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Southern Middle Tennessee Today News for November 9, 2023


All news stories are aggregated from various sources and modified for time and content. Original sources are cited.


We start with local news…

Ag and the Gender Barrier (MSM)

Women make up 35 percent of Tennessee’s agricultural producers, contributing to millions of dollars in the state’s economy each year. University of Tennessee Extension Perry County and UT-TSU Extension Lawrence County, in partnership with UT’s MANAGE program and Tennessee AgrAbility, held the second annual Cultivate Women in Agriculture Conference on Oct. 14 to provide support for women in the horticultural and agricultural industries.

Hosted at the Middle Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center in Spring Hill, the event featured networking opportunities with local producers, presentations from women in agricultural fields and interactive learning sessions on topics such as landscape design, row crop cultivation, marketing and sales and livestock management. Led by Extension agents and regional agricultural professionals, the conference provided attendees with the skills and knowledge they need to improve as farmers and business managers in Tennessee.

“Agriculture is a challenging industry with many factors that can make or break your success,” said Laine McGee, committee chairperson for the conference and Extension agent at UT-TSU Extension Lawrence County. “At producer meetings, we have noticed that a good portion of women shy away from asking questions or taking part in hands-on activities while in mixed-gender settings. It’s a part of our mission at UT-TSU Extension to eliminate potential barriers so our clients experience the best possible learning environments they need to be successful.”

Joetta White, Extension area specialist for AgrAbility in West Tennessee, said the conference is one of many events designed to help women be successful in this male-dominated field.

“Tennessee AgrAbility and UT Extension know that row crop and livestock production are key necessities for our daily lives. Without the contributions of talented women across the world, we would not have access to the many foods and raw materials we depend on every day. By working together to host conferences, summits, presentations and networking opportunities, we can make great strides towards creating an equal playing field for all producers regardless of their identity or background.”

Created by UT Extension and partner organizations, Tennessee AgrAbility is a statewide program to educate and assist Tennessee’s farmers, farm workers and their family members that have disabilities to better increase their independence and productivity. UT Extension’s MANAGE program helps farm families evaluate their individual situations to enhance their quality of life through improved financial management.

The third annual Cultivate Women in Agriculture conference will be hosted in Middle Tennessee in 2024. For more information on next year’s event as well as similar programs hosted by UT Extension, contact Laine McGee at laijmcge@utk.edu.

The University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture is composed of UT AgResearch, UT College of Veterinary Medicine, UT Extension and the Herbert College of Agriculture.


Chief Ed Holton Award Winner (WKOM Audio 4:44)

Yesterday, the Columbia Noon Rotary presented the Chief Ed Holton Award for community service. Front Porch Radio’s Delk Kennedy attended the event and spoke with this year’s recipient…


City Discusses Rezoning E. 18th (MSM)

The Columbia City Council met Thursday, Nov. 2 for a study session in which several items were discussed, including rezoning a portion of W. 18th Street from light industrial special district to Urban Character District.

The request was originally presented during the Sept. 13 Planning Commission meeting, with a vote in favor of 5-0 to recommend approval. The request was made by Property Solutions Construction LLC to rezone a 0.39-acre parcel located off of W. 18th Street in the ninth district, from light industrial special district to General Urban Character District, with a public hearing set for Nov. 9. 

The requested zoning designation will accommodate a medium density mix of residential and commercial uses. Currently, the subject property is vacant. The site sits between residential properties to the west and industrial properties to the east. The future land use of the subject property as well as all adjacent properties is Urban Neighborhood. 

The city council also discussed a request from GM (General Motors) to terminate the existing PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) agreement, which the Maury County Commission and City of Mount Pleasant had already voted to terminate. The original deal, set forth in 1985, was set to expire in 2025. The new deal will now include the battery manufacturer Ultium Cells.

The council will officially vote on the items at the Nov. 9 meeting.



Educators Focus on Growth (MSM)

Local education leaders laid out their priorities for the remainder of the academic year at the annual State of the Schools luncheon, held by the Spring Hill Chamber of Commerce in October.

The panel of leaders included Jason Golden, superintendent, Williamson County Schools, Lisa Ventura, superintendent, Maury County Schools, Dr. Janet Smith, president, Columbia State Community College, Mike Whitehead, president, TCAT Pulaski and Dr. James Thomas, president, Columbia Academy.

Unsurprisingly, the conversations centered around growth. As the population continues to grow in southern Middle Tennessee, the need for additional learning space increases.

For Ventura, one of the most important reasons for new infrastructure, such as Battle Creek High School, is school safety.

“My top priority is student safety. Our elementary schools are full, obviously our high schools are full – that’s why we built a new high school – so it hurts my heart when I see students learning in the hallway,” she said. “It hurts my heart as a teacher because of the learning environment, but as a safety aspect if evil enters that building, there are children learning in the hallway.”

Ventura said Battle Creek High School is currently ahead of schedule to open in August 2024, but noted there would need to be a winter without snow to stay on course.

Maury County Public Schools was the first system in the state to have a School Resource Officer in every school, but Ventura said safety measures go even further.

“We have bullet-resistant glass to cameras on buildings to digital access – all of that is expensive technology, but we are committed to spending those funds to ensure the safety of every child and every staff member. We want every person to go home safely to their families, and unfortunately in the world today, that cannot be underscored,” she said.

Population and infrastructure growth wasn’t the only thing Ventura touched on, however, noting the school system’s recent test scores show a significant jump in academic achievement.

“Maury County Public Schools has not been known as a high-flier in academics, and we’re going to change that,” she said. “Our growth scores last year are nothing short of remarkable; all of our schools are growing. We’ve made more than one year’s growth at multiple schools, and I could not be prouder of my schools in the district.”

At Columbia Academy, growth has become more than necessary as the school is currently at capacity with students.

“It used to be that we would pray for more students, but now it’s ‘Send us the right teachers.’ Staffing is a priority and a challenge. We have been blessed, but we’re trying to raise salaries and catch up to folks we can’t quite catch up to right now, but we’re trying to find the best people for the front line,” Dr. Thomas said.

He added the school is amidst a fundraising effort to complete projects within their strategic and campus master plans, which could include more buildings to house classrooms for students.

More than that, though, Thomas said his top priority is simply to continue the mission of Columbia Academy set out in 1979 when the school was founded.

“We have grown as a school a lot. It’s different for us than in the past, but we’re going to stay committed to our mission,” he said. “We want to prepare them for the future academically, and we want them to become Christ-like in attitude.”

Two local higher education institutions laid out priorities for the next year as well, which include building projects to address the growing needs of students.

One of those projects, in conjunction with TCAT Pulaski, is the Southern Regional Technology Center. Dr. Smith said the project has been funded and is in the design phase at this time.

The proposed Southern Regional Technology Center, which will exist on the west side of the Columbia Campus, will be a hub for workforce development. The state-of-the-art facility will provide a central location in the region to meet the educational and training needs of citizens and employers. It will be a major economic and workforce development resource by providing the latest in industry and healthcare training with an emphasis on partnerships through internships, apprenticeships, program development and job placement.

Additionally, Columbia State is adding an Arts & Technology Center to its Williamson County campus that will include new programs.

“Some of the new programs at the Arts and Technology Center at the Williamson County campus are a practical nursing program and we have joined forces with Dickson TCAT to offer the nursing program as well as a digital graphic design program,” Dr. Smith said.

For TCAT Pulaski, growth is the focus as well. The school is adding 31,000 square feet of learning space with a $30 million project that will add additional programs and expand space for existing programs.

“We’ve got 48,000 square feet of training space at the main campus, and we’re adding 31,000 square feet. It’s a $30 million dollar project and adding tech with an electric vehicle component, cosmetology, digital graphic design and we’re doubling our welding capacity and expanding our industrial maintenance capacity,” Whitehead said. “We’re going to use those expansions to serve our five-county area, and this will help us reach more students. Adding those programs will be about 27 percent more students. We run about 300 adult students, so we will add about 75 to 100 more students.”

Being student-centered is a major focus for both TCAT Pulaski and Columbia State. The biggest priority for Dr. Smith and Columbia State is consistency across the region in creating a “One College” approach.

“We have five campuses, but looking at ourselves as one college and how we work together. So regardless of where a student is they get the same experience, whether it’s instructional or engagement,” she said. “We’re a student-center college. We have always worked to make our students the center of what we do.”

Additionally, Whitehead said they are working to create an active alumni network to keep graduates abreast of what’s happening at the school and calling upon them to encourage current students.

“There are few, if any, TCATs that have that, and we’re excited about the opportunities it will present us to stay connected with our alumni. We’ve had extremely successful alumni and we want to stay in touch with them and keep them a part of our story as we undergo this expansion,” he said.


Insurance Open Enrollement (Press Release)

Open enrollment for the Health Insurance Marketplace (also known as the "Marketplace" or "exchange") started Nov. 1, lasting through Jan. 15, 2024. However, if you want your health insurance benefits to start Jan. 1, enrollment must be complete by Dec. 15.

If you don't have health insurance through a job, Medicare, Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) or another source that provides qualifying health coverage, the Marketplace is here to help.

As you begin the enrollment process, Maury Regional Health wants to ensure you have access to health care and benefits with your preferred providers. Not all providers may participate in these plans and, except in an emergency, the Marketplace Health Exchange Plans do not offer out-of-network benefits.

Maury Regional Health System providers participate in the following insurance plans:

- BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee

- Oscar Health Individual Plans*

- AmBetter of Tennessee (Celtic)

- United HealthCare

Maury Regional Health does not participate in myCigna Health Connect (sold in the Williamson County area) or Ascension Personalized Care.

Need assistance?

Maury Regional Health has certified financial counselors available to answer questions. Schedule a meeting with a counselor by calling 931.381.1111, ext. 7262.

For your convenience, appointments are available over the phone, via Webex teleconferencing or in person at Maury Regional Medical Center in Columbia and Lewis Health Center in Hohenwald.

For more information, visit mauryregional.com.



And now, Your Hometown Memorials, Sponsored by Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home…  

Terry Warren Johnson, 75, of Columbia, TN, died on November 5, 2023, at Maury Regional Medical Center. 

The family will visit with friends on Thursday, November 9th from 4-8 PM at Oakes and Nichols Funeral Home. A private family service will be held at his beloved farm at a later date. 

Beverly Little Fitzgerald, 88, passed away on Sunday, November 5, 2023, at Maury Regional Medical Center.

The family will visit with friends Saturday, November 11, from 2:00 – 4:00 p.m. at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home. A private family inurnment will be at McCain’s Cemetery on Sunday.


…And now, news from around the state…

Hearings on Federal Ed Funding (Tennessean)

Officials from the U.S. Department of Education declined to participate in a meeting of a state legislative working group tasked with determining whether Tennessee can reject federal education funding and replace it with state dollars to eliminate “strings attached.” 

Federal education officials were scheduled to testify before a legislative working group on Wednesday morning, but did not attend. 

“The Federal Department of Education has informed us they are unable to attend our task force meeting. They can only offer quote, ‘technical assistance’ to the committee, and they have stated that if members wish to submit questions, they will do their best to get them answered,” working group co-chair Sen. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, told committee members at the close of Wednesday’s meeting.

Members of the task force can submit questions for the federal agency, and answers will be included in the panel’s final report. 

The U.S.Department of Education has previously called appointment of the group “political posturing."

“Our students need more – not less – to support their academic recovery and address the youth mental health crisis,” a federal Department of Education spokesperson stated in September. “Any elected leader in any state threatening to reject federal public education funds should have to answer to their local educators and parents in their community about the detrimental impact it would have on their community’s education system and their students’ futures.”

House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, and Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, asked the group to recommend a strategy for how to reject federal funds before the legislature reconvenes in January. 

Lundberg has repeatedly emphasized that the panel is reviewing “strings attached” to federal K-12 funding for the state, local districts, and individual schools. Lundberg and Sexton both say that if the state does opt to reject any federal funding, the state would continue to pay for programs funded with that money.

This week, the group heard testimony from state fiscal analysts, education researchers at the Tennessee Comptroller’s office, policy researchers, and representatives from urban and rural school districts across the state. Meetings are scheduled to continue through next Wednesday.

Officers Reassigned After Convenant Leak (Tennessean)

Seven Metro Nashville Police officers are on "administrative assignment" after three purported pages from the Covenant School shooter's notebook were released by a media personality.

The seven officers have "full police power" and the assignments are "non-punitive" and meant to protect the ongoing investigation, according to a spokeperson with MNPD. Nashville police are not naming the officers.

The notebook, and what's written inside, is the subject of pending litigation. Several groups, including The Tennessean, sued Metro Nashville after records requests for access to those documents were denied. The school and several families have intervened in the lawsuit to prevent the release of the documents.

The release of the pages shocked and angered many Covenant School family members.

"We knew these writings, these thoughts from the shooter were heinous … the damage done today is already significant, and I'm worried it's only going to grow," said Brent Leatherwood, a Covenant parent.


Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)

A Knoxville native and a young artist unafraid of wearing "Tennessee Orange" will bring multiple decades of classic and modern country hits to Nissan Stadium next August.

Superstar country artist, musical touring icon Kenny Chesney will be joined by Grammy winners the Zac Brown Band, "Tennessee Orange" vocalist Megan Moroney and Chesney's multiple-week No. 1 "When the Sun Goes Down" duet partner Uncle Kracker — himself known for the hits "Follow Me" and "Drift Away" for an Aug. 3, 2024 date at Nashville's Nissan Stadium.

Tickets for Chesney's date on the banks of the Cumberland River go on sale Nov. 17 at 10 a.m. CT. You can find them at kennychesney.com/tour.


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