to looking at a study for another high school if this continues to grow here in this area,” he said about the enrollment at Sequoyah High School.

Lovingood prefaced the subject saying he wanted to call it to the board’s attention that Sequoyah High School already had 1,000 students. A four-classroom addition (currently in the School Board’s five-year plan to be funded by June 2020) will house another 100 students.

“When you look at the research, when you get a high school that is 1,000 students and beyond, the research will tell you that you’re getting too big,” said Lovingood. “I’m saying that if we get to the point that we’ve got (1,100), 1,200, 1,300 students here, that will be something that this board needs to look at.”

The return of Vonore and Madisonville high schools is a hot topic. The combination of the former rival 

schools to create Sequoyah High School was very controversial in the early 90s. Lovingood would know, he was the Monroe County Schools superintendent during that time.

“When we closed those two schools we closed a lot of history there,” he said in an interview on Tuesday. “We want to do best by our children and educate all of our children to a high standard.” He said at the time the schools combined, both schools struggled with getting higher level, harder courses.

Lovingood, Board Member Steve Rogers and Board Member Jerry Snyder were on the committee that most recently reviewed the Monroe County School Board’s five-year plan. At the May 7 School Board meeting, Rogers pointed out that a new high school was not discussed by the committee as it worked on the plan.

“If we decide to add that we’ll need the cost of how much it would cost to add to Sequoyah compared to what it would cost to build a complete new school, in my opinion,” said Rogers.

Lovingood cleared the air, saying there is currently nothing in the board’s five-year plan about a new high school.

However this week Lovingood said if Vonore and Madisonville continued its current rate of growth, a new high school could be necessary in as few as five years. But he also stressed the need for proper research on the matter.

“It might be that we level off and don’t need a new high school,” he said.

Lovingood noted that building a new high school is a complicated process, requiring funding, land acquisition and use of existing infrastructure. He said if research indicated a new high school was needed, he would be for locating it somewhere between Madisonville and Vonore to split the student load.

Rogers said the idea of a new high school will come up at the next five-year planning committee meeting, which will take place before June 15.

Lovingood, who is the current mayor of Vonore, never used the words, “Vonore High School.”  

“Don’t worry about the name,” he said. “Let’s see if we do need a new high school… Let’s look at the research and don’t be worried about a name.”

Rogers pointed out in an interview on Monday that Tellico Plains currently had no growth.

“Read between the lines,” he said. He restated his opinion that he would be in favor of adding on to Sequoyah rather than building a new school.

“It would seem reasonable that you could add on to Sequoyah for less money than building a new school,” he said. “What’s too big?  I couldn’t tell you.”

Lovingood said when Sequoyah High School was originally built, it was meant to max out at 1,000 students. 

“We looked at the research and we felt like 1,000 kids would be a good number,” he said. According to Advocate and Democrat archives from 1991, Sequoyah High School was supposed to be designed for a population of 850 students.

The Monroe County School Board approved a $14.7 million building plan in February of 1993 that included $6.7 million for Sequoyah High School and $4.6 million for a new Tellico High School. Three million was approved for renovations at Sweetwater High. The County Commission approved that plan two months later in April.

According to Sequoyah High School’s 2014-15 school profile, the total enrollment is currently 1,087. Vonore Middle School (grades 6-8) has 223 students, while Madisonville Middle School (grades 6-8) has a total enrollment of 578 students.

Using these numbers, factoring in no growth, a new high school in Vonore (grades 9-12) could potentially include 300 students, while a Madisonville High School (grades 9-12) could house around 750 students.

However, the School Board did adopt, in its current five-year plan, a plan to rezone the second district by June 2018 to avoid overcrowding in Madisonville schools, which could send more students to Tellico Plains or Sweetwater High schools. If a new high school became a consideration, the rezoning could mean a more even split between Vonore and Madisonville schools.

The old Vonore School housed about 250 students in grades 7-12 when it closed in 1995. Madisonville High School had about 700 students. A brand new Vonore Middle School opened 10 years ago leaving the town with an elementary school and a new middle school.

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