Summer Tour Brings State Education Commissioner to Smithville Elementary School

June 11, 2022
By: Dwayne Page

Tennessee Education Commissioner Dr. Penny Schwinn visited Smithville Elementary School on Friday as a part of the ‘Accelerating TN 2022 Tour.’

The initiative spans 50 school districts in three weeks to highlight summer learning opportunities in different school systems. As the Commissioner and those who accompanied her stepped off the bus, she was greeted by Director of Schools Patrick Cripps, members of the central office staff, SES Principal Summer Cantrell and teachers at the school. State Representative Terri Lynn Weaver was also there.

These summer programs stem from the Tennessee Learning Loss Remediation and Student Acceleration Act and Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement Act, which is the first update in over 30 years to the way the state funds public education.

“The tour is going well,” said Commissioner Schwinn. “We are able to talk to students, teachers, and district leaders about the great work they are doing in the public schools in our state and frankly it’s an opportunity to celebrate the great work of our schools. We talk about a lot of things that are wrong but there is so much more that’s right and you get to see that on tours like this,” she said.

“I am hearing a lot of really strong excitement about early reading on the tour. There’s a lot of focus there. People are loving summer school and wanting that funding to continue because they are seeing great results. We are seeing some kind of stress around getting scores back and what that means but I am feeling very optimistic about achievement and what we will see in our state tests. I am also seeing a lot of relief to get back to normal. A lot of folks say it feels like we are back to who we are and what we know how to do, and we can do our jobs and see great results with our kids,” she continued.

During her visit to Smithville Elementary School, Commissioner Schwinn went into classrooms and sat with children as they were doing their summer schoolwork.

“I just asked the students what they like about the summer programming, what was their favorite subject. Some liked math. Others liked reading and STEM. Everyone liked recess and snacks. I also wanted to learn more about them. We had a couple of students talk about what it meant to them to be in summer school and how important it was and how successful they feel. You can’t measure that on a test, but you see there is more impact besides just the economics and that’s lovely,” she continued.

During the General Assembly’s 2021 special legislative session on education, legislators passed the Tennessee Learning Loss Remediation and Student Acceleration Act, which set forward a path for all districts’ current and future summer programming opportunities to benefit students and accelerate achievement. This year, the General Assembly passed the Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement (TISA) Act, which updates the way the state funds public education for the first time in over 30 years and prioritizes the needs of each individual student. Commissioner Schwinn said she is excited about what TISA will do for education in the state

“It’s the largest investment especially in recurring dollars that we have ever done in public education. I am very grateful to the governor and general assembly. It will impact districts like DeKalb County which will get more funds to do this great work and do it even stronger than they have before,” said Commissioner Schwinn.

“It was great to see the Commissioner and show her what is happening in our summer camps and the great work that our teachers, administrators, and students are doing. She got to go into the classrooms and see some of the work the students were doing. She enjoys visiting with kids and likes to see things from their prospective as well,” said Director Cripps.

Summer school is a state mandated program, but student participation is voluntary.

“We have to provide it for students up to seventh grade but in our case, it goes up to the high school level where we use federal funding for that program. It gives kids the opportunity to work on skills to get ready for next year. At the high school level, it helps those kids that may not have passed a class to recoup that credit and take the next class available for them,” said Director Cripps.

Local Investigation Leads to Indictments in Major Meth Trafficking Operation

June 10, 2022
By: Dwayne Page

Nine people were indicted in a special session of the DeKalb County Grand Jury on Wednesday charging them with conspiracy to sell and deliver more than 300 grams of methamphetamine following an eight month long undercover investigation started by the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Department into a major local drug trafficking operation.

The TBI and other agencies later joined the sheriff’s department in the probe from February to October 2021 called “Operation Ice Pick” in which drug buys were made through confidential informants. Although arrests have been made authorities say this investigation remains active and ongoing.

The defendants indicted by the Grand Jury Wednesday are:

48-year-old Charles Edward White, Jr. of 295 Johnson’s Chapel Road, Sparta, charged with two counts of Meth 300 grams or more – conspiracy, 25 counts Meth – Mfg, Deliver, Sale, Possession with Intent. He is in the DeKalb County Jail under a $300,000 bond.

51-year-old Shawn David Troglen of Charlie Dickerson Road, Sparta, charged with two counts Meth 300 grams or more – conspiracy. He was booked into the White County Jail under a $300,000 bond.

34 year old Tiffany Jeanette Ford of South Carter Street, Sparta, charged with two counts of Meth 300 grams or more – conspiracy. She was booked into the Cumberland County Jail under a $200,000 bond.

32-year-old Tara R. Treadway, Smithville, charged with two counts of Meth 300 grams or more – conspiracy. She was booked into the Cumberland County Jail, under a $200,000 bond.

43-year-old Amy L. Hall of New Hope Road, Alexandria, charged with two counts of Meth 300 grams or more – conspiracy. She was booked into the DeKalb County Jail under a $200,000 bond.

52-year-old Eva Louise Dover of Cookeville Highway, Smithville, charged with two counts of Meth 300 grams or more – conspiracy. She  was booked in the DeKalb County Jail under a $200,000 bond.

31-year-old Paige Lynn Simmons of Summer View Lane, McMinnville, charged with two counts of Meth 300 grams or more – conspiracy. She was booked in the Warren County Jail under a $200,000 bond.

30-year-old Phillip Joe Potter of Roy Webb Road, McMinnville, charged with two counts of Meth 300 grams or more – conspiracy. He  was booked in the Warren County Jail under a $200,000 bond.

36-year-old Robert H. Murdock of Killen, Alabama, charged with two counts of Meth 300 grams or more – conspiracy. He was booked into the Lauderdale County Jail under a $300,000 bond.

Detective Mason Merriman of the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Department said White was initially the target of the investigation and when it was discovered that he might be a major meth dealer, the TBI was brought in to assist which led to others involved in the conspiracy.

“In February 2021, we began an investigation into Charles Edward White, Jr., and were able to utilize confidential sources to purchase 3.5 grams, or an 8-ball, of methamphetamine from him. From that point on we began hearing his name more and more, and we contacted the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, and started purchasing larger amounts just to see exactly how big a dealer he was.” said Detective Merriman.

“Over time, we were able to utilize an undercover TBI agent to make the purchases. Through countless hours of surveillance, we were able to get a T-3 wire intercept to tap into his phones, and through that we were able to learn the names of other people involved in the conspiracy,” Merriman continued.

“By the end of October 2021, White and his partner, Shawn David Troglen, traveled to Alabama to meet their source, Robert H. Murdock, and picked up 13 pounds of meth, along with a couple of pounds of marijuana.”

Sheriff Patrick Ray said that Chief Deputy Brian Williams and the TBI then arrested White and Troglen at a gas station in Pulaski on their return trip. Officials say that White and Troglen had made the trip to Killen, Alabama, in a Ford F-350 with a motorcycle in the back, but on the return trip White was riding the motorcycle with Troglen following. Fearing they would be unable to stop the motorcycle from fleeing, it was decided to make the arrests when the pair had stopped at a gas station. The pair had been under surveillance all along their trip, with a plane in the air. Investigators seized the drugs, $10,000 in cash, guns, the truck and the motorcycle.

The Alabama DEA was also involved in the bust. A search warrant was executed at Murdock’s home in Killen, Alabama, where another two pounds of meth, marijuana and several thousands of dollars in cash was found.

Later that evening, a search warrant was executed at White’s home on Johnson’s Chapel Road, where an additional 10 ounces of meth was discovered. Eight vehicles, including wreckers and rollbacks, four wheelers, a tire changer, and two Jet Skis, were seized at White’s home that officials say were traded for drugs. That property has already been awarded to the Sheriff’s Department.

Authorities say that Troglen had another source for drugs in the Knoxville area, who was also arrested by the DEA. Troglen would order five to seven kilos of meth, which is 2.2 pounds each, and she would bring the drugs to him. From September 15 to October 29, roughly a one-month span, around 43 pounds of methamphetamines was put through DeKalb County, with $325,000 of total revenue.

In addition to DeKalb County the drug trafficking operation drew buyers from Warren, Van Buren, White, and Putnam Counties, with some traveling as far away as Kentucky to pick up drugs. Four states were involved with connections in Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky and Georgia. Authorities believe that the source of the drugs was most likely from super labs in Mexico, and estimate that during the eight months of the investigation possibly $1.5 million in drug transactions were made.

After White was out on bond for the arrest in Pulaski, on May 12, 2022, another search warrant was executed at White’s home where more meth and five more vehicles were seized along with some other equipment.

“White and Troglen are the biggest methamphetamine dealers I’ve seen around here in a long, long time,” said Sheriff Ray “I want to commend the detectives and chief deputy here for the work that they’ve put into this case. Detective Merriman has spearheaded this case from the beginning, He has worked in depth on the case and put in numerous hours from February 2021 to this week. Even though the case ended in October 2021, there were still a lot of man hours put in to the case to get things ready for the grand jury.”

“I also want to thank the TBI and all the other agencies that helped us, along with the District Attorney General’s office for the cooperation we have with them. We’re a small county with limited resources, and this was a multijurisdictional case that’s led into another state. Without their help we could not have done it,” Sheriff Ray said.

Agencies involved in the investigation included the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office, TBI, Middle Tennessee Task Force High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Task Force, Office of the 13th Judicial District Attorney General, Homeland Security Investigations, Cookeville Police Department, Putnam County Sheriff’s Office, Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office, Crossville Police Department, and Warren County Sheriff’s Office.

Board of Education Budgets Pay Raises for Teachers and Other Staff

June 10, 2022
By: Dwayne Page

Although it’s not as large as the amount they received last year, DeKalb County teachers and support staff will be getting another pay raise with passage of the 2022-23 budget, and they have the Board of Education and Director of Schools to thank for it.

During Thursday night’s regular monthly meeting, the School Board adopted the new 2022-23 budget which includes a raise of $2,000 per teacher and other certified personnel (227 employees) and a $1,000 increase in pay for support staff (173 employees). Half of the ($2,000) increase for teachers is coming from the state and the rest ($1,000) for educators and support staff will be funded locally including plans to absorb projected increases in employee health care premiums.

Director Patrick Cripps will present the proposed spending plan for schools to the budget committee of the DeKalb County Commission next Tuesday night, June 14.

“In this budget we are requesting a $2,000 pay increase each for certified staff and $1,000 for non-certified. Some may think this is not much of a raise, but insurance (cost increases) really hit us hard this year,” said Director Cripps. “The aggregate across the board increase on insurance was 6.1% with some plans going up as much as 10%. Our people are not paid enough as it is. Some people think that teaching is an 8a.m. to 3 p.m. job and they work for nine months and that is it but what people don’t realize is that teachers put a lot of hours in including after work preparing for the next day. They put in a lot of hours in the summertime for the next year. They are required to do five days of professional development, but five days don’t touch it. There is more they have to do beyond five days. We have to continue to pay our people more. We have done very well with our budget over the years. We are setting good as far as what is in our reserves (approximately $12 million). We need to continue to increase our teacher salaries and if the state won’t do it, we need to. I am a firm believer in that,” said Director Cripps.

In other business, the school board granted tenure to the following teachers upon the recommendation of Director Cripps: Tabitha Farmer, Christian Merriman, Sarah Storey, Amy Fricks, Justin Poteete, Allison Collier, Teresa Jones, and Cristy Spears. “These teachers have successfully completed the probationary period of five years and received evaluations demonstrating an overall performance effectiveness level of above or significantly above expectations as required for tenure,” said Director Cripps.

The board voted to revise the credit requirements needed for students to graduate from DeKalb County High School.

“In the past high school students have needed 30 plus credits to graduate because the high school had been on a block schedule system. They are no longer on a total block system. Tennessee Department of Education requirements for graduation is a total of 22 credits. We are not changing anything to meet that requirement threshold, but we would like to reduce it locally down to the 22-credit state requirement instead of the 30 plus credit system we are under. We will stair step it back starting with 29 credits required with the Class of 2023 and 27 credits for the Class of 2024 and 22 credits for the incoming freshmen,” said Director Cripps.

High school lockers will soon be removed to make way for more classroom space. The board voted to sell the lockers by sealed bids as surplus property. Director Cripps said with students now using chrome books, lockers are no longer used or needed.

“The school is bursting at the seams with needed space for teachers and with the addition of the 1:1 devices at the high school students have computers in their hands and that’s what they use on a regular basis so lockers have not been used for several years now,” said Director Cripps.

The board adopted a differentiated pay plan for the 2022-23 school year as required by the state. Under the local plan two educators per school will be compensated to serve as academic coaches.

In his monthly personnel report, Director Cripps said the following employees have resigned: Cody Burton, teacher at DCHS; Danny Fish, teacher at DCHS, Charlene Hallum, educational assistant at DeKalb Middle School and Brent Simpson, teacher at DCHS.

In other business, the board voted to enter into a contract with STAR Physical Therapy to provide athletic trainer services at DeKalb County High School. The cost is $20,000 for the year beginning July 1, 2022. Athletic Trainers are responsible as health care professionals for the well-being of student-athletes. They are involved with injury prevention, assessment, and rehabilitation.

“There will only be one athletic trainer and he or she will be working high school football, basketball, and soccer games as much as possible. The athletic trainer will also float among the high school spring athletic sports. He or she will be at home games in spring sports but won’t travel to away games. In football and basketball, the trainer will be at home games and travel to away games as much as possible,” said Director Cripps.

Services provided under the contract between Star Physical Therapy and the DeKalb County School District are as follows:

STAR will make available a Board of Certification Certified Athletic Trainer that is licensed to practice in the State of Tennessee to:

1. Provide injury assessment at the school for students who request evaluation starting daily when school is in session.

2. Provide daily practice coverage involving injury prevention, assessment and rehabilitation. The Athletic Trainer will be present on campus until the last high school practice is complete or the last home school contest is complete whichever is later.

3. Coverage of all home and away varsity football games.

4. Coverage of all home contests for high school sports other than football that are held on campus as agreed to by STAR and the Athletic Director.

5. Coverage of special events and tournaments as agreed to by STAR and the Athletic Director.

6. The Athletic Trainer will be present 1-2 days per week during summer workouts or off-season workouts for high school sports. This schedule will be agreed to by STAR and the Athletic Director.

7. Work with school to maintain TSSAA health guidelines for athletic participation, physical forms, medical questionnaires, and injury records under HIPPA compliance.

8. Assist with arranging pre-participation sports physicals for high school students to meet TSSAA guidelines, and provide staffing from STAR to provide duties within the scope of their training and education.

9. Provide guidance regarding emergency procedures, including an emergency action plan specific to athletic practices and games at the schools.

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