Education Department announces new changes to the TNReady Assessment

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced several new steps today to improve the state’s TNReady student assessment, including recompeting the state’s current testing vendor contract. These improvements are being made after ongoing conversations with teachers, parents, education leaders, and policy-makers over the past several weeks and are aimed at addressing a number of areas of concern.

The multi-faceted changes announced today will immediately improve the state assessment—TNReady—and establish a longer-term framework for success. The steps being taken to improve TNReady include:

•Releasing a new Request for Proposals (RFP) to identify the assessment vendor or vendors that can successfully administer the state test in 2019-20 and beyond.

•Amending the state’s current contract and relationship with Questar to improve the assessment experience in 2018-19

•Adjusting the pace of the state’s transition to online testing

These steps complement additional actions already in the works, including eliminating two TNReady end-of-course exams, eliminating the March stand-alone field test for the next two years, simplifying and streamlining test administration, bringing in a third party to perform an independent review of Questar’s technological capabilities, improving customer service, and engaging dozens of additional Tennessee teachers, content experts, and testing coordinators to look at every part of our state testing program.

“Teachers, students and families deserve a testing process they can have confidence in, and we are doing everything possible to meet that responsibility,” Commissioner McQueen said. “We are always committed to listening and improving, and we’ll continue to do just that.”

TNReady is a high-quality assessment that is aligned to Tennessee’s rigorous academic expectations. In May, a national study recognized Tennessee as the No. 1 state in the country for improvement in the quality of its academic standards, going from an “F” rating in 2007 to an “A” in 2017. TNReady is designed to measure those standards, and it has a variety of different types of questions to look for the depth of students’ knowledge. All of those aspects of the test will not change, but the RFP process will better ensure that students can take TNReady seamlessly and without disruption.

Three Star Dinner sees large crowd

Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini addresses a large crowd during the TDP’s Three Star Dinner held last week in Lebanon TN. The event also saw an increase in fundraising, which attendees credit to the party’s momentum ahead of the 2018 midterms. Submitted photo.

By Tamas Mondovics

More than 1,000 Tennessee Democrats from across the state attended the 2018 Three Star Dinner and Celebration last week in Lebanon TN. Aside from a huge turnout, the event entitled ‘Honor the Past, Celebrate the Present, and Fight for the Future reportedly saw a surge in fundraising as attendees heard from elected leaders and candidates, paid tribute to Democratic accomplishments and hoped to gain momentum leading up to November 6

According to Tennessee Democratic Party spokesperson Amanda Yanchury, the event welcomed Keynote speaker U.S. Senator Doug Jones of Alabama who spoke about to the opportunity to restore the party’s values to all levels of government.

“Thanks to each of you, we are once again loudly proclaiming the values we have held for generations,” Sen. Jones said. “Decency, honesty, dignity, and respect. Giving hate no safe harbor and leaving no one in our society behind.”

Jones has reportedly emphasized that his victory and the coming election is proof that Republicans don’t have a permanent hold on the South. U.S. Senate candidate Phil Bredesen focused on joining Senator Jones on what he reportedly called “the ‘kitchen-table issues’ in the Senate so that others can experience Tennessee as a land of incredible opportunity, as it was for him.”

As mentioned by Yanchury, Bredesen stated his goal of opening “doors and pave the way for this next generation,” adding, “I need your help — but I’m not going to pay it back. I’m going to pay it forward, and be the best damn senator you’ve ever laid your eyes on.”

Also in attendance were Democratic candidates for governor Karl Dean and Craig Fitzhugh, who while addressing the crowd, focused on capitalizing on the energy of the moment and “remembering what we’re fighting for.” Dean, reportedly stressed the importance of expanding Medicaid, while Fitzhugh spoke to the energy of Democrats around the state stepping up to run for office and

“People are fighting back against what once were overwhelming odds,” Fitzhugh said. “At the end of the day, this election is about people. People matter.”

The As reported, the TDP raised more than $450,000 and combined with investments from the DNC totaling more than $125,000, Jones was quoted saying, “It is clear that Tennessee is a “state of opportunity.”

Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini summed up the event when she acknowledged that more than 100 candidates are running for legislative seats, all fantastic candidates in all nine congressional races, and top-tier candidates for the gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races.

“It’s a good year to be a Tennessee Democrat,” she said.

In/Visible Theatre of Boone brings musical variety show to Mountain City

By Tamas Mondovics

“Attractive Young People Singing,” a musical revue featuring less-known songs from musical theatre is set to entertain guests in Mountain City this week. For the first time, former Barter Theatre actor and director Karen Sabo, now Artistic Producer, In/Visible Theatre of Boone along with her husband the theatre’s artistic director, Derek Davidson are both excited to bring their work to Mountain City.

“We have started our own theatre here in Boone, NC, and are convinced that while music is heard instead of seen, some music is worthy of more visibility.”
Karen emphasized that bringing little-known songs to light is the force behind “Attractive Young People Singing” a 50-minute show featuring four talented young performers in musical theatre. The show opened on Monday, June 18, and is scheduled to play through June 23, visiting various locations in the High Country region, including Mountain City on Friday, June 22, at 7 pm in the Vistas restaurant in the Red Tail Mountain Club in Mountain City, Tennessee.

“Most of us know composers like Andrew Lloyd Webber and Rodgers and Hammerstein, and many know new hit musicals like the current Broadway smash ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ and the stage adaptation of ‘Frozen.’” Karen said, adding, “But these composers also have great songs from shows earlier in their careers, from musicals that never hit it big or that have been forgotten. We showcase these hidden songs in our revue.”

Derek said that since some artists do not want to live in big cities, but love living in beautiful small towns like Boone, In/Visible Theaters gives them opportunities to perform here where they love to live.

“Luckily, we have so many talented young people in this area that we were easily able to cast from our local talent pool,” Derek said.
Singers featured include Elizabeth Mason Moore, a theatre student at Appalachian State University; Stephen Redmon-Bryum, a graduate of the theatre program at Lees-McRae College; A.J. Ugenti, formerly of Greensboro College and a graduate of Watauga High School’s drama program. Also included Eileen Dixon, formerly of the B.F.A. theatre program at Emory and Henry College, now an acting student at Appalachian State.

The accompanist is Allison Bishop, who is pursuing a Master’s degree in piano from Appalachian State, and is a finalist in the upcoming Rosen-Schaffel music competition. Audience members can purchase tickets and find more information at, or call 828-278-4448. For more information, contact In/Visible Artistic Producer Karen Sabo at, or at 828.964.6924

Johnson County well-represented in Tennessee farm tours

By Tamas Mondovics

Tennessee may be a popular summertime destination, thanks to a wide range of activities available to its visitors. Interestingly, one such activity involves the skipping of the crowds and costs of the usual tourist attraction to visit local farm instead. A recent article promoted by emphasized that picking peaches, making soap, or taking an art class create great memories in a relaxed setting, which is the reason why any “agritourism” farms have sheltered areas for picnics, playgrounds for children, and areas to explore at a visitor’s own pace.

Destinations to tour in Johnson County Tennessee includes Johnson County FFA-AH Farming Center, 520 Fairground Lane, in Mountain City; Shull’s Farm and Garden Co-op, located at 4249 Roan Creek Road, Mountain City; Villa Nove Vineyards and Farm Winery, 1877 Dry Hill Road, in Butler, and the Watauga Lake Winery, 6952 Big Dry Run Road, in Butler.

“A trip to Watauga Lake Winery gives visitors a peek into Johnson County history,” said Linda Gray with Watauga Lake Winery. The winery is housed in the historic Big Dry Run Elementary School, and it gives way to a breathtaking 360-degree view of the mountain ranges that surround the vineyard.“You will believe you have arrived in Tuscany as you stroll through the vineyard or sit at the pavilion and enjoy a bottle of wine produced exclusively from the fruit grown at the vineyard. The vineyard produces approximately 75,000 pounds of fruit annually,” she said.

Other places on the list include The Farm at Spring Creek, near Greeneville, where farmers teach classes in traditional homestead skills. Guests can sign up for classes to make soap, jam, and even mozzarella cheese.

“We provide a walking or golf cart tour to see our livestock, which includes cattle, hogs, chickens, ducks, and other animals, and explain in detail how we farm,” said Kevin and Mikki Krause of Liberty Trace Farm near Hampshire.

Just outside of Memphis, Jones Orchard in Millington is a favorite destination for produce, particularly numerous varieties of peaches. Customers can pick and purchase their own produce, and even take home jams, jellies, and other foods from the orchard’s farm store.
When visiting any farm, make sure to call ahead and check the farm’s social media to ensure the farm is open for the day.

“We’re teaching people how to milk a goat this summer,” said Beth Bohnert of Mountain Hollow Farm near Knoxville. Mountain Hollow also has a country store featuring yarn, fine handcrafts, and goat’s milk soap. Visit the store to shop or just hang out. We always have a pot of tea on and chairs awaiting anyone who wants to knit, crochet, spin, or simply chat for a while.”

Find local farms and learn how to be a good farm guest with the Pick TN mobile app or visit Follow Pick TN on social media for seasonal updates, recipes, and farm-related activities.

Grapes are one of the many farm products represented
during the Tennessee farm tours that are grown or raised
in Johnson County.

USDA resumes CRP enrollment

As part of a 33-year effort to protect sensitive lands and improve water quality and wildlife habitat on private lands, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will resume accepting applications for the voluntary Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Eligible farmers, ranchers, and private landowners can sign up at their local Farm Service Agency (FSA) office between June 4 and Aug. 17, 2018.

FSA stopped accepting applications last fall for the CRP continuous signup (excluding applications for the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) and CRP grasslands). This pause allowed USDA to review available acres and avoid exceeding the 24 million-acre CRP cap set by the 2014 Farm Bill. New limited practice availability and short sign up period helps ensure that landowners with the most sensitive acreage will enroll in the program and avoid unintended competition with new and beginning farmers seeking leases. CRP enrollment currently is about 22.7 million acres.

2018 Signup for CRP
For this year’s signup, limited priority practices are available for continuous enrollment. They include grassed waterways, filter strips, riparian buffers, wetland restoration and others. View a full list of practices.FSA will use updated soil rental rates to make annual rental payments, reflecting current values. It will not offer incentive payments as part of the new signup.

USDA will not open a general signup this year, however, a one-year extension will be offered to existing CRP participants with expiring CRP contracts of 14 years or less. Producers eligible for an extension will receive a letter with more information.

CRP Grasslands
Additionally, FSA established new ranking criteria for CRP Grasslands. To guarantee all CRP grasslands offers are treated equally, applicants who previously applied will be asked to reapply using the new ranking criteria. Producers with pending applications will receive a letter providing the options.

About CRP
In return for enrolling land in CRP, USDA, through FSA on behalf of the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC), provides participants with annual rental payments and cost-share assistance. Landowners enter into contracts that last between 10 and 15 years. CRP pays producers who remove sensitive lands from production and plant certain grasses, shrubs and trees that improve water quality, prevent soil erosion and increase wildlife habitat.

CRP is one of the largest private-lands conservation programs in the United States. Thanks to voluntary participation by farmers, ranchers and private landowners, CRP has improved water quality, reduced soil erosion and increased habitat for endangered and threatened species. The new changes to CRP do not impact the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, a related program offered by CCC and state partners.

Producers wanting to apply for the CRP continuous signup or CRP grasslands can contact the Johnson county FSA Office at 119 S Murphey Street, Mtn. City, TN or by telephone at (423) 727-9744. More information on CRP can be found at

Heritage Hall to host folksinger John McCutcheon

Singer-songwriter, storyteller, activist, and author John McCutcheon performs to his audience delight. The much-respected master instrumentalist is now scheduled to play
at Heritage Hall in Mountain City later this month.Photo submitted by Wendy Brynford-Jones.

By Tamas Mondovics

Mountain City’s Heritage Hall Theater has had no shortage of featuring great performers giving testimony to the vital role the facility plays in the community.One of such performers soon to enjoy entertaining his audience is John McCutcheon also known as folk music’s renaissance man — master instrumentalist, influential singer-songwriter, storyteller, activist, and author. McCutcheon’s appearance is scheduled for Saturday, June 23, at 7 pm.

According to a recent biography, McCutcheon has emerged as one of the most respected and loved folksingers.Called “the most impressive instrumentalist I’ve ever heard,” by Johnny Cash, McCutcheon is a master of a dozen different traditional instruments, most notably the rare and beautiful hammer dulcimer. Critics and singers around the globe have hailed his songwriting. Dozens of recordings have garnered McCutcheon a variety of honors including seven Grammy nominations. His books and instructional materials have introduced new players to the joys of their own musicality, while his commitment to grassroots political organizations has put him on the front lines of many of the  important issues.

McCutcheon’s apprenticeship to many of the legendary figures of Appalachian music imbedded a love of not only homemade music but a sense of community.The result is music, including his 39th album, Ghost Light.

“It was a complete accident,” McCutcheon said. “I sat down over Memorial Day weekend, and suddenly a line pestered me, ‘Billy didn’t come home last night.’ I thought, ‘Okay, so who’s Billy? Where’s home? What happened to him?’ And it was off to the races. 25 days and 30 new songs later, what was I supposed to do?”

The impression is that McCutcheon didn’t mean to record. And as has happened so often in his forty-five-year career, those races brought McCutcheon a collection of stories that are real, seductive and unexpected. A young man doesn’t come home. An old man faces the future in a bank, a baby dances, a small town celebrates a local hero. No scene is too small, no idea too big for John McCutcheon.
Wrapped in his distinctive Appalachian-rooted sound, he still manages to stretch out his musical wings.

Whether highlighting his bluegrass credentials with the Woody Guthrie-McCutcheon penned “When My Fight for Life Is Over,” the rocking insistence of “Big Day,” or the chamber-folk delicacy of the title track, the musicianship is stellar. With appearances by fiddler Stuart Duncan and vocalists Kathy Mattea and Tim O’Brien, the production is pristine, and the songwriting is both spare and muscular; classic John

Community Theater presents Yours Truly, Tom Dooley

The performance of Your’s Truly, Tom Dooley at Hertiage Hall was a great success. Photo by Meg Dickens.

Did Tom Dooley kill Laura Foster or did the authorities hang the wrong man?
The Johnson County Community Theater invites all to watch the story unwind and to decide for themselves.

The performance, Yours Truly, Tom Dooley follows the real-life story of Confederate soldier Tom Dula’s (pronounced do-lee) return home to Ferguson, North Carolina and the murder of his lover Laura Foster.
In the Appalachian Mountains, Tom Dula is well known. According to Frank Proffitt Jr., his grandmother wrote the famous song “Tom Dooley” after overhearing Dula singing the chorus on his way to the gallows. Dula hanged on May 1, 1868.  Fittingly, 150 years later rehearsals for Yours Truly, Tom Dooley were in full swing, especially since Dula was caught here in Johnson County.

Yours Truly, Tom Dooley brings together a variety of local talent. Aside from the talented Johnson County Community Theater Players, the production performed on Friday, June 8, featured JAM students who set the mood with string instruments and The Young at Heart Square Dance Club who chipped in some well-choreographed moves.

School Board District 1 candidate Russell Robinson played Frank Whitley, District 2 Constable candidate Keith Estevens played Ben Ferguson and Mayoral candidate Mike Taylor volunteers to assist the JAM program.

The show will be playing once again this weekend on June 15 at 7pm and June 16 at 3pm and 7pm. All are encouraged to learn more about a little slice of local history.

Tomahawk needs military pictures and info for ‘In Honor In Memory’ edition

The Tomahawk’s annual “In Honor In Memory” edition will be coming out July 4 and will again feature local past and present military personnel. We are once again seeking pictures and information that you, our readers, would like to see in The Tomahawk. Please help us recognize those that have served or are currently serving. We ask that you not submit articles or pictures that we have printed previously to ensure that we have a fresh, new product again this year. We will need all information by Friday, June 27.

Decision 2018-Circuit Court Clerk

Circuit Court Clerk Candidates


Job Description

Tennessee places the judicial power of the state in one Supreme Court and several other lower courts, which state legislature creates including circuit and chancery courts. Accordingly, the state constitution instructs chancellors to appoint the clerk and master for six-year terms while Circuit Court Clerks are elected at the regular August election occurring every four years and coinciding with the governor’s election for a four-year term.

The Circuit Court Clerk’s office, located on the second floor of the courthouse, sees a steady stream of visitors as it prepares all dockets for court and maintains court files and services for the county. This office also stays consistently busy renewing information to all active files, calculating all court costs for all cases receipting court’s costs and fines paid into the courts by defendants and disbursing funds to appropriate agencies and individuals. Collecting and distributing child support, approving property bonds set by commissioners or judges for defendant released from incarceration, and performing criminal background checks for those seeking criminal information are all on the list.

Decision 2018- Sheriff

Johnson County Sheriff Candidates


Job Description

In addition to the general qualifications of officeholders, the office of sheriff has several specific elements including the requirement to be psychologically tested to determine fitness to serve in the office. Also, the sheriff, who is the primary conservator of the peace in the county, is charged with more statutory duties and responsibilities than any other elected or appointed official in the state.

The statutory dutiesof the Sheriff include: keeping the peace, attending the courts, serving the process and orders of the courts, and operating the jail. Each of these divisions plays a vital role in the daily operations of the sheriff’s office. There are additional responsibilities of the county sheriff, which include administrative proceedings, records management, dispatch operations, criminal investigations, service of warrants, courthouse security, and training.

FSA committee nominations launch June 15

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) encourages America’s farmers and ranchers to nominate candidates to lead, serve and represent their community on their local county committee. USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) will accept nominations for county committee members beginning Friday, June 15, 2018.

Producers across the country are already serving on committees where they play a critical role in the day-to-day operations of FSA, making important decisions on programs dealing with disaster and conservation, emergencies, commodity price loan support, county office employment and other agricultural issues.

“Our county committees make decisions about how federal farm programs are administered locally to best serve the needs of agriculture in their community,” said Acting FSA Administrator Steve Peterson.

“We strongly encourage all eligible producers to visit their local FSA office today to find out how to get involved in their county’s election. There’s an increasing need for representation from underserved producers, which includes beginning, women and other minority farmers and ranchers.”
Nationwide, more than 7,700 dedicated farmers and ranchers serve on FSA county committees, which consist of three to 11 members and meet once a month, or as needed. Members serve three-year terms.

Producers can nominate themselves or others. Check your local USDA service center to see if your local administrative area is up for election this year. Organizations, including those representing beginning, women and minority producers, may also nominate candidates to better serve their communities. To be eligible to serve on an FSA county committee, producers must participate or cooperate in an FSA program and reside in the area where the election is being held.

To be considered, a producer must sign an FSA-669A nomination form. The form and other information about FSA county committee elections are available at All nomination forms for the 2018 election must be postmarked or received in the local FSA office by Aug. 1, 2018. Visit for more information.

Election ballots will be mailed to eligible voters beginning Nov. 5, 2018. Read more to learn about important election dates.

A.C.T.I.O.N. Coalition kicks off summer day camp rotation

Sadie and Jada are learning about healthy nutrition while preparing yummy blueberry smoothies during last week’s A.C.T.I.O.N. Coalition Day Camp. This week’s day camp is in the Trade Community and then Shady Valley, Laurel Bloomery and Mountain City the following weeks.

By Jill Peney
Freelance Writer

The summer just got more fun for several local children and teens as the A.C.T.I.O.N. Coalition of Johnson County is hosting five summer day camps geared towards elementary and middle school students focusing on drug and alcohol prevention.

“This year we will be having a day camp in the communities of Butler, Trade, Laurel Bloomery, Shady Valley, and Mountain City,” said Denise Woods, Prevention Coordinator, A.C.T.I.O.N Coalition, Inc. “We will be having lots of fun with the Olympic Theme, drug education, teambuilding activities, and crafts.”
The rotation is expected to culminate on Saturday, June 30, with an Olympic Game Day celebration for all summer camp participants.

Children, teens, and adolescents in Johnson County face many risks almost unknown to past generations including widespread drug availability. Responding to these risks before they become problematic and pervasive can be difficult, but it is the mission of one local non-profit organization to eliminate substance abuse.To that end, the organization has identified effective interventions with younger populations to help prevent risk behaviors before drug abuse occurs. Exciting events are aimed at keeping children safe and teaching them how to make wise decisions.

“We know that early intervention can set the stage for more positive self-regulation as children prepare for their high school years,” said Woods. “People who use drugs typically begin doing so during adolescence or young adulthood.”

Established in 2005, the A.C.T.I.O.N. Coalition (Alliance of Citizens Together Improving Our Neighborhoods) was initially a product of an HRSA (Human Resource and Service Administration) grant, aimed at increasing mental health services in the county and America’s Promise movement. Funding also comes from various state and federal grants. Since its inception, the A.C.T.I.O.N. Coalition has expanded, and with the assistance of state and federal grant funding, supports and sponsors several youth development programs such as SADD (Students Against Drunk Driving) and MTC (Mobile Team Challenge). They also host RBS (Responsible Beverage Server) training and numerous sobriety checkpoints in partnership with law enforcement in addition to mentoring & facilitating new coalitions Throughout Northeast TN.

For more information or to register for an upcoming camp visit the A.C.T.I.O.N Coalition office at 138 East Main Street, Mountain City, TN, or call 423-727-0780.

ETSU Center for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment receives $500,000 state appropriation

JOHNSON CITY – East Tennessee State University has been awarded a $500,000 state appropriation to bolster the work of its Center for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment. On Thursday, ETSU leaders hosted a reception to thank several state officials for their efforts in garnering the funding.

“The lives of thousands of Tennesseans are going to be positively impacted because of your leadership,” said Dr. Brian Noland, ETSU president. “This is an issue that is in all of our back yards. It runs through our homes, our schools, our churches. It is here and we are an institution that is trying to do our part to make a difference.”

Tennessee Speaker of the House Beth Harwell noted that after establishing a task force in 2017 to address the opioid epidemic, the first place she decided to visit was ETSU. At a forum held on campus last year, Harwell and members of the task force on opioid and prescription drug abuse learned more about the epidemic from ETSU experts as well as efforts underway to combat it.

“I believe ETSU’s center can truly be the model for this state. You are laying the groundwork for the rest of the state to follow,” Harwell said Thursday morning. “I am proud we could come together and we were able to get the additional funding.”

Rep. Gary Hicks, who carried the appropriation bill in the House of Representatives, thanked ETSU for “stepping up to the plate” to address the opioid epidemic and credited the university’s “high-impact treatment and prevention programs” in the arena with already saving lives.

“This $500,000 appropriation will ensure the excellent work being performed at ETSU will continue as we try to eradicate the opioid epidemic,” said Hicks, an ETSU alumnus. “There’s no silver bullet to stop this issue. It will continue to take a multi-faceted approach.”

Dr. Rob Pack, executive director of the center, agreed that a multi-faceted approach is needed, noting that the goal of the center is to expand the use of evidence-based tools and involve all aspects of the community in the effort.

“At the Center for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment, our intention is serve as a central clearinghouse for high-impact programs, helping to align and accelerate the great work many institutions are already doing and then leveraging those activities for even greater impact,” Pack said. “Our vision is a Central Appalachia that is free of the burden of illicit drug abuse. It is going to take a while, but this is personal for all of us and we are doing our level best to fight this epidemic.”

The ETSU Center for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment was established in the spring of 2016. It is an outgrowth of the ETSU Prescription Drug Abuse and Misuse Working Group, a network of community and university stakeholders established by the university in 2012 to address the growing epidemic.

Last month, the center was awarded the 2018 Public Health Excellence award from the United States Public Health Service. The award recognizes ETSU’s strong community focus on the prevention and treatment of substance abuse throughout East Tennessee and the region. In addition to Harwell and the House task force, several others have visited ETSU to hear more about its efforts to combat opioid abuse, including U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams and Dr. Robert Califf, commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration at the time of his visit.

For more about the ETSU Center for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment, visit

Tennessee Ranks Number One in National Education Study

NASHVILLE- Tennessee is the top state to close the “honesty gap” while simultaneously raising expectations and improving student performance, according to a new study released today (here) by Education Next. Education Commissioner Candice McQueen joined the authors and other education leaders in Washington, D.C. today to highlight Tennessee’s progress.

For the first time ever, the authors of the report from Education Next gave Tennessee an “A” for the state’s academic standards in 2017, after the state had received a “B” or “B-” grade for several years and an “F” for the state’s academic standards in 2009. The report also highlights the improved performance of Tennessee students on national assessments, and it notes the state now has a test – TNReady – that provides feedback similar to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a key national benchmark.

The report shows that Tennessee has closed the proficiency gap between NAEP and Tennessee’s state test by more than 60 points since 2009 – more than any other state. This finding is mirrored in a report released last week from Achieve, which looked in more detail at the “honesty gap,” or the disparity between how students score on state tests and how they perform on NAEP. In that report, again Tennessee was highlighted as one of seven states that narrowed the honesty gap in at least one grade or content area by 10 or more points between 2015 and 2017. In Tennessee specifically, the gap was narrowed in every content area and grade, which essentially eliminated the honesty gap overall. For both of these reports, this was the first time Tennessee was evaluated based on TNReady and not the old state TCAP exam.

“In Tennessee, we stand out from other states as our increase in proficiency standards has gone hand in hand with gains in student achievement,” Commissioner McQueen said. “Our students are growing to meet our high expectations where other states have stayed flat, and we’ve closed the ‘honesty gap’ more than any other state. These national studies underscore that we must keep investing in our educators, support strong implementation of the standards along with an aligned assessment, focus on growth as part of a robust accountability model, and put students at the center of every decision.”

Raising standards and closing the honesty gap has been a decade-long journey for Tennessee that started when the U.S. Chamber of Commerce also gave Tennessee two “F”s in 2007: one for low academic expectations and one for truth in advertising. At that point, the proficiency difference between the annual state test (TCAP) and NAEP was 60+ points. While TCAP showed more than 90 percent of students were proficient, NAEP showed numbers in the mid-20s, and Tennessee’s colleges and employers said too many high school graduates weren’t ready.

As Tennessee raised academic expectations to help students seamlessly transition after high school into higher education and the workforce, the state invested millions into supporting educators in implementing the new standards, first through large-scale trainings for tens of thousands of teachers and now through annual district- and regionally led trainings that are state-supported. The department has also invested in materials and resources, particularly in areas where feedback from the state assessment has indicated more support is needed, like early grades reading. Overall, since the call to action in 2007, Tennessee has not only closed the honesty gap to provide more accurate feedback on the state TNReady exam, but Tennessee’s students have also improved on NAEP across every grade and subject.

For more information about these two reports, please review the Education Next and Achieve studies on their respective websites and reach out to the authors. For media inquiries about Tennessee’s progress, please reach out to

Safety takes center stage ahead of summer boating season

Wear it TN

By Tamas Mondovics

Memorial Day is the unofficial start of the summer as well as the time for millions of boaters to enjoy local lakes, rivers as well as waterways across the country. Over the holiday weekend last year, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWR) reported 17 boating under the influence (BUI) arrests. Officers also reported one injury accident and five property damage incidents.Thus far in 2018, there have been five boating-related fatalities, four injury-accident incidents, and five property damage accidents in the state, while three of the five fatalities have involved paddle crafts.

To ensure that the summer fun does not end up in tragedy the 2018 National Safe Boating Week, May 19-25 under the direction of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency zeroed in on boating safety especially the promoting of the wear of life jackets. The initiative included The Wear Your Life Jacket to Work Day on Friday, May 18 with the goal of demonstrating how easy it is to wear a life jacket, even while at work. Then on Saturday, May 19, the campaign, “Ready, Set, Wear It!” entered its ninth year in trying to bring awareness on the importance of life jacket wear by holding a world record day.

Participants have attempted to break a world record for the most life jackets worn at one time, which kicked off the start of National Safe Boating Week.
According to TWR officials, the primary goal of National Safe Boating Week is “to educate the public about the importance of safe boating practices and wearing life jackets while on the water.” For all who are or planning on cruising area waters throughout Tennessee are encouraged to remember few rules before venturing out for some summer fun. For starters, residents born after January 1, 1989, must show the TWRA-issued wallet Boating Safety Education Certificate as proof of successful completion of the TWRA Boating Safety exam.  No other certificate will be accepted as meeting the requirements of the law.
The certification is not required if there is an adult (18 years old or older) on board to take immediate control of the vessel. However, this adult, if born after January 1, 1989, must have the boating education certification.

TWRA urges all boaters to remember some of the basics:
*Have a wearable life jacket for every person onboard
*If your boat is 16 feet or longer, there must be a Type IV throwable device onboard
*Have onboard a fire extinguisher if you have enclosed fuel compartments or cabins
*Anyone under the age of 13 must wear a life jacket at all times while the boat is underway – drifting is considered underway

Out of State Boaters born after January 1, 1989, TWRA will accept any NASBLA approved boating safety certificate. Along with the use of life jackets, TWRA wants to stress the responsible use of alcohol while boating.

“It is important to consider the effects of drinking and driving whether on water or land. In a boat on the water, the effects of alcohol increase because of external stressors such as engine vibration, wave motion, and glare from the sun,” the agency stated. “Operating a boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs is illegal in Tennessee.”

According to TWRA a few tips to be well prepared for the season are:
How do I replace my lost or stolen boating safety card?
If your boating safety card is lost or stolen, you may purchase a Type 605 license from a license agent for $5.00. The duplicate card will be mailed approximately 2 weeks from purchase date.
How do I take the exam?
First, you must be at least 12
years old to take the exam. After studying the boating safety material, you must first purchase, for $10.00, a Type 600 boating safety exam permit from any business (license agent) that sells hunting and fishing licenses. If your parents or someone else purchase the permit for you to take the exam, they must give your information to the sales agent.
Otherwise, the proper information will not match, and the boating safety certificate will not be  issued.
The receipt of this transaction is your “ticket” to take the exam. Try not to lose this receipt, it will admit you to an exam location and will also serve as a temporary certificate if you pass the exam.
If you do not pass the exam, this receipt/”ticket” can continue to be used to take the exam as many times as it takes to pass. Try not to lose it!

How do I study?
There are many avenues to study:
• Call (615) 781-6682, email: or write to Boating Division, TWRA, PO Box 40747, Nashville, TN 37204 and have study materials sent to you (free) and self-study.
• Log onto and study online by clicking “Study Guide” at the top of the page.
• Boating Safety classes are offered throughout the state.
How long does it take to complete the exam?
Allow approximately one hour for taking the exam.
How long will it take to receive my wallet card?
When you pass the exam, you will receive your wallet card in the mail within a few weeks.

Renters of Watercraft
People who rent any watercraft are exempt from having the certification. The renter is determined by the name that appears on the rental agreement. To take the exam only, residents should bring Social Security Number, black pen, and type 600 Boating Safety Exam Permit to testing locations. Students can go to any county to take the class or exam. The Johnson County Boating Class and exam facility are located at the Mountain City Library. By appointment only – (423) 727-6544

True Patriots

John Wayne Geffries

USMC Sgt. John Wayne Jeffries, 69, poses for a photo with a memorial collage display of those he served and fought with in Vietnam. The display was created by Jeffries to honorthe men he calls “True Patriots.” Photo by Tamas Mondovics

By Tamas Mondovics

To keep the memories alive and honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, USMC Sgt. John Wayne Jeffries, 69, created a photo collage display of those he calls, True Patriots.With the assistance of Final Touch Picture Frames, the display includes the photos of Jeffries’ friends and relatives who have served from and fought from the Guadalcanal of the of the Solomon Islands, to Saipan, Korea, and Vietnam.

“These men would not tell you they have received every medal from the navy Cross to Silver Stars, Combat Vs and A Battle Stars,” Jeffries said. “Some came home with as many as three Purple Hearts.”

Jeffries emphasized that the men in the collage are much more than just some who gave the ultimate sacrifice when he added, “They represent everything that this country stands for when it comes to patriotism.”

Jeffries said that the display of his new collage memorial will be hanging in his living room as he considers himself “one of the luckiest guys in the world just to have met and to have the privilege to know these Americans.”

Shelled Speedsters sprint for the finish line

By Marlana Ward
Freelance Writer

The stands were packed, and crowds lined the Ralph Stout Park pavilion as the Lions Club hosted its 15th annual Turtle Derby on Friday, May 25. The park was filled with roars of applause as those in attendance cheered on their favorite amphibious athletes. The track was prepped and primed for the race as the day’s shelled heroes waited their turn to show their endurance and speed. Each race featured ten tiny racers who were sponsored by local businesses who hoped their turtle would bring pride and prestige to their name. The sponsors were not limited to the Mountain City area as businesses from across state lines seized the opportunity to be included in the annual event.

As the turtle handlers brought the contestants to the starting line, fans in attendance began discussing what made their turtle the favorite for each heat. The handlers had to restrain the rambunctious reptiles until the starting call was made and the race began. Children at the finish line jumped and shouted to give their turtle extra encouragement and motivation to cross the line first. The crowd’s energy was high and obviously gave the racers added inspiration to do their best.Thirteen heats were held to determine the fastest turtles. The quickest heat was concluded in the blistering time of only twenty-eight seconds while the slowest heat was completed in over six minutes. No matter if the heat was one of the quickest or a bit slower, the crowd happily cheered.

For the final, championship race, the then fastest turtles were brought to the lanes. The racers were anxious to start and eagerly awaited the chance to scamper down to victory. Race emcee and Lions Club President Kevin Parsons introduced each returning contestant and got the crowd ready to cheer louder than ever to ensure a memorable finish. The shout to start was given, and the turtles began their race to destiny. Though it was the closest race of the evening, Otis, the turtle sponsored by Suba’s, broke his own personal record to win the race with a time of twenty-seven seconds.

The Turtle Derby is the Lions Club’s largest fundraiser of the year and the most anticipated by the local public. This year’s event included sponsors from not only Mountain City but from Zionville, NC and Damascus, VA as well. More than $3,500 was raised for the organization, which will go to help families in Johnson County with vision problems.
In addition to the sponsorship of the turtles, area businesses also supported the event by providing door prizes, which were awarded throughout the game. The most substantial prizes of the evening were two bicycles supplied by Joe Herman of Danny Herman Trucking that was won by two lucky kids at the end of the derby.
The Lions Club seeks to help individuals who are in need of vision care and corrective lenses but are unable to afford vision tests or glasses. In addition to the derby, the club also raises funds by selling high-quality brooms and mops, which are sought after by many each year. The club also receives funds for their work setting out the American flags, which line the town streets on important holidays such as Memorial Day and the Fourth of July.

The Johnson County Lions Club meets on the second and fourth Thursday of each month at Lois’s Country Cafe at 7 pm. Anyone interested in learning more about the Lions Club may call 727-8817 or 727-4119 for more information.

Local spanish students gain national recognition for excellence

NSE Medal Winners 2018

JCHS spanish students stand proudly with their awards.Left to right: Tyler Morefield, Cristen Cornett,Will Butler and Margaret Morrow. Photo submitted by Jennifer Gillenwater.

Congratulations to several Spanish students from Johnson County High School who attained national recognition for excellent performance on the 2018 National Spanish Examinations.Students from JCHS earned a total of 1 silver (Abigail Smith in Spanish IV) and 5 bronze medals (Will Butler, Tyler Morefield and Margaret Morrow in Spanish II and Shea Huyard and Cristen Cornett in Spanish IV) along with 11 honorable mentions (Reshauna Johnson, Renie Morrow, Rebecca Nowak, Hannah Osborne, Kristina Phillippi, Destiny Price, Gavin Reece, Danielle Shepherd, Mara Wilks, and Daniela Mendoza in Spanish II , and Krista Summerow in Spanish IV).  “Attaining a medal or honorable mention for any student on the National Spanish Examinations is very prestigious,” said Kevin Cessna-Buscemi, National Director of the Exams, “because the exams are the largest of their kind in the United States with over 150,000 students participating in 2018.”

Their teacher, Jennifer Gillenwater, is extremely proud of their success this year, and encourages all her students to continue next year with Spanish III and IV at JCHS or at the university level. The National Spanish Examinations are administered each year in grades 6 through 12, and are sponsored by the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese.

TBI study hopes to help fight school crime

By Tamas Mondovics

That crime exists there is no doubt. Sadly crime in schools only adds to the reality of the times and the necessity of the local law enforcement agencies’ ever-increasing involvement in assisting school administrations across the nation.The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation TBI recently released a new study, detailing the volume and nature of crime on K-12 campuses across the state.

“This study will hopefully assist law enforcement, school administrations, and government officials in planning their efforts in the fight against crime and continue to create awareness that crime exists as a threat to our communities,” said TBI Director Mark Gwyn.

The annual report compiles three years of crime data submitted to TBI by the state’s law enforcement agencies through the Tennessee Incident Based Reporting System (TIBRS).According to the report from 2015 to 2017, a total of 27,038 offenses were reported by Tennessee law enforcement agencies with a ‘School’ location code.Additional statistics included the number of offenses occurring in school, which has increased 13.5percent, from 8,494 offenses in 2015 to 9,642 in 2017.
The most frequently reported offense is Simple Assault; accounting for a third of reported incidents, while the month of September had the highest frequency of reported school crimes.

Perhaps not surprising many, while males accounted for 57.3% of offenders in reported offenses, females accounted for 52.8% of victims. The most common weapon type was ‘Personal Weapons (Hands, Fist, Feet, Etc.),’ at 80.1percent.

“The threats to society by criminal activity must be addressed by efforts from all law-abiding citizens, as well as law enforcement agencies,” Gwyn said.

As for the above data, the Bureau cautions against comparing one jurisdiction to another. TBI officials added that the factors impacting crime vary from community to community and accordingly, comparisons are considered neither fair nor accurate. The full report is available for review and download on the TBI’s website:

Food that’s in when school is out


Free summer meals are provided at Roan Creek Elementary and many other locations around Johnson County.Photo Courtesy of Johnson County Student Nutrition Service.

Johnson County Nutrition Service provides free summer meals.

By Tamas Mondovics

To ensure students receive nutritionally balanced meals while out of school, Johnson County Student Nutrition Services program is once again offering several opportunities as it rolls out its summer food service program. As noted by the Tennessee Department of Human Services just as learning does not end when school lets out, neither does a child’s need for proper nutrition.

The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) provides free, nutritious meals and snacks to help children get the nutrition they need to learn, play, and grow throughout the summer months when they are out of school.Through its moving meals “food vans” the program has been bringing food into communities for years, providing thousands of meals each season. The service is managed locally by School Nutrition director Kathy McCulloch, who oversees the program under the direction of the Johnson County Board Of Education, 211 N. Church St, in Mountain City.

The pair of delivery vans is operated by four volunteers, who will serve nutritious, hot and cold meals to the children up to age 18, at multiple locations. All meals are free and will be served each week, Monday through Friday beginning on Tuesday, May 29 through July 20, 2018. McCulloch explained that the purpose of the annual summer program is to ensure that children are well fed during the summer break.

“This is the only program that offers nutritious meals all week and all summer,” McCulloch said.

Last summer the program served an average of 250 meals each day, amounting to more than 15,000 meals over the summer months. The Tennessee Department of Human Services reported that 1 in 4 children face hunger every day in the state. Established by Congress in 1968, the SFSP serves to ensure that during school vacation, children 18 years or younger of low-income could receive the same high-quality meals provided during the school year by the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs.

The Tennessee Department of Human Services (DHS) administers the SFSP under an agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and in concert with community partners, known as Sponsors. The SFSP generally begins when school closes in late spring and continues until school opens for the fall term.
Special provisions are available for areas where schools operate on year-round schedules. For more information regarding the Summer Food Service Program, please contact Kathy McCulloch, at 423-727-2657.