Lee said FHS ‘focused on kids,’ praised Bartlett

Immediately welcomed with a Farragut High School T-shirt and hat curbside by students just after greeting principal Dr. John Bartlett, Gov. Bill Lee’s first stop in Farragut since being elected would turn into a roughly 75-minute tour of the school.

“There is a very unique environment here — you can feel it when you walk through the school,” Lee said just before departing Friday afternoon, Dec. 6. “The kids are excited, they enjoy being here.”

About what Lee said most impressed him about FHS, “The school leader here (Bartlett) is passionate about his kids.

“It’s one of the reasons I say we need a really strong principal development program,” the governor added. “It’s because when you have a school leader — a principal, this is a CEO of the school, as it were — and they’re passionate and committed, then you’re going to have an environment created that is best for learning.”

Visiting an Honors algebra II class made up primarily of juniors and sophomores, a student simply asked the governor, “What do you think of Farragut High School?”

“It’s a really great high school. It looks a lot more fun than my high school was,” Lee answered. “It’s a little more focused on kids than my high school was.”

Lee said his desire when visiting FHS was “to sit and talk about what we can do better, and what you can do better here, but mostly (learning) what you’re doing really well.”

He also told the Honors algebra II class they were privileged to attend FHS.

“Every school’s not like Farragut. … Every school doesn’t have academics like you do or the sports programs like you do — or the support for kids like you do,” he said.

As a model school, “What you’re doing will be used to make other schools in Tennessee better for other kids,” Lee said.

Meeting with the media just before departing FHS, the governor said “visiting schools gives us ideas.”

The governor first visited a business management class, which has been running a store within the school, as students were preparing a business plan for their store to summarize activity during fall semester.

“It’s going to be an overview of, like, everything we’ve done,” one student, said to be the business’ “CEO,” told Lee. “Like all of our improvements, our sales and all of our fundraisers.”

Lee asked, “Do the students design all the products?” The student responded, “Yes, we design it and we order it and when we get it in we sell it.”

The governor then made a quick stop into Geoff Courtney’s computer applications class. “Most of these guys are freshmen, first year,” Courtney said to Lee.

With Lee on hand, state Rep. Jason Zachary (R-District 14, including Farragut) recognized six schools in his district as earning “Reward School” designation by the state: FHS, Farragut Middle School (principal Weston Edmonds); Farragut Intermediate (principal Deborah Adorante); Northshore Elementary (Keith Cottrell); Blue Grass Elementary (Jamie Cantrill) and West Valley Middle (David Claxton).

Though “technically” ineligible to be recognized as a Reward School despite high achievements at Farragut Primary School, principal Gina Byrd was recognized by Zachary as being “one of the best principals in Knox County.”

She received a special gift on behalf of FPS from Zachary, “a Tennessee state flag that flew over the capitol with a certificate signed by the governor,” he said.

“Reward School designation is the top designation a school in Tennessee can receive regarding the state accountability model,” Zachary added. “Reward Schools are those that are improving overall student academic achievement and student growth. …”

Willing to ham it up ever so slightly, Lee couldn’t help but enjoy a few seconds of table tennis in the school’s Commons with Danny Waide, a sophomore, just before Town, Knox County and local General Assembly elected officials joined an entourage that formed behind Lee and Bartlett.