Jago: big school a mega no

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By Damon Lawrence

The lone member of the Roane County Board of Education who has voted against the board’s building plan shared why during a joint work session with County Commission last week.

“I think it’s too big,” Rob Jago said about the consolidated high school that’s part of the plan.

Roane County currently has five high schools. Rockwood High, Harriman High and Roane County High in Kingston would close under the building plan.

Those students would attend the new high school for 1,800 students near Roane State Community College.

Jago used the term mega school when discussing his opposition to the plan.

“I don’t want the kids to get up into a mega school,” he said.

Jago added that he believes a school for 800 to 1,000 students is a good size for a school.

“I’m not for a 1,600 to 1,800 person school,” he said. “I just think its too big, and that’s the way I’ll continue to vote.”

Jago once backed a plan that called for closing the five high schools and building two new ones. On Feb. 16, 2017, that plan was voted on by the school board and failed 5-5.

“We all have our favorite scenarios, which we think is best in our mind because we all come from different backgrounds,” Jago said at the 2017 meeting.

“I think this one serves all the children of Roane County.”

The two school talk hasn’t gone away. Such a scenario was mentioned multiple times during last week’s work session.

“I’m for it if we build two schools,” longtime Board Member Mike “Brillo” Miller said last week.

“If you all think that’ll pass the Commission and we’ve got a shot and we can pass it, I’ll vote for two schools. I’ll be happy to.”

The Commission is the funding body for the school system.

The plan to consolidate Rockwood High, Harriman High and Roane County High was voted down by the Commission last month.

A two school scenario could be a way for the Commission and school board to find common ground.

“Somebody’s got to stand in the middle and come up with something that we’re all going to agree on and move forward,” Commissioner Ben Wilson said.

“It may not be the one thing that we had sold out on, but how are we going to move forward in Roane County and be at the front of technology. How are we going to be at the front of CTE and moving forward.”

Commissioner Jerry White was one of the 11 commissioners who voted against the current consolidation plan, but indicated he could be open to supporting something that calls for two new schools.

“I am against the one school,” White said last week. “I echo what Mr. Wilson said. I think we need to look at two schools.”

No votes are taken at a work session, but the two school talk had Miller expressing optimism.

“I would have never dreamed, and I’ve got a little enthusiasm, that there might be enough support here for two schools,” he said.

Gary Aytes spent four years as director of schools for Roane County before retiring in 2016.

“In Roane County, I think we need two high schools,” he said at his final meeting in 2016.

“I think high schools of between 1,000 and 1,200 students are the ideal size.”

Aytes returned last year to serve on an interim basis after then director Leah Rice Watkins took a job in another county. He reiterated his position on the two school idea during last week’s work session.

“If it’s two schools, most of you know that was my choice to start with,” Aytes said.

“Because I agree with Mr. Wilson, a school should never go over 1,500 students. Never.”

Aytes said he believes the best number for a high school is 1,200 to 1,500.

“Because it gives you the ability to offer all the subjects you need to offer plus keeping it small enough to control and have that community school feeling,” he said.