For the first time in 12 years, Tim Blankenship didn’t attend a Monroe County Board of Education meeting.
Thursday night was Dr. DeAnna McClendon’s first meeting as the director of schools and after five and a half years in that role, Blankenship is excited to have a little free time.
“I don’t think I’ll miss it (going to board meetings),” he laughed. “Being a director of schools, it’s your life. You’re always thinking 24/7, ‘What can I do to better the education of the kids in Monroe County and how can I get this budget passed?’”
For the first time in his tenure as director, however, Blankenship will not finish that last task.
“I tried my best to get the budget passed this year (before my last day), but I couldn’t do it,” he said. “The numbers just didn’t match up.”
That task will be left for McClendon, and it’s a hard first task to begin her tenure as director.
“Every year in my time as director, we had a balanced budget, a 2% raise and a step raise, plus no change in insurance for employees. Can’t say that this year,” said Blankenship. “The difference in the budget from 2014 to 2019 is that I had some federal funding positions I could cut and bus routes to cut. There’s nothing left like that to do. I wish her the best and good luck with the budget.”
In what surprised many, the School Board voted in March to give Blankenship a letter of written notice that his contract would expire on June 30 without an extension. Blankenship had served as director since early 2014, having being appointed to the role following the unexpected death of the late Mike Lowry. Up until that point, he seemed to have the support of his School Board and had scored relatively well on his annual evaluations.
“(I was) blown away,” said Blankenship on the board’s decision. “But everything happens for a reason. I think God has other plans for me and it just wasn’t meant to be.”
‘No hard feelings’
Blankenship began his career in the Monroe County School System in 1991 as an English teacher at Tellico Plains High School. After a year of teaching and coaching there, Lowry became principal at Vonore High School in 1992 and Blankenship transferred there as a junior high school teacher.
“I coached about everything while I was there, so I basically lived at the school,” he reflected.
When Vonore High School closed in 1995, Blankenship went with Lowry to the new Madisonville Intermediate School, where he served as Lowry’s assistant principal and librarian until 2001. In 2001, Blankenship took over as principal and stayed in that role until 2007 when Lowry became Monroe County’s director of schools and asked Blankenship to serve as his assistant director of schools.
“I guess you could say I followed Mike Lowry and his leadership all the way,” said Blankenship. “A lot of my career was in increments of six. Six years as assistant principal, six years as principal, six years as assistant director of schools, and almost six years as director of schools.”
“I’ve had a great career,” he continued. “I have no hard feelings toward anyone. When you’re in a top position, it’s hard to stay there. I’ve heard the job expectancy of a director in the State of Tennessee is like two years and I believe that. It’s kind of like being sheriff. You make too many people mad.”
But Blankenship has plenty to be proud of from his time as director of schools.
“My most proud moment was probably in 2015 when we became an Exemplary School District,” he said. “And starting school last year was very exciting too. It was the first time in my tenure as director that we had no second run bus routes anywhere in the county. We had worked really hard to condense and combine 10 bus routes.”
But most of all, Blankenship said the people he worked with on a daily basis made the difference.
“I enjoyed putting the right people in the right positions,” he said. “I surrounded myself with quality people that are extremely smart and dedicated, and who love Monroe County. This is a great place to work. I’ve left Dr. McClendon a great Central Office staff and principals. In my opinion, it’s probably the best it’s ever been. Everyone does their job and does it efficiently.”
At the end of 2014, the 54-year-old educator also retired as a chief from the Tennessee Air National Guard.
“I enjoyed my 29 years in the Tennessee Air National Guard. It was a great experience. I’ve seen the world through my time spent in the air guard. They’ve been great to me,” said Blankenship.
When Blankenship became director of schools in 2014, he did not give up his true tenure as a teacher. He is only one year shy of having 30 years in education and having the choice to retire.
“I don’t know what the future holds,” he said. “I may go down a different road, maybe do something different. I might even run for a political office, who knows.”
But for now, Blankenship heads back to his roots. He will serve as the library media specialist for Vonore Middle School when school starts back this fall.
“I’m glad to be going home,” said Blankenship. “Vonore is where I’m from. I’ve always been blue and white. I’m glad I’m getting the opportunity to go back. I loved teaching and coaching there.”
Blankenship said he is most excited about interacting with students on a daily basis.
“I missed that the most, even when I served as assistant director of schools,” he said. “As a principal or teacher, you see kids out and they’ll come up to you to talk at Walmart, but as a director, it’s different. You deal with a lot of things as director of schools that you can’t fix and I’m a fix-it person. I’ve missed the kids.”
This time, however, things will be a little different.
“A lot has changed since 1992,” Blankenship said. “We had one computer back then and it was in the principal’s office. Over the past couple weeks, I’ve been working on putting some library lessons together and getting the projector going for Discovery Education. We have a lot of great technology now that we didn’t have back in the 1990s.”
While Blankenship navigates his new role, he remains thankful.
“I thank the people in Monroe County and the School Board for allowing me to be director of schools for five and a half years, and for the opportunity to go back to Vonore,” he said. “A lot of people being chiefs can’t go back to being Indians. But I’ve always considered myself a worker and I’m excited to go back to work. I have a lot of things to do still. But, I have no intentions of doing anything else in administration again. I just want to check out books and read to kids, and not make anybody mad.”