Sullivan schools building career/college awareness in elementary grades on up

Rick Wagner • Jan 1, 2019 at 12:00 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — Thinking about and planning for careers and/or college is no longer the domain of middle schools or high schools in Sullivan County.

The system has implemented an initiative to make students aware of potential careers and how to build awareness “from kindergarten to 12th grade” to show “what’s coming for students,” said Billy Miller, who oversees students services and transportation. The program is called the K-12 Connection.

The goal is to get all students on track for a college/post-high-school-graduation degree or certification needed for job, much less a career. He said the system has implemented pre-ACT courses for eighth-graders, who learn how to take the ACT, the college- and career-readiness test, over a nine-week time frame. He said eighth-graders also learn what high school offers before they begin to register for their freshman year.


Aaron Flanary, career technical education/early post-secondary facilitator, said the K-12 program is “going to get stronger” and that 37 seniors as of the Nov. 28 retreat had ACT scores of 30 or higher, which mean more and larger scholarships. He said two students had a five-point jump after taking the free Tennessee-funded ACT retest and the message is your ACT score “stays with you for your entire life.”

Director of Schools Evelyn Rafalowski said she recently talked with a student who planned to go into secondary education but didn’t have a high enough ACT score to get into the education program at East Tennessee State University.

Flanary said the program is “instilling hope” in students and said he was proud the system had the 28th highest composite ACT score in the state without “hiding” any students as some systems do and exceeding the mandated percentage of students who take the ACT. He said Advanced Placement, dual enrollment and other programs help students get ahead before graduating high school, as do industry certifications in career technical education fields.

Board of Education member Mark Ireson said a Sullivan South student he knows became a certified nursing assistant in high school, an example of the success of earning credits and certifications in high school.

“She’s 18 years old and she started at $18 an hour,” Ireson said.

Brent Palmer, high school system curriculum and instruction supervisor, said the system also is making concentrated efforts to keep students in school and combat chronic truancy, including kindergarten and first grade, when school-attendance habits are formed.


Even after graduation, however, Flanary said the school system isn’t really finished with the students. The goal is to get students ready for life, he said, and the system works to track students as they progress and help them if it can.

“Our services don’t need to end May 24 with seniors,” Flanary said.

In the next two years or so, he said Northeast State Community College plans to launch a culinary arts program, a continuation of programs in county high schools. He said ETSU has taken over the Niswonger Foundation’s online courses and offers dual enrollment with Buc Start.

Rafalowski said the system will have 19 students in an ETSU animation program starting in January, which she said will make the system the only public system in the state to offer classes in a four-year college degree program.

Sullivan South has 16 students on track to earn a certificate this school year, with Central the highest at 20, East at 17 and North, the smallest enrollment school, at seven.

“College isn’t for everybody, but post-secondary is,” Flanary said.

The school system also no longer exempts students from semester exams for good attendance, with the idea that students need to learn to take comprehensive end-of-course tests like they will have in universities or community colleges. Palmer said that as an alternative, schools offer other incentives such as a doughnut party for Sullivan North High students who don’t miss a day in a nine-week grading period.