A1 A1
top story
Johnson City transitioning to two middle schools August 2022

Johnson City Schools plans to officially transition to two middle schools serving grades 6-8 on Aug. 3, 2022, a change that school officials expect will help alleviate overcrowding.

“It seems like quite a ways off, but it’ll be here before we know it,” Todd Barnett, the system’s middle grades supervisor, told members of the Johnson City Board of Education on Monday evening. “There’s a lot of people doing a tremendous amount of work behind the scenes to make sure this happens successfully and we do things right by our students and by our community.”

Currently, students in the city system attend Indian Trail Intermediate School for grades 5 and 6 before moving to Liberty Bell Middle School for grades 7 and 8.

Under the system’s new configuration, both facilities will transition to schools serving grades 6-8, and fifth grade will move back to the elementary school level.

Students attending Fairmont, Lake Ridge and Mountain View elementary schools will go to Indian Trail Middle School when they enter sixth grade, and students attending Cherokee, North Side, South Side, Towne Acres and Woodland will move to Liberty Bell.

School leaders have also stressed the importance of equity in this process.

“We want our schools to be as close to equitable in terms of population size, socio-economic status, all those things,” Barnett said, adding that leaders want to ensure all students who graduate from the two middle schools will be ready for the curriculum at Science Hill High School.

In school year 2022-23, the system projects Indian Trail will have a student population of 855 with 26% of its student body being from a minority group and 39% being economically disadvantaged.

The system projects Liberty Bell will have a student population of 934 in the same year with 27% of its students being from a minority group and 32% being economically disadvantaged.

Johnson City is constructing classrooms at three of its elementary schools — Woodland, South Side and Lake Ridge — to add room for fifth-graders. In total, crews will construct 20 classrooms: four at South Side, eight at Woodland and eight at Lake Ridge.

Among other benefits, officials said, the reconfiguration will reduce the number of school transitions students have to make from four to three.

“The additional time at the middle school level will allow staff to build and develop deeper relationships with all students as opposed to a two-year configuration,” Barnett explained.

It will also help reduce a bottleneck at Indian Trail.

Currently, Superintendent Steve Barnett said, Indian Trail has more than 1,200 students, but it has an optimal capacity of about 1,100.

Under the new configuration, Indian Trail will have three feeder schools rather than eight.

The superintendent expects the number of students attending Indian Trail will continue to increase as people move to Johnson City.

“I think it’s really important to point out that this frees up space at our two middle schools for growth,” he said.

School system leaders also see the transition as a chance to expand opportunities for students in academics, athletics, fine arts and leadership development.

Among the key considerations that officials are assessing as they prepare to make the transition, Todd Barnett said, is the fact that a certain segment of current sixth-graders will attend Liberty Bell next year but will end up transitioning to Indian Trail for eighth grade.

“We want to make that as seamless as possible for those students, and we’re working on a plan for that,” he said.

Virtual gallery EAT/ART Space founder looks to keep momentum going in 2021

Founded last summer in response to the pandemic’s impact on local artists and artisans, the virtual art and food gallery EAT/ART Space is all about connection and collaboration.

And though vaccines make real the possibility of the world returning to some sense of normalcy in late 2021, founder and curator Jocelyn Mathewes wants to keep that collaboration going as long as there is interest — though it doesn’t have to stay in her dining room, where it’s been since its inception. The virtual gallery features interviews with the artist, a livestream of the gallery and gives audiences the ability to purchase art from the gallery’s website.

“This project is for the artists and food community; I’m here for it if they are,” Mathewes said. “While EAT/ART space is currently in my dining room, it doesn’t have to stay there. I’m most interested in and open to continuing to collaborate with others — that’s where I see possibilities opening up. One of those ideas is coordinating a larger pop-up event, perhaps in a rented space that would like to host artists and food.

“Our region already has several local art pop-ups happening; there are restaurants and breweries hosting artists too,” Mathewes continued. “The energy is all there, and I’m excited to see where it leads.”

Mathewes said the response thus far has been very positive from artists, the food community and audiences alike, something that “brings me so much joy.”

“My own sense from feedback is it’s been a positive and engaging experience for both artists and the community. During artist talks on Instagram and Facebook, we’ve seen a consistent audience show up and ask artists lots of questions about their work,” Mathewes said. “Artists themselves have mentioned that it feels good to show their work in a professional way and add to their experience of speaking publicly about their art. Restaurants have expressed appreciation to me.

“Audience members have mentioned to me they’ve learned about new artists and places to eat — hearing that brings me so much joy.”

Mathewes had lined up eight events through November, the third of which begins April 15 and features new work from watercolor artist Richard Graves and food from Frannie’s Vegan Cafe. Graves will be interviewed by Mathewes on Instagram at 6 p.m. on April 15, with the exhibit opening on Facebook Live at 6:30 p.m.

“There’s been so much good food and conversation through the whole process,” Mathewes said. “Talking with other artists about their work and sharing it with others gives me so much energy and excitement.”

For informatin, visit www.eatart.space.

Next shows:

  • April 15: Watercolor artist Richard Graves and Frannie’s Vegan Cafe.
  • May 13: Katie Murphy, figurative artist.
  • July 8: Donna Moore and Susan Patrice, solargrams and photography.
  • Sept. 9: Mary Nees, landscapes and abstraction.
  • Oct. 8: Laura Bowman, knotted sculptural textiles.
  • Nov. 11: Elena Corradino, iridescent enamal and resin.

New East Tennessee State University basketball coach Desmond Oliver discusses his vision for the program during a news conference Monday at Gordon Ball Court. Oliver is coming to ETSU after serving six seasons as an assistant coach at the University of Tennessee. He replaces Jason Shay, who served one year as ETSU’s head coach. See more on Page B1.

Science Hill junior Jenna Hutchins set a national record Saturday in the RunningLane Cross Country Championships in Huntsville, Ala.

Ballad Health establishes new post-COVID care unit

It’s been nearly six months since Laila Cowell tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

“My initial symptoms were not at all alarming, I had lost my taste and smell, I had a fever, aches and pains and generally (was) weak and short of breath,” Cowell said during a press conference Monday morning. “I felt unwell, but not so ill that I needed to seek care in a hospital, and I took care of myself at home and fully expected to return to life as normal within two weeks.

“By the end of week three, I felt much worse,” Cowell continued. “I had new symptoms including skin and joint pain, muscle pain, (brain) fog, chest pain, blurry vision and excessively high heart rate that showed up any time I did any minimal activity.”

Cowell went to an urgent care facility, where she was given a prescription for steroids and told told her lingering symptoms would likely resolve in about a week. Nearly six months later, she still hasn’t fully recovered.

“Prior to COVID, I was very active, I worked out several days a week, I hiked often and was overall a healthy person,” Cowell said Monday, noticeably out of breath. “My normal activities like taking the stairs, putting the dishes away or even showering have become nearly undoable and take up to an hour of time to recover. These types of tasks are so taxing, that many days I cannot do anything else.”

Cowell was desperate to find help, and began looking at post-COVID care clinics in other states to find help. None of the clinics were covered by her insurance, however, and the cost was too high to pay out of pocket — putting her back at square one: “I felt very trapped,” she said.

In mid-February, she caught a break when she was contacted by somebody from Ballad Health’s newly established Center for Post-COVID Care, and was one of about 250 participants in the center’s pilot program. Now, she estimates she’s returned to about 50% of her normal self, up from 30% before she started her treatment.

“I am so thankful to have a program like this in our area,” Cowell said. “I think it will be a great benefit to the people here, and as we continue to research and find out more we will be able to help more people.”

Ballad’s Chief Operating Officer Eric Deaton called the center, which does not yet have a physical space, a groundbreaking and innovative approach that will provide wrap-around care and help patients navigate their post-COVID recovery. The center is currently being piloted by those 65 and older and Ballad Health employees. Patients are connected virtually with a care manager who helps them work through setting appointments and accessing care.

“In its current form, this is not really a physical space that we’re referring to, but rather a virtual care model where a navigator is assigned to the patient with long-term COVID symptoms, and together we can help these patients navigate between their primary care, specialty care across a broad range of services including pulmonary, rehabilitation, behavioral health and cardiovascular care.”

The Center for Post-COVID Care will be led by Dr. Paul Jett, a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist.

“Hospitals and healthcare providers across the country and trying to grasp this issue and deal with it as well,” Jett said, “and I think Ballad is on the forefront in this regard, which is very pleasing.”

To seek care with the Center for Post-COVID Care, or to learn more, patients and referring providers can call (423) 952-2183 or email postcovid@balladhealth.org.

Ballad's COVID-19 hospitalizations reach highest point since Feb. 3

For the first time in nearly two months, Ballad Health was treating more than 100 people hospitalized with the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) on Monday, worrying hospital officials and prompting renewed concerns about the impact another increase in hospitalizations will have on healthcare workers who’ve battled the virus for more than a year now.

“It’s really hard on the team,” Ballad’s Chief Infection Prevention Officer Jamie Swift said. “They’ve come through this, they now know what could lie ahead and that’s really disheartening and that’s hard for a lot of them.”

Ballad’s Chief Operating Officer Eric Deaton said the system’s in-house modeling shows a potential surge to more than 150-160 hospitalizations if current trends continue.

“It was very alarming that we were back over 100 patients again through this weekend,” Deaton said. “We believe that, if you look at the forecast modeling that our team has been doing here, that we could be back over 150 to 160 inpatients again within a matter of time, so that’s obviously very concerning.

“That does not get us back to the 370 or so patients we were at at one time, but we could see that increase and, again, this continued stress it puts on our healthcare system is very difficult,” he continued.

Deaton also said the rise in cases and hospitalizations is likely due to an increase in the circulation of virus variants, as well as spring break travel and fewer people following virus prevention guidance.

Across the hospital system’s 21-county service area, new cases have increased week-over-week in each of the last four weeks.

“Our (Corporate Emergency Operations Center) was set up 400 days ago today,” Deaton said, later noting that there are some “very active strains” circulating in the region. “We still, unfortunately, have a fairly high rate of COVID-19 across our region.”

Swift encouraged people to receive vaccines to prevent another surge in hospitalizations, as the vaccines are extremely effective at preventing severe illness from COVID-19.

“If people will really see the numbers and think — even if you were thinking before, ‘I don’t need to get vaccinated’ — just get vaccinated for our community. We have appointments available this week, and I will be glad to help you if you have had trouble getting an appointment,” Swift said.

EXPLAINER: Minneapolis chief has sought to reform department