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Watauga experiences impacts from weekend flooding

WATAUGA — The High Country received extensive rainfall during the June 7-9 weekend, with areas such as Todd and Valle Crucis experiencing the heaviest impacts.

According to the National Weather Service Blacksburg meteorologist Mike Sporer, reports from Watauga County generally measured 7 to 9 inches of rain, with localized reports of over a foot in some areas, especially eastern Watauga County. The official reporter from Boone, located at the Boone Water Treatment Plant, recorded 9.41 inches of rain for the duration of the storm.

The several-day weather event was caused by a stagnant weather pattern that was produced by a deep upper-level low-pressure system “squeezing” all the precipitation into the region, as Sporer described it.

The eastern part of Watauga County was hit the hardest. Sporer said the terrain of the area contributed to the high localized totals due to “upslope conditions,” a condition where rain is pushed by winds up against the mountain.

Watauga Fire Marshal Taylor Marsh said the county received calls for two water rescue situations in the areas of Clark’s Creek Road and Watauga River Road. People in both of these calls were able to self-rescue, Marsh said.

A section in the 7000 block of Elk Creek Road was proposed to be closed for around a week — or maybe longer — after what N.C. Department of Transportation’s Kevin Whittington classified as a “major” mudslide occurred on June 10.

Whittington, who is a Watauga County engineer with the NCDOT, visited the site and said the mudslide itself occurred between the two intersections of Elk Creek Road and Powder Horn Mountain Road. Signs advising traffic of the mudslide were posted on both ends of Elk Creek Road. NCDOT planned to have contractors set up Monday afternoon with work started to clear the mudslide on Tuesday, Whittington said.

Watauga County Emergency Management said locals should use Sampson Road as a detour.

Along with Elk Creek Road, Sampson Road saw some damage, but Whittington said the road is passable. Other roads in the Triplett area are passable, but NCDOT was planning to put up barriers and traffic cones to warn traffic of washed-out shoulders.

According to Blue Ridge Energy, 5,556 of its members saw power outage issues during the storm event. The company stated that line technicians and assisting crews had used ATVs to reach any assessable areas after heavy rain and flooding washed out roads and brought down trees on power lines, but some areas were totally inaccessible and hampered restoration. The weather broke poles and damaged the electric system in 84 different locations of the cooperative’s service area. Power to all but one customer had been restored to those impacted by the afternoon of June 10.

Several Watauga County Schools facilities were affected by the weekend storms. Superintendent Scott Elliott said three schools experienced electrical issues that knocked out phone services on June 10. Parkway School also had lost power to the well house and outside mobile units; however, Elliott said the school had enough pressure in the well reservoir to keep the water pumping until Blue Ridge Energy could replace a broken underground power line.

The most significant flood-related problems took place at Valle Crucis School after Dutch Creek crested its banks and flowed onto the school property, Elliott said. The Valle Crucis School parking lots, playground and property behind the school were under water.

“We had ground water come up through the foundation in the same four classrooms that have been flooded and repaired four times in the last year,” Elliott said. “We worked all day Sunday and had a crew there all night to remove the water, and a restoration crew arrived this morning to assess damage.”

Even though the classrooms were dry for school on June 10, Elliott said the school would not be using the classrooms for the remainder of the school week.

Concerns arose from community members about the land the school system is under contract to purchase for the proposed new Valle Crucis School. The proposed site is situated along Broadstone Road between the Mast Farm Inn and the Mast Store Annex — approximately one-quarter mile from the existing school. Elliott said school officials closely monitored the flooding at not only the existing school but also at the property under contract.

“While portions of the new proposed location also sit in the flood plain, the top portion where the school will be built did not flood,” Elliott said. “The drainage ditch on the property did its job and carried a lot of water away from the property.”

Elliott added that the Watauga River crested and came out into the flood way portion of the property at one point, but that WCS would not be building anything below the drainage ditch or in the flood way.

“There is one area near the road that routinely pools with water in heavy rain because of the drainage from Broadstone Road, but that would be corrected with better drainage during construction,” Elliott said.

At the Blowing Rock Town Council meeting on Tuesday, June 11, Town Manager Shane Fox said the town recorded 13 inches of rain at its wastewater treatment plant from 7 a.m. Friday, June 7 through 7 p.m. Monday, June 10. Fox also said that town employees worked around a combined 100 hours of overtime to make sure citizens were kept safe and dry with only a "handful" of issues reported, most of which were addressed quickly.

Marsh said the county would not be applying for disaster assistance as there was not enough damage to apply for support after completing a damage assessment.

Despite the weather event, Sporer said the High Country region is currently in a normal weather phase, according to three-month outlooks.

“There are no large-scale signals for prolonged wetness,” Sporer said, saying the recent storm system was not indicative of long-term weather patterns.

The “fairly normal” conditions, as Sporer described the current state, are a recent change that occurred in the last few months. This means that citizens likely won’t see the same level of precipitation that resulted in 2018 becoming the wettest year in NWS recorded history with 93.42 inches of rain. This amount shattered the previous recorded record of 74.83 set in 2013.

Critcher, Habich earn Best of Prep honors

Several student-athletes from Watauga, Ashe and Avery high schools were honored June 2 in the Best of Preps ceremony presented by Mountain Times Publications at Watauga High School’s auditorium.

Student-athletes representing 23 sports were judged on athletic and academic achievement, service to the community and overcoming adversity in their lives and athletic careers.

Extra awards were given to those who the three anonymous judges felt went above the rest of the crowd. Watauga’s Ben Critcher was named the Men’s Athlete of the Year, while Ashe County’s Samantha Woods was named the Women’s Athlete of the Year.

Avery’s Ellie Kitchin was given the Comeback Award and Avery’s Faith Daniels was given the Community Excellence Award.

Watauga’s football coach Ryan Habich was given the Extra Mile Coach of the Year Award.

The keynote speaker was former Ashe County High and Watauga High athletic director and boys’ basketball coach Marc Payne. Payne told the audience of student-athletes to let their actions speak louder than their words.

“Under promise and over deliver,” Payne said. “Don’t talk about what you’re going to do. Prove what you’re going to do in how you play.”

Critcher has done his share of delivering both in competition and in the classroom. He was the Best of Preps winner in men’s golf and in men’s wrestling. Critcher, who carried a 4.33 weighted grade point average, was an All-Northwestern Conference wrestler and an All-NWC football player.

Academically, Critcher is a nominee for the Roan Scholars Leadership Program. He also is a member of Athletes for Good Club and is part of the Howards Creek Church small group and youth groups.

“I really didn’t expect to win all of these awards,” Critcher said. “It’s great to know all the hard work and dedication I put into it paid off and it’s got benefits.”

Critcher’s golf coach Brett Green said Critcher has shown dedication to not just golf, but to his academics and his other sports.

“Ben has been a member of the WHS varsity golf team for four years,” Green said in Critcher’s nomination form. “He has played in a match each year, including all of them his senior year. He was a medalist in the non-conference match with Ashe, shooting a plus-4 at Mountain Aire Golf Club. Ben was also elected a captain by his teammates his senior year.”

Critcher said the wrestling award was a surprise since the other two nominations — Ashe County’s Zachariah Bare and Avery’s River Griffin because each won a state championship.

Critcher was also a standout football player, but the Watauga Best of Preps nomination went to Eli Suggs and the Best of Preps football winner was Ashe County’s Sam McCollum.

Critcher said he will attend Appalachian State in the fall and has not decided a major yet.

Habich was named coach of the year after leading Watauga to a 13-1 overall record and the Pioneers’ first NWC championship since 2007, which it shared the title with AC Reynolds. Watauga also won its first outright NWC championship in 2018 for the first time since 1980.

“It was a great year,” Habich said “We had a great senior class with a very talented junior class. It all came together. Five years prior, we’ve had some really good seasons and we built on every year. Last year, it all came together.”

Woods is a four-year winner in women’s basketball. She is a 1,000-point scorer, a four-year All-Mountain Valley Conference basketball player and a three-year all-conference soccer player.

“It’s awesome,” Woods said. “It’s good to see the hard work pay off. You can see it in the season when you win games, but in a ceremony like this it really sinks in.”

Daniels, who played women’s basketball, women’s soccer and volleyball, carried a weighted 4.464 grade point average. She averaged 9.4 and 5.5 rebounds for Avery’s 21-7 girls’ basketball team that made it to the fourth round of the state 1-A playoffs.

Daniels was also the co-president of the Beta Club and the President of the Future Leaders of America. She was a junior marshal at the Avery graduation and has also trained in CPR and has served as a camp counselor at the Williams YMCA.

Kitchin earned the Comeback Award for helping keep her family going since her sophomore year when her mother was diagnosed with cancer. She is the eldest kid in her family and had to be strong for her sisters and father.

Kitchin was the captain of the Avery women’s tennis team her junior and senior seasons. She has also been on the Avery’s track and field team her sophomore year and on the Vikings’ women’s soccer team her senior year.

Despite being busy, Kitchin carried a 4.6 weighted GPA. She is a member of the National Technical Honor Society and was a junior marshal for Avery’s graduation in 2019.

Phil Norman named Hardin Park principal

BOONE — The Watauga County Board of Education voted unanimously on June 10 to appoint Phil Norman principal of Hardin Park School, according to Watauga County Schools.

Norman is set to take the job at Hardin Park after an extensive interview and vetting process led by Superintendent Scott Elliott. The process is designed to evaluate candidates for administrative roles in the district.

The hiring process began with a stakeholder survey in which teachers, parents, students and community members were given the opportunity to express traits they’d like to see in a leader at their school. Hardin Park’s survey received 416 public responses.

Norman, who has served as principal of Green Valley School for the past five years, was chosen after a four-round interview process with an interview committee of 30 people and a one-on-one interview with Elliott.

Elliott said Hardin Park — Watauga’s largest K-8 school — required a skilled and experienced candidate to lead effectively.

“Hardin Park is an extraordinary school community with a strong faculty, diverse student body and supportive parents who all have very high expectations for a leader,” Elliott said. “Hardin Park prides itself on its many forms of diversity, and how that diversity makes the school stronger for all its students. A school the size of Hardin Park is a very complex environment to lead and manage. It requires a leader with a wide range of skills. Phil Norman has proven through his experience that he has the right traits and skills to lead Hardin Park.”

Elliott said feedback from the interview committee indicated clearly that Norman was the right fit to lead and support the school in the future.

For Norman, taking the position at Hardin Park will represent a return to the school. He started his tenure with Watauga County Schools in 2005 as an assistant principal, where he served for eight years under the leadership of outgoing Principal Mary Smalling.

“I am truly honored and excited by the opportunity to serve and lead the Hardin Park community,” Norman said. “I have a strong connection to the school. I worked as an administrator under Mrs. Smalling’s leadership and both my children attended Hardin Park. I am looking forward to how Hardin Park students, staff and I can grow together to make an already great school even better.”

Norman thanked his colleagues at Green Valley for their hard work and dedication during his time at the school.

“Being the principal at Green Valley and working with the amazing staff and students there has been a privilege and a pleasure,” Norman said. “Green Valley is truly a special place. It is such a supportive, caring and generous community that has had an immeasurable impact in my life. I have had an amazing time and will greatly miss seeing everyone on a day-to-day basis.”

Norman earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Rochester and a master’s degree in school administration from North Carolina State University. Before beginning his career in public education, Norman spent eight years as an aviator in the United States Navy.

Norman worked in various teaching roles in San Diego City Schools and Wake County Schools before coming to Watauga in 2005 to serve as an assistant principal at Hardin Park School. Norman has served as the principal of Green Valley School since 2014.

Elliott named regional superintendent of the year

BOONE — Watauga County Schools Superintendent Scott Elliott was recently named Northwest North Carolina Superintendent of the Year by the Northwest Regional Educational Service Agency — an organization that provides professional services, staff development and support for public schools in the region.

The Regional Superintendent of the Year Award winner is chosen by fellow superintendents from the 12 school districts in Northwest North Carolina. Award winners from each of the eight regions are eligible to go on to win statewide recognition for their work.

NWRESA Executive Director Don Martin said Elliott was chosen for the award for his dedication to public education and commitment to Watauga County Schools.

“Elliott was selected by his peer superintendents for this award because they recognize his hard work and leadership both in Watauga and the state and regional levels,” Martin said. “He is well known and highly respected across our state as a vocal champion for both Watauga County Schools and for public education.”

Watauga County Board of Education Chairman Ron Henries said Elliott’s compassion and continual advocacy had been a credit to WCS.

“It would be very difficult for me to detail all the things Dr. Elliott brings to Watauga because he is talented in so many areas,” Henries said. “I think what impresses me most is his ability to communicate with so many different groups. Whether he is driving a bus for a field trip with students, supporting teachers in the classroom, helping a parent with a problem or working with community leaders to advocate for our schools, Dr. Elliott has a passion for helping people that is understood and appreciated by everyone. He believes very deeply in what he does and it shows.”

Elliott thanked NWRESA for the recognition, crediting his colleagues across WCS for their hard work.

“I am honored and humbled to accept this award, but not for a minute do I think this is about me. It is a recognition of the quality and reputation of Watauga County Schools as a whole,” Elliott said. “It is an absolute privilege to serve in this county with these teachers, staff and students who prove everyday they’ve earned the high reputation they have across our entire state. Together, we set the ambitious goal to be the best place to learn and work in North Carolina. To serve this community and these schools is an honor and a blessing for me both personally and professionally.”

A native of Marion, Elliott is in his fifth year with Watauga County Schools. His wife, Laura, is a middle school science teacher at Parkway School, where their children also attend.

Before coming to Watauga, he served as a teacher, assistant principal, principal, central office director and assistant superintendent in Transylvania County Schools in Brevard, where he was recognized as that district’s teacher of the year. Elliott was a community college instructor in a maximum security prison and in a youth residential job training program before transitioning to K-12 education.

Elliott has served as chairman of the NWRESA Superintendent’s Council for the last year and on the board of directors for the NWRESA for the past two years. He was recently elected to represent the region’s school systems in a two-year term on the board of directors for the North Carolina Association of School Superintendents.

Outside of education, Elliott is also actively involved in various groups across the High Country. He serves on boards with the Watauga Public Library, Watauga Housing Trust, Boone Area Sports Commission and High Country United Way. He is actively involved with the Reich College of Education at Appalachian State University, serving on the ASU Public School Partnership Governing Board and the RCOE Advancement Board. He is a member of the Blue Ridge Energy Community Leaders Council and was recently appointed chair-elect of the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce.