ROGERSVILLE — With the Route 70-N and Route 66-N mudslide repairs north of Rogersville being extended into November, the Hawkins County Board of Education agreed Thursday to temporarily reduce Clinch School’s schedule to four days per week.
Both highways, which are Hawkins County’s only direct access between Rogersville and Clinch Valley, were damaged in February as a result of heavy rain throughout the month that caused massive mudslides.
One man was killed and another seriously injured on Feb. 21 following an early morning slide on Route 70-N.
Clinch School, which is located on the north side of Clinch Mountain on Clinch Valley Road, is the smallest K-12 public school in Tennessee.
As of Monday, it will be the only four-day-per-week public school in the state.
Inconvenient detour for students, staff
The detour through Mooresburg to Route 31 adds 30-45 minutes to the commute to Clinch School and affects about 80 percent of the staff.
It also increases travel time for Clinch’s high school students, who travel to Cherokee High School in Rogersville to attend CTE (vocational) classes.
In the spring, Clinch School Principal Denise McKee and Director of Schools Matt Hixson began talking about the possibility of reducing Clinch’s schedule to four days per week.
Because the road repairs were originally expected to be completed in August, the idea was shelved.
Reaction to road repair delays
By August, however, TDOT announced the completion dates had been pushed back to late October and early November.
Last month, the four-day school week proposal was presented to Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn, whose legal staff gave approval after about two weeks of consideration.
Clinch parents were also surveyed and there was zero opposition to the plan.
On Thursday, the proposal was presented to the BOE, which approved it unanimously.
Beginning Monday, the regular school hours of 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday-Friday will change to 7:30 a.m. to 3:45 a.m. Monday-Thursday. The school will be closed on Friday.
When the roads reopen, Clinch will revert to its original schedule.
Breaking new ground in Tennessee
McKee noted that there are 500 school districts across the country that have four-day weeks, but Clinch will be the first ever in Tennessee.
“Data has shown that achievement has either stayed the same or improved, especially in math, and that teacher attendance and student attendance have improve,” McKee said. “We feel pretty confident that this will not impact instruction for our students. In fact, with the road closures, our teachers sometimes have to take a whole day off for a doctor’s appointment just because of the amount of travel time, and we have to put a sub in there. We appreciate our subs, but it’s best to have a certified teacher in place.”
This also going to be a unique opportunity to collect data that could impact future decisions about four-day school weeks.
“Denise is committed to collecting as much data during this short time period as possible,” Hixson told the BOE. “We like to do that when we’re given these creative circumstances because we never know when we’re going to have to look at creative solutions down the road. If there’s a turn for the worse in the economy and we have to reduce staff in the future — again, worst case scenario — it’s good to have data to stand on that says we can pull out a four-day workweek. We can do some things with reduced time during the course of the school week that still accounts for high levels of instruction and academic success.”
Route 70-N update
The Route 70-N slide occurred on a section of the highway between Clinch Valley Road and Route 94 (Pressmens Home Road) near Cave Springs Road on Feb. 21.
The $8.7 million repair project was awarded to Charles Blalock and Sons Inc. and is now estimated for completion in November.
The contractor is expected to open the road to traffic in late October, with some minor roadwork left to be completed.
Among the concerns that have resulted in completion delays are:
Geotech has recommended additional soil nail stabilization for the large failure, as the material encountered was not suitable in-place.
Just outside the project limits of this slide another slide has occurred, and TDOT is in the process of designing the rapir for that location.
Route 66-N update
Summers and Taylor Inc. was awarded a $15.1 million contract to repair the Route 66-N slide which occurred between New Life Road and Clinch Valley Road on Feb. 24.
The project included excavation of roadway slopes, paving, construction of all ditches, and extensive geostabilization device installation for approximately one mile.
Once the larger buttress is built, the contractor will start milling and paving the roadway. The completion date is now estimated for Nov. 1.