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Southern Middle TN Today News with Tom Price 5-6-24

Updated: May 8

WKOM/WKRM Radio

Southern Middle Tennessee Today

News Copy for May 6, 2024

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

We start with local news…


SHHS Vandalism (CDH)

Maury County Sheriff Bucky Rowland said widespread apparent vandalism at Spring Hill High School that led to the Friday cancellation of classes is being investigated, though no arrests have been made.

Rowland said damage was carried out across "the whole school" and involved "an outrageous amount of students."

Maury County Public Schools officials canceled classes Friday after school property was damaged in the apparent vandalism incident, according to an announcement posted at about 5:30 a.m. via social media.  

The urgent message said all faculty and staff were scheduled to report to the school at 10 a.m., while all after-school activities are set to occur on time.

"We are working on identifying numerous people involved and are gathering evidence," Rowland said. "We are gathering all of the facts to determine whether a crime was committed or not. Other circumstances determine whether it was a school function that got out of hand or a crime."

Rowland said acts of vandalism included toilet paper strewn about, desks and chairs overturned and liquids spilled all over one of the largest high schools in Maury County.

Among items destroyed include 40 bags of "JetPacks" assembled by The Well volunteers for students who are food insecure, as well as hygiene products collected through a recent drive at the school in partnership with The Well, according to Shelly Sassen, director of The Well Outreach.

"It appears that the bags that were brought for this week were opened up and destroyed; all of the food was destroyed," Sassen said. "These items are critical because it's not optional or extra food. It's the only food those students will have over the weekend."

Sassen said that while this was an unfortunate situation involving items for families in need, there is a silver lining in the form of generosity by Franklin company Design Conveyor Systems.

Upon hearing about the incident, the company volunteered to step in and pay for all items The Well had lost, which Sassen said she estimates to be about $1,000.

"They heard what had been done and wanted to make right on that for The Well because the students still need that food, and we still need to get it to them," Sassen said. "To have a local company step in to pay for those items is a blessing."

"This is a very unusual situation," Rowland said. "It definitely shouldn't have happened; I can tell you that."

According to MCPS Communications Director Jack Cobb, the school has been cleaned.

"The school is ready for students on Monday," Cobb said.

Early Friday, videos of students allegedly destroying and vandalizing school property, including spray painting furniture and throwing toilet paper around the building were posted in the comments section on the schools' original Facebook social media post.

District and local law officials believe the events occurred during the late hours of May 2, they said.

There are no reports of injuries.

"Maury County Public Schools and law enforcement are looking into events that occurred late last night at Spring Hill High School," Cobb said early Friday. "We can confirm that there is damage to school property and vandalism. No one was injured or hurt."

In a follow up Friday afternoon, Superintendent of Schools Lisa Ventura stated, “I am happy to report that damage at Spring Hill High School was not as extensive as originally perceived. An investigation regarding individuals who participated is ongoing.  At this point we believe graduation will take place as planned. I appreciate everyone’s concern and we are blessed to live in a community that reaches out in support when we are in need.”

Randolph Howell Principal Shakeup (MSM)

Randolph Howell Elementary STEM School has undergone a shakeup in leadership after the sudden departure of its principal and assistant principal.

Principal Dr. Michael Ford announced his resignation on Thursday, April 25, two days after being suspended by Maury County Public Schools. In addition, Assistant Principal Beth Hamilton announced her retirement, effective immediately, on Friday, April 26.

In a statement, MCPS Superintendent Lisa Ventura stated, “The Principal of Randolph Howell Elementary School was suspended pending investigation on Tuesday, April 23, 2024. Maury County Public Schools received his resignation on Thursday, April 25, 2024. Specifics regarding personnel matters will not be discussed or disclosed.”

MCPS officials declined to discuss the reason for the departures or the reason for the investigation of Ford. Unconfirmed reports have claimed the suspension was linked to manipulation of test scores.

Ventura sent a letter to Howell parents, dated May 2 and posted on the school’s Facebook page, which stated in part, “All state mandated assessments, TCAP/TNReady, for all grades tested at RHESS have been successfully submitted to the state for scoring. There is NO truth to rumors regarding any student being forced to retake any state assessment due to this investigation.”

Dean of Students Kristen Morjal has been named as the acting principal at Howell Elementary until a new principal is named. Ventura’s letter concluded with, “I will be making an announcement regarding new leadership at RHESS very soon.”

Santa Fe and Mt. Pleasant Receive State Award (CDH)

As this fall's round of elections draws near, state leaders recognized Santa Fe Unit School Wednesday with an award representing 100% voter registration for the school's eligible students.

Secretary of State Tre Hargett, as well as Rep. Kip Capley, R-Summertown, and Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, visited the school Wednesday, also joined by Maury County Administer of Elections Chris Mackinlay and school staff to present the state's Anne Dallas Dudley Award to Santa Fe Unit School, grabbing the coveted Gold Level.

Santa Fe Unit was one of only 33 Tennessee schools to achieve the gold status, Hargett said while speaking to the students Wednesday, which he said is something to be proud of in setting an example for other young people.

The honor, he said, highlights the importance of the right and privilege to vote.

"Registering to vote and not voting is kind of like going to a football game. You're out there screaming and cheering, but you really haven't played the game until you've put on the pads," Hargett said. "I would choose to be a regular voter, be educated and vote your values. And I didn't say my values or the person next to you, but know what's important to you and go about it accordingly."

Hensley described the award as a "good first step" for young voters, considering they will be eligible to participate in two elections this year.

"It is also a good opportunity to remember that voting, especially in local elections, always matters," Hensley said.

"We have an election in August and then another in November. This is a privilege that we have in this country, and too many people take it for granted. Take that privilege and go vote whenever there is an election ... whether it is for a school board member, a city council member, county commission or county officials. Your vote matters and should be exercised every time."

Capley, who at 25 was elected the youngest State Representative to serve in the Tennessee State House, is now 27. Capley said he is not far from where the high school seniors of today are now sitting. He also said the often-used term "every vote counts," became a big realization after running for office, one the young voters should keep in mind when it comes to electing candidates they favor.

"I remember being young and in high school registering to vote, and it really didn't impact me as much as when I started running for the local primary, where I won by only 148 votes," Capley said. "If 148 people decided they didn't like Kip Capley, I wouldn't be here. Every single vote matters, and I can guarantee. And if you don't go vote, how are you going to complain?"

In addition to the school's award, state leaders also recognized seniors Aniston Slaughter and Cannon Rogers for their role as student ambassadors in helping their class attain its 100% voter registration goal.

Mackinlay was also presented a certificate for his role in administering elections at the Maury County Election Commission, a place many of these young voters will likely visit in the fall.

To him, he said the biggest lesson is that voting is a right many other countries, cultures and governments don't allow their citizens as a birthright, which should never be forgotten.

"I think if you can vote, you should. And anyone should be educated, but also vote with their heart, their faith, all of those things," Mackinlay said. "Otherwise, they don't have a right to complain. It's a freedom we should always take advantage of because there are plenty of people on the planet who don't have that same freedom, and as Americans we might take it for granted because we are born into it."

Santa Fe government, history and economics professor Jonathon Slaughter, who is also Aniston's father, said encouraging his students to register has always been a focus of his teaching every year, and that being awarded this kind of recognition is, if anything, an encouragement to continue.

"I've been teaching here for 26 years now, and every graduating class I've tried to get involved to register to vote, try to make sure all of our Santa Fe kids are registered," Slaughter said. "And I always try to teach them about their state, local and national representatives. And so, lot of these people here are also answers to their test questions."

Slaughter added that this was the first time the school had applied for the award, which was newly introduced last year. It was also a former student of his who initially sparked the idea that Santa Fe Unit School be considered for the award, while learning the value of voting and civil service at a young age.

In some cases, supporting such goals not only helps shape one's community, but could even lead to a career.

"They started this award last year, and [Secretary of State Policy Assistant Christian Cervantes] is actually one of my former students who contacted me, and so I made sure to send in the paperwork," Slaughter said. "Not only was he a former student, but now works in the Secretary of State's office."

For more information about registering to vote in Maury County, upcoming elections, sample ballots and voting times, contact the Maury County Election Commission, 1207A Tradewinds Drive, at (931) 375-6001 or visit www.MauryCounty-TN.gov.

Tech at Maury Regional (Press Release)

Surgeons on the medical staff at Maury Regional Medical Center are trained to use advanced technology proven to result in better outcomes for patients. One of those tools is the da Vinci robotic surgical system. 

The hospital acquired the first system in 2016, followed by another in 2022. As more surgeons joined the medical staff, the medical center added two more in 2024 for a total of four da Vinci systems. The Xi is the latest generation of the da Vinci system, a tool that utilizes advanced robotic, computer and optical technologies to assist the surgeon during an operation.

The system can be used across a spectrum of minimally invasive surgical procedures and has been optimized for surgeries in the areas of urology, gynecology, thoracic and general surgery.

“Maury Regional Health is committed to providing our medical staff with the latest technology to achieve exceptional outcomes for their patients,” said Maury Regional Health CEO Martin Chaney, MD. “The da Vinci Xi Surgical System has been a great tool for our surgeons, and we’re grateful to be able to add more platforms to further enhance our robotic surgery capabilities.”

The da Vinci system has a 3D high-definition (3D-HD) vision system, special instruments and computer software that allow the surgeon to operate with enhanced vision, precision, dexterity and control. The 3D-HD image is highly magnified, and the da Vinci instruments have mechanical wrists that bend and rotate to mimic the movements of the human wrist, allowing the surgeon to make small, precise movements inside the patient’s body. Benefits for patients who qualify for this minimally invasive approach may include less tissue damage, reduced blood loss and faster recovery.

The da Vinci Xi Surgical System is an expandable technology platform that is designed to accommodate and seamlessly integrate a range of current technologies, as well as future innovations, in areas such as imaging, advanced instruments and anatomical access.

For more information about surgical services at Maury Regional Medical Center, visit MauryRegional.com/Surgery.

Maury County Schools on Arming Teachers (MauryCountySource)

A bill in Tennessee that will allow teachers to carry guns in schools was signed by Gov. Bill Lee on Friday, April 26.

The bill, HB 1202, brought by Cookeville Republican Ryan Williams, was approved by the Senate with a 26-5 vote on April 9. Last week, the House passed the bill with a 68-28-2 vote.

This bill would permit school faculty or staff to carry concealed handguns on a school campus under certain circumstances. Teachers opting to carry would need to complete 40 hours of annual firearm training at their own cost, gain approval from the school director, pass a mental health assessment, and clear an FBI background check.

Maury County Public Schools released the following statement in regards to the bill:

“At this time, Maury County Public Schools enjoys the privilege of a great relationship with the Maury County Sheriff’s Department. The Sheriff employs School Resource Officers in every one of our buildings. Decisions regarding this legislation have not been realized at this time.”

City Unveils Artistic Crosswalk (CDH)

Columbia Arts Council has unveiled its first artistic crosswalk within the city's arts district, with city leaders describing the project as "a vibrant testament to the local talent and the city's thriving arts scene." 

This project, originally pitched by the Columbia Arts Council in 2019, was partially funded by an Arts Build Communities (ABC) Grant from the Tennessee Arts Commission.

The idea for the project was to "bring a splash of color and creativity to the heart of Columbia," according to a press release.

The new crosswalk is located at the intersection of South Garden and Depot Streets and was created by local artist Whitney Herrington.

Herrington has been a staunch advocate for local Maury County arts for many years, both as a teacher and creating multiple murals and public art pieces throughout the region, including the "Mule Queen" on East 6th Street, "Muletown Gothic on West 7th St. and the "Columbia Mural" on North Garden Street. Her South Garden/Depot crosswalk is being called "Patchwork Pathway."

“I am honored to be the artist behind this project. Having the opportunity to add art pieces to our budding arts community makes my heart full and hopeful for the future of the district,” Herrington commented.  “This project was inspired by quilt blocks and Turkish tile designs. It connects our city with the colorful arts district. The crosswalk entices pedestrians to crossover into the arts district and see what hidden gems can be found.”

The crosswalk's location is also significant, given it is where the city's recent South Garden Street streetscape project was completed, providing a greater visual aesthetic while drivers and pedestrians enter the arts district. This also included creating stations for future public art, upgrading the sidewalks, parking spaces and providing a great location to christen the artistic crosswalk project.

"This artistic crosswalk, a first in our community, is a vibrant symbol of Columbia's commitment to the arts," said Mayor Chaz Molder. "It's a testament to the power of public art to transform our spaces and ignite creativity within our community. How fortunate we are to have both talented artists and supportive corporate partners right here in our own backyard."

Molder added that he hopes that, while celebrating the first artistic crosswalk is a great accomplishment and a step forward for the arts district's continued progress, he's looking forward for more opportunities like this to come.

"We're grateful to the Tennessee Arts Commission for this grant opportunity which helped bring the first, but hopefully not our last, artistic crosswalk to Columbia," Molder said. "Thanks to local artist Whitney Herrington for her colorful design and artistic abilities, to Swarco, Inc. for their contribution to the project, and our Public Works Department who always answers the call of creative service."

Artistic crosswalks have become a staple in many communities, aiming to provide certain benefits beyond creating a visually appealing addition to the places people gather.

It's also the kind of project that isn't accomplished alone.

"An eye-catching crosswalk like this is more than just a place to cross the street; it's a canvas for artistic exploration and an invitation to engage with art in a new and interactive way," the City of Columbia press release states. "Beyond the talented artist and the vital grant funding, the city of Columbia would like to recognize and thank the other local partners it took to complete this project including the Columbia Arts Council, Swarco, and Columbia Public Works.

"This artistic endeavor helps foster a deeper appreciation for the arts, spark creativity in everyone, and further establish Columbia as a cultural hub in Tennessee. So next time you're strolling through the Columbia Arts District, take a moment to experience the vibrant new crosswalk and let it ignite your imagination."

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

Kenneth P. Lord III, 81, resident of Williamsport, passed away on May 1, 2024.

A Memorial Service will be conducted Saturday, May 18, 2024 at 2:00 PM at Williamsport United Methodist Church. Burial will follow in Williamsport Cemetery with Military Honors provided by the U.S. Army. The family will visit with friends Saturday from 1:00 P.M. until the time of service at the Church.

William Howard Brewer Sr., 69, resident of Columbia, died Thursday, May 2, 2024 at his residence.

Funeral services will be conducted Tuesday, May 7, 2024  at 1:00 P.M. at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home. Burial will follow at Polk Memorial Gardens. The family will visit with friends Monday, May 6, 2024 from 5:00 PM until 8:00 PM at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home.  

…And now, news from around the state…

Hardy Speaker at MTSU Graduation (Fox.com)

More than 2,400 students graduated from Middle Tennessee State University this weekend.

MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee gave welcoming remarks at the spring 2024 commencement ceremonies. He said he was "proud that more than 70% of our graduates remain in the great state of Tennessee, building lives, opening businesses, starting families, and contributing to their communities.”

Singer/songwriter [Michael] Hardy was a keynote speaker on Saturday. The 33-year-old alumnus told graduates “not to be afraid to say yes” when opportunities arise, recounting an opportunity he had several years ago as a young songwriter to collaborate with an up and coming young artist — an artist that would lead to his first No. 1 hit, a record deal, national tours and subsequent No. 1’s opening the door to his career as an artist.

There is a very big chance that none of that would have happened if I had not said yes to my friend Morgan Wallen back in 2016. My point is this: Don’t be afraid to say yes to an opportunity just because you don’t think you will see an immediate result. You never know where your successes will come from. Take a chance on yourself.

Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)

This week the Gospel Music Association hosted the ceremonial construction kick-off of the brand-new Christian & Gospel Music Museum at The Dove Center. The Christian & Gospel Music Museum at The Dove Center’s location will be 400 Commerce Street in downtown Nashville. Attending the event and providing special remarks included Tennessee’s Governor Bill Lee and Nashville’s Mayor Freddie O’Connell showing their support for this historic moment. Dove Award and GRAMMY® Award-winning artist Michael W. Smith and Dove Award-winning artist Jekalyn Carr provided special music.

“We couldn’t be more thrilled to break ground on the new home for Christian & Gospel music right in the heart of Music City,” said Jackie Patillo, GMA President. “The opportunity to be a beacon of light here in Nashville and offer a place to fulfill our mission to expose, promote, and celebrate the Gospel is a big step forward.”


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