BLOUNTVILLE — More than 400 people have signed an online petition seeking a second online survey on the rebranding of Sullivan South High School to a middle school.
The petition seeks the option of calling the facility Sullivan South Middle instead of Sullivan Heights Middle, which was the recommendation of the Sullivan County Board of Education and a 17-member committee of students, teachers and parents. The committee also recommended Huskies as the school’s mascot.
The petition, launched by Ria Hardy Rigney and supported by Sullivan County Commissioner Angie Stanley, who serves as chair of the Education Committee, seeks a second survey offering a choice between Sullivan Heights Middle and Sullivan South Middle, with a Raiders mascot.
As of Friday afternoon, the petition had drawn 413 virtual signatures.
WHAT DOES PETITION SAY?
“Tonight the school board decided to ignore the request made to add a vote for Sullivan South Middle School with the mascot of Raiders or Blue Raiders,” Rigney wrote on the petition she started on change.org.
“This school is to combine several communities with AMAZING school spirit and community support — we should get a vote to combine our community vs. changing everything. All we are asking for is a vote. By signing this petition you are showing our school board that our community wants to vote on two choices: Sullivan South Middle School — Mascot Raiders — and Sullivan Heights Middle School — Mascot Huskies. Give us the vote.”
Rigney, who Stanley said she does not know, could not be reached for comment Friday.
However, a Facebook post by Rigney about three days after the petition was posted reported almost 250 signatures at that point. She also wrote that per board policy one of the five members who approved the new name would be able to bring the matter back up for a vote.
“The more support and signatures we have the more likely we will be successful. We are just asking for a vote,” Hardy said in the Jan. 11 Facebook post.
The new middle school will open on the South campus in August when South, Central and North high schools merge to form West Ridge off Exit 63 of Interstate 81. The middle school will be a combination of Sullivan North Middle, Colonial Heights Middle and the middle school portion of Sullivan Gardens K-8.
Director of Schools David Cox said the new school name was intended to reflect the legacy of the three middle schools going into one middle school, not the legacy of the two high schools.
WHAT DOES STANLEY SAY?
Stanley spoke in person to the school board before its Jan. 7 meeting vote to adopt the committee recommendation, which reflected the survey results. Stanley said she understood not reusing the South Rebels mascot because of the rivalry between North and South high schools and other reasons.
She said the Raiders mascot would represent the Bloomingdale and Lynn Garden communities that feed North Middle and South the high school into which Sullivan Gardens and Colonial Heights Middle would have fed.
Stanley said she wishes alumni of North and South high schools had specific slots on the 17-member committee and she feels the committee “was led in the direction the board wanted to be going.”
Committee members were affiliated with the three existing middle schools merging into the new middle school.
Stanley in her remarks cited competition for students from a new Tri-Cities Christian Academy planned to be built off Fordtown Road near Tri-Cities Crossing by August 2023.
In addition, she said the county school board not renaming Sullivan South High South Middle would add unneeded rebranding and new sign costs and possibly hurt community and financial support for the school.
WHAT WAS SCHOOL BOARD VOTE BREAKDOWN?
The school board vote was 5-2, with Chairman Randall Jones of Indian Springs, Vice Chairman Matthew Spivey of Kingsport, Randall Gilmore of Blountville, Michael Hughes of the Hickory Tree area and Mary Rouse of the Bristol area voting yes.
The results from the late 2019 online poll, which drew 2,733 participants total including 12 with partial results, were: Sullivan Heights 1,269 or 46.7%; Sullivan West 882 or 32.5%; and West Valley 564 or 20.8% of 2,715 votes on names.
Mascots were Hawks 459 or 16.8%; Huskies 1,520 or 55.8%; and Wolf Pack 747 or 27.4% out of 2,715 votes.
Colors were Columbia blue, charcoal gray and red 813 or 29.8%; Columbia blue, charcoal gray and white 1,118 or 43.3%; and Columbia blue, red and white 736 or 27% out of 2,730 votes on colors.
Mark Ireson of Colonial Heights and Paul Robinson of Bloomingdale voted no. A vote to table the decision for a month and have another online poll failed 2-5, with Ireson and Robinson voting yes and the others voting no.
At the same school board meeting, the board decided 7-0 to make the Sullivan Central High Cougars into Sullivan Central Middle Cougars. That survey had two options each for name, mascot and colors.
WHAT WERE CENTRAL SURVEY DETAILS?That Central online survey drew 2,454 responses, including 2,447 complete ones and seven partial.
Results were Sullivan Central Middle 1,955 or 79.8% and Central Valley Middle 494 or 20.2% out of 2,449 responses; Cougars 1,918 or 78.2% and Wildcats 534 or 21.8% out of 2,452 responses; and orange, charcoal gray and white 1,312 or 53.5% and orange, navy blue and white 1,139 or 46.5% out of 2,451 responses.
This isn’t the first time change.org petitions have been created to target local public school decisions or a lack thereof. In the fall,a student started an online petition to change the Dobyns-Bennett High School Indians mascot.
However, a response petition to keep the Indians/a got more signatures. Other petitions on the matter also got votes, as did one on a completely separate issue: alleging inferior toliet paper at D-B and seeking improvement.
To date, none of the pro or con Indians petitions have been presented to the city school board, which President Jim Welch said has no inclination to act on the request.