By Scott Robertson
Part two of a two-part series
Washington County Director of Schools Kimber Halliburton is not standing on ceremony. With a get-things-done-now attitude and a history of successfully integrating technology into classrooms, the new director has, in two months time, gained cooperation from the board of education and the county mayor’s office for an aggressive agenda.
The Washington County Commission’s Health, Education and Welfare Committee heard last week from Mayor Dan Eldridge that he has signed an option for the county to purchase 15+ acres adjacent to Jonesborough Elementary School. That land will most likely be used for creation of the proposed Jonesborough K-8 school. The school board had already approved the purchase.
“For the K-8,” Halliburton has said, “we would tear down the round part of the (existing elementary school) building and renovate both that 1980 addition and the 1994 addition, then add approximately 70,000 to 100,000 new square feet in addition to that. It wouldn’t take a lot of money to do that. Mitch Meredith (county finance director) has worked out the numbers for us.”
Eldridge told the committee the price per acre on the Jonesborough land is $50,000. That would put the total land cost at roughly $775,000.
Halliburton also plans to take the existing Jonesborough Middle School and transform that into an academic magnet high school. That magnet school, and a second proposed specialty high school – a CTE school in Boones Creek, would be technology demonstration schools.
Halliburton is no stranger to opening new schools. She served as principal of two schools that opened their doors for the first time during her tenure in Nashville prior to accepting the Washington County director post this year. In 2004, she opened Lockeland Elementary School. Just a little more than a year ago she was opening Waverly-Belmont Elementary.
The process of opening Waverly-Belmont in particular put Halliburton in touch with vendors with whom she would begin working this year in Washington County. Washington County already has a demonstration classroom up and running at Ridgeview Elementary School because of those contacts.
“Vendors worked with us so the funding body could see what we want to do at no cost,” Halliburton says. “We have two interactive panels on loan for three months.”
The ClearTouch panels are the keystones of Halliburton’s plans to integrate cutting edge technology into the county’s classrooms. They are, for lack of a more accessible description, 70-inch iPads. The digital tablets (the one at Ridgeview has a twin at the central office) are on stands that can raise the tablets, lower them, and move them to any angle from parallel to the floor to perpendicular.
“This is what we want the whole county to be,” Halliburton says. “This is what we want every teacher to have in every classroom across the district.”
Still, it will likely be years before Halliburton’s system-wide vision can become a reality. “I believe we will be able to fit all third and fourth grade classrooms with a panel this school year, hopefully by winter break. That comes with a price tag, of course, but we did get approval from the county commission for the $640,000, so with that, we’re outfitting all fourth grade classrooms, plus 33 laptop carts for eighth through 12th grade ELA teachers – and we’ll have to request that $640,000 line item from the county commission every year.”
So there’s plenty to look forward to in the technology arena. Right now, though, Halliburton is still spending most of her time answering questions about the details of the plans for the new schools.
For instance, will there be geographical boundaries that limit which students can attend either the academic magnet or the CTE (or pathways) school? “No. This would be open to all students living in the county, whether you live in the city or the county, there would be no difference,” Halliburton says. “If you live in Washington County, you could make application to attend this school. There will be no zone lines. Your zone line is Washington County.”
Will there be dual enrollment possibilities for students at the CTE school similar to those that exist in Sullivan County? “Yes. We would use that current Boones Creek Elementary site and make that what I call – the old-fashioned word would be a CTE or vocational school – I call it a career pathway school, with that dual enrollment opportunity.” The relative proximity of the school to Northeast State Community College makes that college a likely candidate for the county to negotiate a dual enrollment agreement.
“Again,” Halliburton adds, “parents would make application. There’s no set criteria for gaining entry into that school with the exception of providing your own transportation.”