Signal Mountain is known for great schools. Many families move here for that reason. The fact of fantastic education in our community is well known, but the history behind it is not. It began in 1991 and was driven by successive groups of parent and community leaders, collectively referred to as Founders.
Natives of Signal Mountain grew up hearing about the dream of a high school, but that looked well beyond the realm of possibility when Hamilton County budget cuts in 1991 meant the loss of core teachers and programs at the Signal Mountain public schools serving kindergarten through 9th grade at the time. But parents who wanted the best for their kids stepped up to fill the gaps and the Mountain Education Fund was born.
Not long after, many of those same parents decided the time had come to find a way for a high school to be built. They formed Friends of Signal Mountain High School to support and pursue the building of a public high school. After exploring many avenues to make that possible, they finally settled on an audacious plan. They would ask the local communities through a ballot referendum to pass a tax on themselves to pay for part of the high school construction. It was a massive campaign, mobilizing supporters to walk neighborhoods asking for votes. Some of our current high school students were tiny tots pulled in wagons as their parents went door to door.
The vote was close in Signal Mountain, and even closer in Walden. But it passed. And it gave the elected officials the support needed to finally build a high school on the mountain. Even so, parents realized that more help was required. A constructed, empty high school would not fulfill the dream they had for their children and grandchildren. So work started again, because these committed Founders could not imagine a high school without art supplies or computer labs, a band without instruments, science labs without supplies, or a football team without a stadium.
Founder and current MEF Board member Jonathan Welch remembers sitting in his former 2nd grade classroom at the MACC. “As we were discussing our mission, it was initially to support and provide for the best in public education. But as we crafted it, the word public was intentionally left out because our community did not want to put any limitation on what the best was. We would support and provide for the best in education. Period.”
When SMMHS opened its doors in 2008, Signal Mountain finally became a community that provided K-12 education to its children. And those multiple groups merged to form what we now know as the Mountain Education Foundation. This year we celebrate 10 amazing years of K-12 educational excellence.
The Founders gifted a remarkable legacy to local families, and it is because of them that we have the promise of great schools on Signal Mountain. But that promise of great schools is precarious when our teachers wonder every month if community donations will be sufficient to pay their salary; when our kids’ love of learning and creativity is sparked, and then halted as resources run dry.
Today, again, parents recognize that more help is needed to “protect the promise” of great schools on Signal Mountain. The Mountain Education Foundation is working to re-engage the community and capture the commitment, unity, vision, and generosity that made the last 10 years possible.
“Protect the promise” is exactly what MEF is asking of the Signal Mountain community during this 10th anniversary Million Dollar Year campaign. The Founders gave a priceless gift of K-12 educational excellence, and it will take the commitment of our community to sustain what they seeded.
The Mountain Education Foundation (MEF) is a non-profit public education foundation dedicated to serving students in kindergarten through 12th grade at Thrasher, Nolan and Signal Mountain Middle/ High School. These schools rely on donations to MEF for annual allocations that cover 10 staff positions, along with technology, professional development, student activities, teacher recognition, and more. Set up a recurring or one-time donation here, or contact MEF.