Ridgedale principal: ‘It fills our hearts!’

Tom KingFarragut

Let’s let Principal Rebecca Bitner’s words tell today’s story.

“Farragut Rotary has been such an overwhelming blessing to Ridgedale.

“Every staff member who pulled up Saturday morning to work was in shock when they saw the number of volunteers from the Rotary clubs already here. The amount of work that was done in just four hours was unbelievable!

Rebecca Bitner

“It was so exciting to come in Monday and see our beautiful campus! One teacher said to me, ‘Bitner we’re on the map. They know we’re here.’” Indeed, they do! “It’s like we have a brand-new school.”

On Saturday, March 23, 2024, the Rotary Club of Farragut and a bunch of its members with family members in tow led a World Day Project at Ridgedale School – also known as Ridgedale Alternative School – to knock out a few jobs inside and outside of the two-story building. At absolutely no cost to the school. Several years ago, when Diana Gossett was principal, we joined with Ridgedale as a Partner In Education. We’ve been there ever since.

Today this wonderful school and its faculty of angels and educators are part of the heart and soul of Farragut Rotary. This “work day” was a true labor of love and here is why we care so much: Ridgedale, just off Oak Ridge Highway, is not your typical neighborhood school. It has no Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) like other schools do for support and help. Its students live all over Knox County. Almost 100% of its students are bused in daily.

The school has 17 teachers and some 30 educational assistants plus support staff (academic coaches, crisis intervention teams and a nurse) plus its administrative staff.

Ridgedale has two levels. The lower-level houses classes for 56 alternative middle school students, grades 6-8, from 17 schools. These girls and boys end up at Ridgedale because of an array of disciplinary issues and are suspended from regular school for 10 days to 180.

A few of their issues include making threats, aggressive behavior toward staff or students, and possession of drugs, alcohol or weapons.

The second level has 45 students in grades K-12 who are special education students with developmental and intellectual disabilities between the ages of 5 and 22 – cerebral palsy, autism, specific learning disabilities and emotional issues.

Every classroom in this school is unique, with unique students with their own unique problems and needs.

“We are so passionate about the students we serve, so for Farragut Rotary to be willing to give us all of this amazing support, well, it fills our hearts with such gratitude. It’s an honor that you have done so much,” Bitner said. “One teacher said it takes a while to take it all in; that the school even smells cleaner.”

The Rotarians had help. About 30 of Ridgedale’s teachers joined in the work party along with about 20 or so of their children. The work party numbered approximately 70 or so strong. And what did we all get done together? Here is just a few of the completed projects:

  • Cleaned all available baseboards in classrooms on both floors.
  • Painted four classrooms’ lockers with 3 coats of paint.
  • Cleaned all interior and exterior windows and seals.
  • Pressure washed the entire front of the building, including the second story along with front and back sidewalks.
  • All gutters scraped, cleaned and painted.
  • Planter boxes made off-site and delivered. Area was leveled and they are ready for plants, herbs, fruits and veggies. This will be a class activity for children to learn.
  • Built a 15×20-foot deck for a new outdoor classroom. It is fixed with concrete and has railing on 3 sides.
  • Weeded, cleaned and redesigned the front cul-de-sac with less maintenance design. New stone around edges, heavy duty weed mat and tons of pea gravel
  • Cleaned grounds around the building, including bush trimming, raking up old leaves, trimming trees and picking up sticks.
  • Cleaned the windows of all the doors, then after we left the windows were all tinted to allow teachers and staff to look in and students won’t be disturbed by it.
  • Tinted the front office windows with mirror tint.

“It’s really hard for me to come up with the right words to tell you all how much Farragut Rotary means to our school,” she said. “You make our staff and students feel so valued.”

And then the principal added: “Your club is a class act and we all know it. No way can we thank you enough, no way.”

Tom King is a career journalist and a past president of the Rotary Club of Farragut, which meets each Wednesday at 12:15 p.m. at the Farragut Community Center, 239 Jamestown Blvd. If you want more information about Rotary or are interested in attending a meeting or joining, please email Tom or text him at 865-659-3562.


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