PIGEON FORGE, Tenn, (WATE)– Two new schools in Sevier County are almost ready for the upcoming school year, which starts Monday.
The district has been moving to a junior high model. Pigeon Forge Intermediate School and the Gatlinburg Pittman Senior Academy are the newest additions to district in that plan.
As of Thursday, both schools were still under construction, however Pigeon Forge Intermediate will be ready for students come the start of the new school year.
4th, 5th and 6th grade students in the Pigeon Forge area will attend the new Pigeon Forge Intermediate School.
7th, 8th and 9th grade students in Pigeon Forge will attend the former Junior High, which underwent renovations, according to district officials.
10th-12th grade students in the area will attend Pigeon Forge High School.
Tony Ogle, director of student services for the district, said Gatlinburg Pittman Senior High won’t be ready to open to students on Monday.
One reason for the delay was weather, Ogle said.
“The other big thing was the pandemic. We had some difficulty getting supplies, construction supplies in a timely fashion, and there were slow downs all along the chain because of that, and some illness as well,” Ogle said.
He said that the inside of the new facility was ready, but too much work needed to be done on the outside and around the parking lot, that having six different grade levels in the same area would be too difficult.
Instead, 7th and 8th grade students will attend class at the Pittman Center building for the first three to six weeks, Ogle said.
9th through 12th grade students will remain at the soon-to-be Gatlinburg Pittman Junior High, which is the current Gatlinburg Pittman High School.
Wendy Patterson, principal of Pigeon Forge Intermediate School, said construction was delayed for her school due to the pandemic as well, but as of Thursday most of the finishing touches were needed outside.
She said teachers were able to go into the classrooms earlier in the week and get those ready for students.
“Whatever needs to be done, if it’s washing windows, or carrying in textbooks, (the teachers have) all just chipped in. And we’re getting ready to have orientation so it’s taken all of us to get ready, but they’ve been wonderful,” Patterson said.
Patterson said she was excited for the opening of her new school. She said she’s heard about plans for an intermediate school ever since she started working for the district 27 years ago.
“With just intermediate grades we’re able to focus closely on their areas. For instance in the last school I was at, I only had one or two teachers per grade level. Now I’ve got 8 teachers per grade level,” Patterson said.
Heads up for parents heading to the new Pigeon Forge Intermediate School, traffic could be a little difficult at first.
Ogle said the city does know about the possible issue.
“Within 30 days there’ll be a traffic light at the end of Jess Wilson Road. And in the mean while, Pigeon Forge Police Department has graciously agreed to provide officers to direct traffic there in the morning and in the afternoon,” Ogle said.
Ogle, previously the principal of Gatlinburg Pittman High, said he was excited for the changes of his former high school.
“There are several good reasons to switch to the junior high school model from an academic or developmental standpoint, but a big one that’s going to be a plus to us is that it helps make more space at all the surrounding feeder schools,” Ogle said.
The more space the better due to the pandemic, so students and teachers can follow social distancing guidelines more easily.
Patterson said more space is one thing she noticed in her new school as well.
“We have more classrooms than actually I’ve ever had in any building before. We have larger rooms. Our band room is huge so we get to spread everyone out,” Patterson said.
Within the new facilities and renovated facilities, students will see COVID-19 related changes as well.
Patterson said the district provided clear dividers for students in between desks.
Schools will also have temperature check points, hand sanitizer stations every where and signs about masks and social distancing.
Returning students at Gatlinburg Pittman High will see some renovations they didn’t see last year, which Ogle said were necessary for the school that was built in the early 60s.
“Even students who have been here three years and they’re going to come back as seniors this year, they’ll see some new things that they didn’t see before. They’ll see new drop ceilings, they’ll see LED lighting, they’ll see brand new windows, brand new wall portions where we fixed those under the windows, new tile in classrooms,” Ogle said.
Both Ogle and Patterson were excited about the new traditions that will be made at the new schools.
Even with the new school buildings, new grade level structuring and the pandemic causing all these changes for students, Patterson said they hope to make it all a seamless transition for students.
“The only difference is we’re not going to able to have parents and stuff like that in the building, but we’re going to do lots of virtual opportunities, you know, for parent conferencing and things like that. they’re still going to have all the teachers that they’ve had before. I’m going to be visible in all the classrooms. They’re still going to have all their special areas. So we’re going to try to make it just as normal as it always has been,” Patterson said.