By Steve Hunley

School Board members deserve credit for approving Gibbs Middle


There’s an old adage many of us learned from our grandparents: “It’s never too late to do the right thing.”

Last Monday night at the Knox County Board of Education’s special-called meeting to approve its budget for the next fiscal year, that priceless bit of wisdom proved true once more. Just when it seemed like the Gibbs community would again be abandoned in its long and difficult fight for a middle school, the School Board at last decided to do the right thing, voting 6-3 in favor of a motion made by Board Chair Mike McMillan to approve the construction of a Gibbs Middle School, to be built simultaneously with the one proposed for Hardin Valley.

McMillan’s motion came as an amendment to the capital plan put forward to the Board by Superintendent Jim McIntyre. The Superintendent’s proposal was for the Board to approve construction of an elementary school in the north sector of the county, and a middle school for Hardin Valley. Building a Gibbs Middle School was not part of the plan. But as the evening’s debate wore on, it became clear that the plan was changing.

After dozens of supporters from the Gibbs community listened patiently to considerable debate on the school system’s general purpose budget and capital plan, Chairman McMillan made a motion that the capital plan be amended to include an 800-student capacity middle school for the Gibbs community. Board member Doug Harris seconded the motion, and the debate over a Gibbs Middle School ensued. The opposition emerged immediately.

Board members opposed to the motion questioned whether the numbers supported a middle school in Gibbs, and also suggested building a Gibbs Middle School would have a devastating effect on Holston Middle (which Gibbs and Corryton students currently travel long distances to attend). But citing the independent study recently done on the school system’s capital needs, Superintendent McIntyre said enrollment projections for a new Gibbs Middle School would be in the 700-800 range by 2019, while Holston’s enrollment was projected to fall from 800+ to just under 600 in such a scenario. Hardly the devastation suggested by opponents.

Predictably, less than 48 hours after the Board approved the Gibbs Middle School, the daily paper published an editorial opposing the school and giving the same objections the Gibbs community has heard for 24 years: the numbers don’t justify it. Same song, second verse. But unlike the School Board meeting, where the numbers were clearly articulated that DO support a Gibbs Middle School, the editorial offered no data whatsoever, but merely exhibited a clear prejudice against the Gibbs community and its ability to flourish and grow, by once again opposing its having a middle school to go along with its high school and three elementary schools.

You will read no such opposition in The Focus. We believe in giving credit where credit is due, especially if such credit involves the courage to do the right thing. Monday night, led by Chairman Mike McMillan, School Board members Doug Harris, Terry Hill, Patti Bounds, Amber Rountree, and Tracie Sanger exhibited the wisdom, leadership, courage, and compassion the people of Gibbs have longed to see from their leaders for 24 years.

McMillan’s leadership during the meeting on Monday was exemplary. One observer commented that McMillan had “the patience of Job” as he calmly allowed opponents of Gibbs Middle to cite every reason imaginable not to build it. McMillan represents the 8th District, which includes the Carter and Gibbs communities of north and east Knox County. His leadership has been invaluable in the fights for both a new Carter Elementary School, as well as getting a middle school back in Gibbs.

Toward the end of the long debate, Doug Harris, who represents the 3rd District, voiced his support for the measure, stating that when he first came on the School Board he was opposed to a middle school in Gibbs. But after listening to the people of the Gibbs community, and gaining an understanding of the history surrounding Gibbs Middle School, he changed his position. Harris said he truly believes it is the right thing to do for the Gibbs community.

Second District Board member Tracie Sanger followed by expressing how she had wrestled with the issue all week, and how much she appreciated the respectful, positive tone of the emails and comments from members of the Gibbs community. In the end, Sanger said it came down to a three line statement: They have an elementary school. They have a high school. The Gibbs community should have a middle school. With Harris and Sanger on board, it became apparent that a Gibbs Middle School was at last going to be approved by the Knox County School Board.

As the vote began in the 9th District, Board member Amber Rountree, a staunch supporter of the Gibbs Middle School, cast the first ‘Yes’ vote. McMillan followed, and then Patti Bounds of the 7th District, and Terry Hill who represents the 6th District including Hardin Valley, both voted in favor of the measure. Hill and Bounds had listened intently to the concerns of Gibbs residents, and have been very compassionate toward the plight of the Gibbs community throughout the recent debate.

By the time the roll call ended, the school system’s capital plan had been approved to include a Gibbs Middle School by a vote of 6-3. Supporters from the Gibbs community erupted in a lengthy applause. Quite understandably, some were even in tears. At least six faces were smiling at them from across the room. Perhaps at the release of joy displayed so openly after 24 years of frustration and disappointment. Perhaps simply at the satisfaction that comes when you know you did what was right.

Now the school system’s capital plan, which includes both a Hardin Valley and Gibbs Middle School, goes across the street to the Mayor and County Commission for funding. Paying for the construction of new schools is never an easy proposition. Numbers will be crunched and scenarios analyzed over the coming days and weeks. But as light streams through at the end of a 24-year tunnel, the people of the Gibbs community remain confident that a slight variation on an old adage will ultimately prevail.

There’s always a way to do the right thing.