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Business Roundtable - Warren County schools face challenges
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It was a changing of the guard at the Central Office in May when Grant Swallows, left, was hired as director of schools and Bobby Cox retired.
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Grant Swallows and his wife, Beth Ann, are joined by their children, from left, Judah, 6, Anniston, 11, and Brady, 13.

Grant Swallows became the new Warren County Director of Schools on May 22, replacing retiring Bobby Cox. Grant and wife, Beth Ann, are both graduates of Tennessee Tech (2003) with bachelor’s degrees in English and journalism.  

Beth Ann worked for Tennessee Tech admissions for five years after college. She then left the work force to raise a family. Most recently, Beth Ann is the site supervisor for Motlow Community College in Sparta.

Grant and Beth Ann have three children – Brady (age 13), Anniston (age 11), and Judah (age 6). All three attend White County Schools. Beth Ann is originally from White County. The Swallows family attends First Baptist Church in Sparta.

Grant grew up in Livingston. He played football and baseball while attending Tennessee Tech. After college, Grant was employed at Livingston Academy in Livingston for five years as a teacher and coach for football and baseball. Grant became an assistant principal during the latter part of his experience there.  

For the next three years, Grant became an associate athletic director at Tennessee Tech for development. His highlight for this job was recruiting $2 million for a new athletic facility for weightlifting.  

During this time, Grant earned a master’s degree in Instructional Leadership. His third career position was principal at White County High School in Sparta where Grant was for nine years. Among his achievements at White County were being designated an Reward School (top 5% in TN for growth on standardized tests), won a State Farm Insurance $100,000 grant, and being a state finalist for Principal of the Year (one of nine finalists) with the Tennessee Department of Education.  

Grant has been working on earning his doctorate in education through Tennessee State. He has taken all the academic classes needed and is finishing up his thesis. He expects to earn the doctorate by the end of 2020.  

I asked Grant what attracted him to Warren County Schools. He was drawn to the opportunity and area by its reputation for leadership and community involvement with industry, particularly with Career Technical Education (CTE). Grant considers the progress made herein as unique. He is also excited by the natural beauty of Warren County. His family is planning to relocate here.

Grant reports directly to the Warren County School Board. It has a monthly board meeting. He also makes a weekly update to the board.  

Three of the six School Board members are up for re-election in 2020 – Bill Zechman, Teddy Jones, and Tanya Bess. All three are running for re-election, with Bill being unopposed.  

The board and Grant’s position operate with a five-year strategic plan. It so happens that the new academic year will be the fifth year of the current five-year plan. That will allow the plan to be tweaked, monitored, and adjusted such that a new five-year plan will be up for board approval by summer 2021. 

Many of the successful aspects of the current plan will be continued. There is also a five-year capital plan. With as many buildings and schools in the system and the aging thereof, there will be a continuing need for capital projects and improvements. The current construction at West Elementary is expected to be completed early in the new school year. Looking to the future, projects are likely to be proposed at Warren County Middle School and Eastside Elementary. One exciting new development was the addition to the central staff of a grant writer, Christie Allison. A lot of the CTE success has developed as a result of grant writing. This focus will continue.  

Grant’s No. 1 job priority is dealing with the pandemic as it relates to the restart of school this August. He is closely following all guidelines being issued by the TN Department of Education, as well as his fellow school directors across the state. He communicates closely with other directors via zoom conferences, etc.  

At the June 25 School Board meeting, the following plan was approved. Warren County schools will open on the traditional schedule which begins Aug. 12. A hybrid approach will be phased in over the first two weeks. 

Some students will be on a Monday/ Wednesday schedule with others being on a Tuesday/ Thursday schedule. Students will learn remotely (online) on the days they do not go to the physical school buildings. 

Fridays will be reserved for school planning and students learning from home. The goal in the phase-in process will be to clearly establish expectations for safety, routines, benchmarking students based on a five month stint away from school, and allowing teachers the opportunity to prepare students for a seamless transition to remote learning, if necessary. 

After that process, schools and students could return to a traditional model of school with safety precautions in place. 

Grant advised that there will be an expanded virtual learning option for those wanting to learn online. The ultimate solution to the pandemic would be the offering of a proven vaccine which is likely to occur within the next academic year.  Fall sports are likely to be directed by guidelines established by the TSSAA.  

Grant has met with Durham Bus officials. They are committed to thorough bus cleaning from morning to afternoon. Schools are likely to be provided with disinfectants, face masks, etc. as deemed appropriate. Dealing with the pandemic is a moving target. Grant and his staff are totally committed to coming up with the optimal plan and approach.

Other job priorities are creating a culture and climate to increase positivity, to focus and prepare for achievement with ACT tests, and to continue with the success plans already in place.  

Grant Swallows brings excellent career, educational, and success credentials to be our Director of Schools. BRAC congratulates Grant with this appointment and commits to providing support and collaboration for continued success.