ECS seeking new home for Cyclone Center

By Thomas Wilson
star staff
twilson@starhq.com

  Administrators of Elizabethton City Schools are desperately seeking a new "Cyclone Center" to house the Early Childhood Learning program with only days remaining until the system's current facility lease with Mountain States Health Alliance (MSHA) expires.
  "We're going to have to vacate the premises after June 30," said Dr. David Roper, ECS superintendent. "We are looking for a permanent place to house the early learning center."
  The pre-kindergarten education program has operated in a 9,000-square-foot portion of the Bemberg Medical Building on Bemberg Road - known as the Cyclone Center - leased from MSHA since 2000. However, MSHA officials decided late last year to terminate the lease by July 1, 2004 to open up additional space for physicians' offices. Roper said he met earlier this year with Sycamore Shoals Hospital CEO Scott Williams who indicated MSHA needed the space.
  "We have been very happy to help the school system," Williams said last week at an Elizabethton Rotary Club luncheon. However, he reiterated MSHA's need to free up office space for the organization's medical service needs.
  The program could find a temporary home at the Elizabethton Boys and Girls Club facility on Hudson Drive. Roper said the system administrators were negotiating to relocate the early learning program at the club for the coming school year while school officials sought a permanent facility.
  "We are working out an arrangement that is close to being finalized for the coming academic year," he said.
  The pre-kindergarten education program serves more than 60 children including special needs and general population students. Many of the students served by the program come from economically disadvantaged households or are categorized as special needs students served under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The center is staffed with more than 10 teachers and staff.
  Operational costs for the early childhood program have been funded with a combination of state, local and federal grant funds for more than four years. Roper said the school system was pooling existing state and local dollars to fund the program's operation for the next school year. He said a portion of the funds were being provided through the state's Early Childhood Education fund from the state. Federal money appropriated through the Title I and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act for special education students also represented a portion of the funding.
   The system's Early Childhood Program began in 1974 under the title of Home Based Program, as one of 13 in the state. The early childhood curriculum includes math skills, language arts, motor skills for using tools, and social skills. The program serves as a training site for East Tennessee State University and Milligan College students studying early childhood education.
  Roper expressed his commitment to maintaining the program shortly after beginning his tenure as director of schools.
  "We feel like that is a very important need to be filled to give those students an early start to get the education they might not otherwise get," he said. "Being able to get that early start through the Cyclone Center is very important."