By Matthew Stewart-The Daily Times
Final score: Porter 1, vandals 0.
Porter Elementary School was closed Friday after being struck by theft and vandalism. Blount County Sheriff’s Office is conducting an investigation and hasn’t released any information about suspects at this time. Porter Elementary’s damage is estimated in the tens of thousands of dollars, and staff is still working to determine what items were stolen. Principal Jared Smith expects to finalize a list of damaged and stolen property today or Wednesday.
“After two days of cleaning, Porter looks better than ever,” Smith said. “It’s the biggest snub we could give whoever was responsible. I told everybody today: Porter 1, vandals 0. All they did was fire up this entire community, and we erased what they did in one weekend.”
Custodians started cleaning up glass and sanitizing work areas Friday afternoon. Maintenance employees also started changing locks to every exterior door, because at least two sets of employee keys were missing. Staff worked all day Saturday to get ready for Monday’s classes, Smith said. Maintenance employees also completed changing locks. A group of 10 parents and students reported Sunday with brooms and dustpans, cleaning supplies and shop vacuums to fully clean the building, he said. They spent about five hours “going over everything with a fine-tooth comb.”
Since Friday morning, the community has rallied behind Porter Elementary in a nearly unprecedented fashion. Hours after the incident, Facebook users started changing their profile pictures to the school’s logo. Heritage High’s DECA chapter and softball team raised money at Friday’s game against Maryville High, said board member Debbie Sudhoff. She saw some families donating as much as $20 toward Porter Elementary’s restoration. Community members also donned the school’s colors, blue and gold, and T-shirts throughout the weekend. Staff, students and their families continued the trend Monday when they came back to campus in the regalia. Parents and staff brought refreshments, including a cookie cake, for students Monday. Chick-fil-A also donated breakfast foods for the second time since Friday.
principal offers reassurance
Porter Elementary further came together in an assembly Monday morning. Smith reassured audience members in the five-minute assembly that the malefactors’ intentions were to break and steal things, not harm people. “After the assembly, everything was business as usual,” he said. “No kids were upset, and none of them were visually shaken. I anticipate the rest of the week will be the same.”
“Porter is an extremely resilient community,” said Blount County Director of Schools Rob Britt. “They’ve done a great job rallying from this heinous act of vandalism.”
“It’s both impressive and inspirational to see how they’ve pulled together,” said Assistant Director of Curriculum and Instruction Mike Crabtree. “When somebody did wrong, they made it right. An entire community, great grandparents, grandparents, parents and children, made it right. It’s a great lesson for these kids.”
As of Monday night, Smith said staff had reported that “six or seven iPads, five or six Google Chromebooks and two laptops” were stolen. A number of Apple TVs were additionally damaged or stolen. Two projectors, one computer monitor and one flatscreen TV were also damaged. Blount County hasn’t determined at this time how it will pay for building repairs and replace damaged and stolen property, because it has a “large deductible” on its insurance policy, Britt said. The school board will need to determine how it will fund that.
Community members are stepping up to help defray costs, though. In addition to collections at local schools, efforts are underway to crowdsource needed repairs.
Century 21 Real Estate Group’s Sherri Vanderkooy has created a GoFundMe page to restore the school. As of Monday night, community members had donated $2,630 toward its $10,000 goal. All proceeds will be dispersed to Porter Elementary’s Booster Club and will help replace items that aren’t covered by insurance.
A separate account sponsored by Porter Elementary’s Booster Club has been created, as well. As of Monday night, community members had donated $1,100 towards its $30,000 goal.
Community members who would like to assist with Porter Elementary's repairs can visit https://www.gofundme.com/r3egkaa4. All proceeds will be dispersed to the Booster Club and will help fund items that aren't covered by insurance. The Booster Club has established another account: https://www.gofundme.com/3tezf5pk. It hopes to raise $30,000.