“Stories permeate every aspect of our lives”

“Stories permeate every aspect of our lives”

Park to bear name of ISC founder
Published in Herald & Tribune Dec. 18, 2014 issue

 A man born right outside of Jonesborough in the Dry Creek, Lamar area was recently recognized by the Town of Jonesborough for his contributions as mayor, as well as for being the founder of the National Storytelling Festival.

In a meeting on Dec. 8, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen unanimously approved renaming Storytelling Park as the new Jimmy Neil Smith Park.

“I was surprised first of all,” said Smith, who is also the former president of the International Storytelling Center. “After the shock, I obviously had a great sense of honor and pride. I never thought about a park being named after me, but a park is a beautiful thing.”

The park is located directly behind the International Storytelling Center.

The park is located directly behind the International Storytelling Center.

He said the park, which he had a hand in making happen through funding and work with the designer, is a special park in Jonesborough.

“It’s very attractive and very welcoming,” Smith said. “It’s a good location for activities.”

Mayor Kelly Wolfe said when the Town of Jonesborough acquired the storytelling building, they also acquired part of the Storytelling Park. He said in that acquisition, he made sure the negotiations for the naming rights of the new town park would be reserved for the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.

“It has been on my mind for quite some time,” Wolfe said during the meeting. “We as a town should honor the life’s work of another resident, and that is Mr. Jimmy Neil Smith.”

That honor is in part for his work in founding the National Storytelling Festival more than 40 years ago.

Wolfe said when town officials were applying for various grants and seeking various programs through the state legislature, they had a business analysis done to talk about the economic impact of the National Storytelling Festival. That analysis revealed that the festival has a $10 million annual economic impact on the area.

“You think about the power of storytelling and you think about how it relates to all of us on the most basic level. Your kids learn about who they are by the stories we tell at the dinner table. Grandparents pass on things that they have learned to their grandchildren through stories of what life was like growing up. We are entertained through stories,” Wolfe said. “Stories involve music; stories permeate every aspect of our lives. Jimmy was somebody many, many years ago who had the wisdom to capture that basic art of our humanity and bring it to Jonesborough and stake claim to it and make us the Storytelling Capital of the World.”

He told the board that he thought it was fitting to name the park in honor of Smith, especially considering the proximity of the park right next to the International Storytelling Center.

Wolfe said he would like to proceed in appointing a mayor’s Special Studies Committee to bring back recommendations on the most fitting way to honor Smith in the park, possibly with a statue.

“We would put a group together that would aggressively tackle this issue and come back to you with all the questions answered and monies needed,” he said.

When Smith was 2 years old, his father, who was a school teacher at the time, was elected superintendent of schools, which brought his family out of the Lamar area and into Jonesborough. He attended Jonesborough Elementary School and Jonesborough High School, as well as East Tennessee State University for a degree in journalism.

“I started working at the Herald & Tribune when I was 17 and became immediately interested in media. (I) then went on to report for the Johnson City Press and I did several different areas,” Smith said, adding that he worked on a history column that was well received.

When he graduated from ETSU, he began teaching at Science Hill where he spent half of his day devoted to teaching journalism and the other half developing a communication program to let the community know what was happening in the school.

Science Hill had a “nice tabloid newspaper” that was printed at the Elizabethton Star. On one of those trips, Smith and the students were listening to Jerry Clower on the radio.

“Jerry Clower was a humorous country comedian storyteller and he was telling one of his very funny stories,” Smith said. “We were all laughing and enjoying that story.”

At that moment, he turned to the students and said wouldn’t it be nice to bring people like Clower to Jonesborough to tell stories. The students did not give much of a response.

In the early 1970s, Smith said Jonesborough was a dying town. He said the infrastructure was in poor shape in downtown Jonesborough and the buildings were sitting empty.

At that time, Smith was sitting on the planning commission when discussions about planning a big event for the four seasons took place. That’s when the idea resurfaced of having a storytelling festival in October.

Smith said he wanted to preserve the old stories about each other, the community, history and the region, through a festival.

“My dream is to see us celebrate our stories because so many of our stories are dying,” he said. “What the festival did was to ignite a revival of storytelling across America and many parts of the world and it began in little Jonesborough quite by accident.”

The festival began on an old wagon with five or six storytellers.

“I invited people to come up on stage and tell their stories,” Smith said. “I think everyone recognized it was something special.”

Smith was also the mayor from 1978 until 1984. During his administration he began the town’s tourism program, the recreation program, the Senior Center program, built the Visitors Center, Town Hall and the current water treatment plant.

“It was a communitywide effort,” he said.

‘Most effective schools in Tennessee’

I have always enjoyed interviewing educators over the years, especially when they are honored for what they have done for their students. This principal’s accomplishment’s were brought to my attention during a board meeting I was covering for the Washington County Board of Education in Jonesborough, Tennessee. After pitching the story idea to my editor, I ran with the story. Read what this Boones Creek Elementary School principal accomplished.

Boones Creek principal recognized by board for making a difference

Published in the Herald & Tribune June 17, 2014 issue

An educator of 44 years — 20 of which were spent at Boones Creek Elementary School as the principal ­ — was honored with the Director of Schools “Made a Difference Award” earlier this month.

Director of Schools Ronald Dykes said Boones Creek Elementary has been recognized by the Education Consumer’s Foundation as one of the most effective schools in Tennessee on seven different occasions.

The key to that award, he said, is Principal Teresa Leonard, who was the principal during those designations.

Dykes said they have never had any other school receive such a distinguished honor by the Education Consumer’s Foundation in the Washington Department of Education school system.

Leonard, who grew up in West Virginia, graduated from Marshall University with a teaching degree. The first year and a half of her career was spent in West Virginia. After moving to Tennessee, she was hired by the Washington County Department of Education and spent time working at the Boones Creek and Daniel Boone schools.

After accepting the award at the June 5 meeting of the WCDE board meeting, she recalled moving into an apartment close to Daniel Boone when she began teaching there as an art teacher.

Leonard said she earned her master’s degree in supervision and administration from East Tennessee State University, which helped further her career in Washington County.

She was the assistant principal at Boones Creek Elementary School for five years before becoming the principal.

“I always wanted to be a principal because I could affect the education of children more that way,” Leonard said.

One of the many highlights of her career was receiving the designation of the most effective school in Tennessee seven different times.

Leonard said the Education Consumers Foundation is a nonprofit agency that collects test score data in Tennessee. She said in order to be eligible, a principal has to be at the same school for five years.

The latest data recorded on the foundation’s website was for the yearly achievement gain between 2011 and 2013. Boones Creek Elementary School was ranked third in the state of Tennessee, behind Mcpheeters Bend Elementary School in Hawkins County and Dresden Elementary in Weakley County. The growth index for Boones Creek was 10.95.

“I’m thrilled because you are all the time thinking you are doing what is right, the best you can, but until you get that wonderful feeling that (the students are showing) three times as much growth, that let’s you know that you are on the right track,” Leonard said.

Leonard said one of the things she was told was principals in successful schools have high expectations.

Throughout her time at Boones Creek Elementary School, Leonard promoted the concept of working as a team.

“We work together and I guess that is probably what makes us a little different,” she said.

Her teachers have a common planning time for each grade level where they discuss lesson plans for that day. Leonard said every day is different, and sometimes lesson plans have to be altered to revisit yesterday’s lesson on phonics.

“It’s like a ball team. Everyone works together and that is important,” she said.

The teamwork was also accomplished through an accelerated reader goal of 15,000 points for all of the students. Leonard said this past year, her students reached 15,500 points, surpassing the goal by 500 points.

The principal’s promise, another school-wide team working strategy, is what Leonard pledges she will do if the goal is met. This year she was the lifeguard for the dunking machine, which put the assistant principal sitting on the ledge above the water in the dunk machine.

“It helps motivate them as a whole school,” she said of the principal’s promise.

In years past, Leonard said, she promised to kiss the top of a pig’s head, stay in a jail located in the lobby of the school and be slimed by the students.

“The teachers said that school-wide goals get everyone excited and everyone works together,” she said.

Every Friday, the students participate in a Math Fun Fact timed test, which tests them on subtraction, addition, multiplication and division.

“These are the things you are going to remember the rest of your life,” Leonard said. “We shouldn’t have to use a calculator to estimate the number of chairs in a row.”

The results from the weekly test are given to Leonard by each teacher, so she can review them and praise the students who knew the answers so quickly.

She said it has also been important to her to review all of her 500 students’ report cards, so she can be familiar with the students’ academics and their names.

“To me, that makes you familiar with every student and the needs — as far as an administration — to help teachers with a certain subject,” she said.

To help raise grades, after school tutoring for math and reading are offered, which Leonard oversaw.

After a fulfilling career, Leonard retired at the end of the school year. She said her and her husband will have more time to travel now that she is retired.

 

‘I felt like a princess’

Last week I had the opportunity to talk to Megan about her trip to New York, a trip she won through a contest. I enjoyed talking to her as her excitement grew as she explained her experiences while in New York with her family.

Local student rings in 2014 with dream trip

Published in Herald & Tribune Jan. 14, 2014 issue

A flyer, which was spotted in a “Seventeen” magazine, won one Jonesborough resident a trip to New York with her family.

“I can’t believe I actually won. It’s still crazy to think about,” said Megan Cottage, 19.

Megan Cottage, 19.  Photo Credit Charlie Mauk.

Megan Cottage, 19.
Photo Credit Charlie Mauk.

The flyer’s instructions were to text a certain number if you wanted to win a trip to New York for the “Best New Year’s Ever” contest through Aeropostale.So, not thinking anything of it, she sent that text and eventually received a call from New York.“But I didn’t answer it, because I don’t answer numbers I don’t know,” Cottage said.

Her phone continued to ring numerous times before a message was left instructing her to claim her prize before the next day.

Cottage called her dad and asked “Can this be true? Do you think they are scamming me?” Her father told her to call the woman who left the message.

Cottage provided her name, age, email address and the names of two people she would want to bring with her to New York when she returned the phone call.

“I waited a couple of days,” Cottage said. “Finally they emailed me, ‘You won.’ ”

Megan Cottage and chauffeur

Megan Cottage with the chauffeur that greeted her at the airport. She provided the photograph.

Cottage, along with her brother, mother and father, traveled to New York from Dec. 30 until Jan. 2. She said the contest paid for three airfare tickets, a hotel in Times Square, $150 for food every day and a $500 gift card to Aeropostle.“It was amazing,” Cottage said. “New York at Christmas is beautiful.”A highlight of the trip was when they arrived in New York.

“Probably one of the coolest things was a chauffeur holding up my name when we got to the airport,” she said. “I felt like a princess.”

Once they arrived at their hotel, there was an assortment of items in a goodie bag from Aeropostale waiting for her.

Since they were staying in Times Square, the family walked everywhere over the few days they were there.

They spent the first half of New Year’s Eve shopping and the latter half watching the ball drop in Times Square.

“New Year’s Eve is my dad’s birthday,” she said, adding that he was a real trooper and shopped with them before eating at a cafe.

With Christmas just passing, Cottage said she had received almost everything she needed, so she only spent $100 of her gift card at Aerpostale in Times Square.

With the cold temperatures, Cottage said they arrived for the New Years countdown in Times Square after 9 p.m., instead of noon like many others, to watch the ball drop.

“We stood there for two hours,” she said. “We got to see the ball drop and see the fireworks from Central Park.”

Cottage said the experience of being in New York on New Year’s Eve is much better than watching it on television. It’s an experience, she said, she will never forget.

“Millions of people are all counting down at the same time,” she recalled, adding that everyone was waiting for the countdown to begin because of the freezing temperatures. “The streets were covered in confetti; it was still dropping two days later.”

The family also went to the Statue of Liberty, the 911 memorial, Saks Fifth Avenue, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and they stood under the tree at Rockefeller Center.

“The tree is amazing; no picture does it justice,” Cottage said.

The trip also provided Cottage with the opportunity for quite a few firsts.

Megan Cottage saw the Statue of Liberty during her trip. She provided the photograph.

Megan Cottage saw the Statue of Liberty during her trip. She provided the photograph.

“We did take the subway to Liberty Island, and that was fun,” she said, adding that it provided a completely different atmosphere because they rode with residents of the city.Cottage said they also went to the Today Show.“Our signs made it on TV,” she said.

Cottage, a 2012 graduate of David Crockett High School, was born and raised in Jonesborough. Now a sophomore at East Tennessee State University, she is majoring in public relations and advertising with a minor in photography.

“I live on campus and have that freedom of getting out on my own,” Cottage said.

Although she visited many campuses, she fell in love with the beauty of ETSU and the close proximity to her parents.

She is also a sorority sister of Alpha Delta Phi.

“We do community service, and I meet some great people,” Cottage said.

Something that has stuck out for the college student is how everyone has supported and rallied behind her roommate from last year when she was diagnosed with leukemia.

“I’m in a sorority and I love it. It’s a perfect fit for me,” she said.