Behind the Blackboard: What is the place of a Catholic school in 2019?

Rick Wagner • Jul 6, 2019 at 6:30 PM

KINGSPORT — In case you missed it, Saint Dominic Catholic School Principal Tucker Davis is retiring after five years, but he prefers to call it stepping aside. In his place, veteran educator Darlene Lyons will take the wheel of the parochial school Aug. 1. 

Davis said he has enjoyed his time at the Kingsport school, which he said has a roughly 50-50 split between Catholics and non-Catholics as students. One of its longtime faculty, retired 38-year music teacher Joy Mullen, isn’t Catholic.

“We don’t shy away from who we are, but we respect others for who they are,” Davis said in a recent interview. He said the school provides an option for parents and their children, something a healthy community needs.

He also said Saint Dominic Catholic School works well with Kingsport City Schools, which does standardized tests for Saint Dominic, and many Saint Dominic students end up attending either Sevier or Robinson middle school and Dobyns-Bennett High School. Others attend schools in Sullivan or Hawkins counties or elsewhere in the region.


Sevier’s upcoming student body president is Saint Dominic “graduate” Charles Wissert, and the school’s cheerleading captain is former Saint Dominic student Lauren Reilly. D-B’s Top 10 students in the just-graduated class included former Saint Dominic students Ian Boldea and Annika Cleven. 

“It’s a family. It’s a community,” Lyons said of the school. Davis said he believes a diversity of educational options for secondary education supports a vibrant community.

Lyons said she works in a Catholic school because it allows teaching things like “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” directly from its Bible origins rather than indirectly through morals. “You can address the children, every part of that’ child’s life,” Lyons said. 


The school’s pre-kindergarten program is capped at a maximum of 40 with a current waiting list, while Saint Dominic ended the 2018-19 academic year with 74 students in grades K-5. Davis said that the current facility could handle about 10 more students without issue and that he believes the school will add students beyond a total of 74 in in the fall. The school nearly closed in 2010 because of dwindling enrollment, but a policy forestalled the immediate closure and the school gained enrollment in the meantime.

The idea of expanding to grades 6-8, which are offered at Saint Anne’s in Bristol and Saint Mary’s in Johnson City, is a possibility, as is the idea of a Catholic high school to serve the Tri-Cities, Davis said.

My two older children attended public schools in Kingsport City Schools and graduated from Dobyns-Bennett, and my youngest is still in Hawkins County Schools, a rising sixth-grader. However, my two older ones went to the defunct Little Lamb Daycare at the Kingsport Community Church across Memorial Boulevard from Fort Henry Mall, and my youngest went to a preschool at Church Hill First United Methodist Church. We parents paid the tuition for those. (Little Lamb closed as changing state regulations put the squeeze on many daycares more than a decade ago.)


Without getting into arguments about whether public money should be used wholesale to pay for private school tuition, having Catholic schools like Saint Dominic, Saint Mary’s and Saint Anne’s, as well as Tri-Cities Christian based in Blountville, Cedar View School in Lynn Garden and Providence Academy in Johnson City, to name a few, does give folks a choice.

Davis said he believes business and industrial prospects are impressed with communities like Kingsport that have a diversity of offerings for secondary education, especially when local public school systems are good. On the other hand, he said that making sure all students get a good education and having a strong public education system is important for society as a whole, for all of us.

That is something to ponder that goes much deeper than most school choice debates and arguments. Unless state law changes, public education will remain a mandate for counties in the Volunteer State, with the ability of cities to offer them and for charter schools and private schools to operate if they can make their way financially and attract enough students The argument about pubic money for private schools notwithstanding, I believe there is a place for public and private schools to coexist and even thrive in the 21st century.

QUIZ: How many students were enrolled at Saint Dominic Catholic School at the end of the 2018-19 school year?

BONUS QUESTION: How many of Dobyns-Bennett High School’s Top 10 students in the 2019 graduating class were former Saint Dominic students?

Rick Wagner is a father, a United Methodist, and the education writer for the Kingsport Times News. He writes the monthly Behind the Blackboard column. Email him at [email protected]



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