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Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Cocke schools absenteeism
There is growing concern regarding the absentee rate in Cocke County schools, with observers saying that factor plays a role in the less than desirable achievement level of local students. At the Tuesday evening meeting of the Cocke County School Board, members heard from Attendance Supervisor Dennis Balch who called on the community to assist in reducing the absenteeism rate. "Our chronic absentee rate last year was 18.3, and this year at the end of six months, we are at 17.3. So we are dropping but we need help because we have three schools that have a chronic absenteeism rate of more than 20 percent, and that is just not acceptable," Balch said. He told the board, "Attendance matters.... every student, every day." Director of Schools Manney Moore reported that he was recently contacted by the office of Governor Bill Lee who has promised to assist the local high schools if his proposed budget is passed. "He mentioned in his State of the State, a program to assist the 15 counties that are classified as "distressed." The governor wants to provide a Communities in Schools employee in both of our high schools to assist with attendance and to help at risk students to be successful." Board Chair Dr. Ken Johnson confronted Governor Lee during a recent visit to Newport regarding the governor's support of vouchers and education savings accounts. Johnson last evening called on those in the audience to contact state lawmakers in opposition to the plan which would use taxpayer dollars to fund private schools. "They should oppose tax dollars going to private schools as the governor is proposing," he said. The board also heard from Robert Clark, a retired Oak Ridge engineer who urged the creation of a VEX robotics team at Cocke County High. The program features competitions using electro-mechanical devices. It is aimed at increasing the interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics)studies on the part of students. After the board voted to establish such a program, with Clark serving as mentor, Charlie Spencer, a retired TVA engineer presented the high school with $2,500 in seed money to get the program started. Several schools in the system will get bottle water refill stations with the $17,216 cost coming from a Project Diabetes grant. A total of 250 lock sets will be installed in the doors of all of the schools in the system. The $58,105 cost will come from the state School Safety Grant.

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