published Friday, May 15th, 2009

Sequoyah, Soddy-Daisy merger still in question

by Kelli Gauthier

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Students at Soddy-Daisy and Sequoyah high schools have spoken, and they say they’d like their schools to remain separate, thank you very much.

Although Hamilton County Schools administrators have suggested combining the two schools, located about a mile apart, surveys conducted on each campus by school officials indicate the majority of students don’t want the change.

“I don’t think they should merge the two schools,” Sequoyah freshman Lauran Jones said. “I personally think this is a good school by itself.”

Administrators’ rationale for combining the two schools while maintaining separate campuses is to allow both student bodies access to what the other school offers: sports, fine arts and extracurriculars for Sequoyah students and career and technical classes for those from Soddy-Daisy.

During several public discussions, Schools Superintendent Jim Scales had mentioned the possibility that Soddy-Daisy principal John Maynard would be the administrator over both schools.

But Sequoyah principal Steven Holmes on Thursday confirmed that longtime teacher and assistant principal Todd Jackson would take over leadership of the school after Mr. Holmes retires at the end of the year.

Mr. Jackson, who is in his 20th year at Sequoyah, said he was honored by the appointment and his “heart is really into the career and technical education.” He wondered if his appointment as principal meant that a merger of the two schools was off the table for the time being.

Amid a tough budget year, administrators also have discussed the possibility of merging other schools, primarily to save money. But the Soddy-Daisy and Sequoyah merger would have little impact on the district’s bottom line, officials said.

Schools Superintendent Jim Scales has said repeatedly that the merger would not be for budgetary reasons, but simply to expose as many students as possible to career and technical coursework.

But if students at either school wanted to take advantage of what the other offered, they would have chosen to enroll there in the first place, some students say.

“If those kids wanted to go here, they would have already,” said Sequoyah ninth-grader Garrett Johnson during a collision repair class.

Even if some Soddy-Daisy students wanted to enroll in one or two vocational courses at Sequoyah, Mr. Holmes said he thinks the school is more effective when students are committed to their specific program throughout their high school years.

“I just wonder if the students who are interested, is it something they’d want to just take a class in or something they’d like to make a career of?” he asked.

Mr. Holmes also is concerned that the most recent merger proposal did not include transportation for students to attend Sequoyah who live outside of the Soddy-Daisy area. Combining the schools would make Sequoyah’s career and tech classes more accessible to local students, but not those from around Hamilton County, he said.

More than 100 of 271 survey participants at Sequoyah said they no longer could attend the school if transportation were no longer offered.

But not all students are against the idea of the high school merger.

Although Soddy-Daisy senior Tyler Reed would not be affected by the change, his younger brother will be a freshman next year, and the 18-year-old said the move could be beneficial.

“It would be really weird at first; it would take some time to get used to it, but I think it would be a good opportunity,” he said. “I would have liked to have taken advantage of those (vocational) classes.”

about Kelli Gauthier...

Kelli Gauthier covers K-12 education in Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She started at the paper as an intern in 2006, crisscrossing the region writing feature stories from Pikeville, Tenn., to Lafayette, Ga. She also covered crime and courts before taking over the education beat in 2007. A native of Frederick, Md., Kelli came south to attend Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism. Before newspapers, ...

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