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published on 11/28/2006

“A School Built With Passion and Planning”


Parents mountain-wide have begun brain-storming to make sure that students have everything they need -- from football cleats to computers -- when the new Signal Mountain Middle/High School opens its doors in August 2008.

They, and other school supporters, divided themselves into 10 committees and began meeting in October to help decide how best to spend some $4 million the mountain is raising privately for the new school. Over the next several months, each committee will look at a separate aspect of the school -- such as academics, athletics and arts -- to help the county figure out the school's most pressing needs.

"We all have a stake in our children's education," said Kim Callaway, one parent who has volunteered to work on the Clubs/Extracurricular Committee. "This is our school. People need to come forward and help make it great!"

Hamilton County will supply the building, the furniture and a few, basic supplies for the new school. Usually, the county would fund the rest of the supplies and services needed in a new school over the next 12-15 years. But mountain parents have decided that Signal students deserve better -- they deserve a top-flight learning experience, starting the first day of the 2008 fall semester. So, a group of them joined together to create the Founders’ Fund, an organization committed to raising $4.1 million for the supplies, services and staff resources that a great school has to have.

But it's up to the community to figure out what those supplies, services and staff resources should be.

"Our school needs to be ready when the doors open," said Debbie Matthews, another mountain parent and educator, who is volunteering on the Academics Committee. "If we don't have library books or computers or microscopes in the laboratories, we will be lagging behind. It would be lovely if the county would provide those things, but it won't, and students need these tools."

Ms. Matthews was teaching at Loftis Middle School when it opened many years ago. She still remembers how long it took the county to fully stock that school.

"I have been very impressed with what the Founders’ Fund has done so far -- both the quality and the quantity of work," she said. "But there is still a lot to be done, and we are down to the nitty gritty. We have a lot to do. We need the whole community to help us make wise decisions."

Both Ms. Matthews and Ms. Callaway urged other mountain parents to join one of the committees.

"I encourage everyone to get involved," Ms. Matthews said. "The more minds we have at work, the better of we'll be."

Ms. Callaway, who grew up on the mountain, noted that many of her friends are stay-at-home mothers and cannot make large donations to the Founders’ Fund. "Here is a way we can help," she said, adding that the committees can benefit from all mountain residents' ideas. "We can have a high school that's as good as any private school."

About 70 people turned out on October 30 for the first committee meetings. Founders’ Fund Needs Committee co-chair Rob Hensley explained to the group that the committees should have draft proposals ready by next spring. Each committee must first establish its own goals, determine what the county will and will not provide to help achieve the goals, and then identify the extra resources and programs needed (as well as costs for each). Finally, the committees will prioritize the resources and programs and recommend which should be acquired first, and which can wait.

The committees address every area of the school: special needs, academics, academies, arts, athletics, technology/media center, staff support and enrichment, health and nutrition, clubs/extracurricular activities and community interaction. Members of the Founders Fund steering committee are on each committee to act as liaisons between the fund-raising organization and the community committees.

Karen Dolmovich, volunteer coordinator for the Founders’ Fund, was delighted with the October turn-out.

"Working with the Founders’ Fund steering committee has been very inspiring for me," she said. "It feels great to help out such a dedicated and driven group of folks -- all working for the greater good for our community and our county school system. In my opinion, any school built with this much passion and planning has to be great!"
Anyone interested in getting involved with the new school's development, by joining one of the committees, should contact Mr. Hensley at or Needs Committee co-chair Christine Arnold at .
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