Johnson City school board retreat: Two middle schools, later start times & library improvements

Zach Vance • Updated Jul 12, 2018 at 9:00 PM

As customary, no official action was taken by the Johnson City Board of Education during Monday’s annual retreat, but the school board and Superintendent Steve Barnett engaged in some healthy discussion about the school system’s future. 

Board members discussed a multitude of topics during the six-hour dialogue, including the transition to a two middle school system, improving Science Hill’s library and possibly changing the high school’s starting time.

Two middle school concept

Johnson City school officials continue to discuss transitioning to a two middle school system, which would involve transforming Indian Trail Intermediate School into a 5-8 grade middle school.

Before that can happen, officials have to wait at least 18 months for construction to finish on the Liberty Bell Middle School project, which includes the addition of a classroom, restrooms, an expanded gym and a large cafeteria. 

“We’re going to continue to look at the demographic data because it’s really important to us that these two schools be very similar demographically. And those demographics seem to be holding,” Barnett said. 

Architects are also looking at the science labs at Liberty Bell and Indian Trail to ensure both facilities have the capacity to offer the same programming. 

Some board members have mentioned 2020 as a possible target date to begin the transition. 

Later start times? 

While it won’t happen next year, Johnson City leaders did bring up the prospect of changing Science Hill’s 7:40 a.m. start time. 

Vice Chairman Kathy Hall mentioned the fact that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics both recommend high schools and middle schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m.

Both studies suggest too-early of a start can keep students from getting the sleep they need for health, safety and academic success. The CDC report states not getting enough sleep is associated with poor academic performance, being overweight, drinking alcohol, smoking tobacco and doing drugs. 

“There were mixed feelings on the board about it. But, of course, those retreats really aren’t for making decisions. It’s really just to have those good opportunities to think through and maybe even open up a conversation that might go on for a year or two,” Barnett said. 

School officials plan to study the issue, and if enough evidence exists, start eliciting feedback from the community, including students and staff. 

Science Hill library Improvements

During the retreat, Science Hill Principal Todd Barnett took board members around the library and shared his vision for improving the shared space. 

Barnett said one idea is to expand the library into the cafeteria area near the John Exum Parkway entrance, making it a testing area for students taking state-mandated tests or even the ACT.

“They’re really looking at changing the seating in the library to make it much more of a place where students can come, teachers can bring classes and collaborate,” said Barnett, who also mentioned that he would like to get the Johnson City Schools Foundation involved in the project. 

The board seemed to agree on the idea of bringing in an expert or consultant to provide recommendations on how to best improve the library. 

Another idea being considered by school officials is the creation of a Johnson City Schools Hall of Fame where students could learn about the system’s rich history, which dates back to the 1800s.









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