After a full year of investigating a break from Hamilton County Schools, town of Signal Mountain officials are planning their first sit-down with the Hamilton County School Board for Thursday, Jan. 4.
The joint meeting, initiated by the Hamilton County Department of Education, is being held at Nolan Elementary School beginning at 4:30 p.m.
HCDE spokesperson Tim Hensley said the purpose of the meeting is to identify educational issues important to the Signal Mountain community and to discuss ways the two bodies can work together to meet those needs for local students.
Hensley said school officials are planning to hold similar sit-downs with parent groups and community leaders across the county over the next year. The move is part of HCDE's newest effort to stimulate community involvement in education by creating a mechanism for listening.
"You have to take time to step back and not just 'talk at' but 'listen to,'" Hensley explained. "[We're] putting systems in place so that we can listen to the community, to our students, to our parents, and trying to get a feel of what their goals and wishes are for the future."
He listed Red Bank and Soddy-Daisy as just a few of the target areas for the wider discussions.
However, starting the initiative with Signal Mountain "makes sense," Hensley said, given the town's ongoing conversations about creating an independent school district.
In previous town meetings, school board member Kathy Lennon, who represents the area, has called for town officials to let HCDE know what the community's needs are. Hensley said he hopes this session will give the county that chance, allowing county representatives to learn which specific issues are fueling some residents' desire to break away from HCDE.
All members of the Signal Mountain Town Council and school board have been invited to attend, as well as Schools Superintendent Bryan Johnson.
Town Mayor Chris Howley said he hopes the meeting will give representatives from each party a better idea where the other stands in regards to details about the possible split. He alluded to "some bold statements" made by HCDE Attorney Scott Bennett, who has challenged the town's claim to the area's three county-owned school buildings.
"I just think there are some things that we probably want to get a little more clarity with so we know what we're getting ourselves into as this moves forward," Howley said. "Hopefully, it will be an enlightening conversation."
Community members are invited to attend but will not be allowed to speak publicly during the meeting. Hensley encourages those with questions or comments to email school officials through hcde.org.
Email Myron Madden at email@example.com