Board member Larry Scott, a former teacher, shares his thoughts on professional development during a discussion of the 2018-2019 school calendar.

KNOXVILLE — A box of cookies was the opening course Monday night on a smorgasbord of an agenda for the Knoxville school board. The entrees also included an increase in lunch prices, a new catering option for parents wanting to provide in-school treats, and an appetizer for an upcoming hearing on next year’s school calendar.

The cookies celebrated Craig Mobley, the district’s business manager, who earned certification as an administrator of school finance and operations.

The main course was a presentation from Barry Smith, the district’s new technology director, who discussed his challenges and hopes after a few months on the job. Smith said he hopes to expand the number of wi-fi access points at Knoxville High School, where demand has strained access for students and teachers. He said he has a plan to round up money needed for the upgrade.

Visits to counterparts in nearby school districts have helped Knoxville’s tech team discover ways to work more efficiently, Smith said. Knoxville is trying new ways to coordinate repairs and help desk requests, he said. Smith also is meeting with vendors to improve the district’s website and upgrade classroom technology. He said he was excited about a new smartboard — a high-tech chalkboard — that works like an interactive big-screen TV. He recently let Knoxville Middle School Principal Brian McNeill play with a demo model.

“I said I’ll take 25!” McNeill joked.

Lunches aren’t as pricey as smartboards, but the cost of food for most lunches offered to students in grades 6 through 12 has reached a point where the district isn’t breaking even, Superintendent Cassi Pearson said. Students at the high school and middle school currently pay $2.60 for lunch, while younger students pay $2.50. Older students get more to meet their growing appetites, but food costs are growing, too, she said.

The board approved a 25-cent increase, to $2.85, for students in grades 6-12. Before voting, board member Marty Duffy asked whether any students were behind in their lunch money accounts. Pearson said that none are, and that some families have donated to provide a cushion for those who might struggle.

On a sweeter note, the board approved a catering program that allows parents to buy snacks to be served on special occasions like their child’s birthday. Health safety rules prohibit families from sending homemade treats.

After Monday’s vote, school nutrition staffers will provide fresh-baked cookies, cupcakes and brownies, as well as apple slices and juice boxes. Any profits can be put toward lunch costs, Pearson said.

The board set a public hearing for 5:30 p.m. Jan. 8 to discuss the 2018-2019 school calendar. Duffy, a former KHS teacher, raised many questions about professional development for teachers and whether they and students are well-served by the current plan.

Classes now start two hours late every Monday so that teachers can spend time in development sessions. Duffy said that training was too general and that teachers would be better served by monthly development days.

Pat Finan is the managing editor of the Journal-Express. He can be reached in the newsroom at 641-842-2155 or via email at

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