Mincey Takes Lessons from Lincoln, Adds Schoolhouse Memories

Take one step into Dr. Ronnie Mincey's office in the Union County Public Schools' central office, and his role model will be obvious. Pictures and portraits of President Abraham Lincoln cover every surface, including the one pictured here, which Mincey describes as "the most comforting picture," a gift from Donnie Tharpe.

"You can look at it and think, 'What would you do if you were in this predicament?'" Mincey said.

Mincey's relationship with Lincoln started as so many of his stories do: in the classroom. In the third grade in Florence Chesney's class, young Mincey found a book called "The Man on the Penny."

"He just sounded so cool," Mincey said. "He was a hero and a role model. He was poor, and he overcame it. You know how some things just hit you at the right time and right moment?"

Mincey grew up in Union County, graduated from Horace Maynard High School in 1983, and has been a lifelong post-secondary learner, earning series of degrees ending in a doctorate in educational leadership from his hero's namesake, Lincoln Memorial University. He started teaching in Union County in 1987, at Luttrell Elementary, where he stayed until 1995. He was principal at Sharps Chapel and Luttrell, then served as elementary curriculum coordinator. From there, he entered the position he fills now: Supervisor of Federal Programs.

What he does there isn't as mysterious as it sounds. He manages the funds that the school system receives from federal grants, including Title 1 funds earmarked for the "education of the economically disadvantaged," Title 2 funds for professional development of teachers, and more. A lot of that money goes into technology, but it also goes to teaching materials (not textbooks), and things that are harder to see.

"If you could blink your eyes and take everything away that has been done, you would see how bare it is," Mincey said. "The best thing about this role is that you can actually have influence in helping other people in the school system help students."

Even though so much of his work goes to technology and software, Mincey is a traditional classroom teacher educated by traditional classroom teachers. He remembers when blackboards were sacred and sticks of chalk were precious. But he's firm in his belief that the fundamentals of teaching haven't changed.

"If you picked up a teacher from back then and set them down in a classroom today, they'd think they were in a foreign land," he said. "Is there still a place for tradition? The same things that made a good teacher in the 70s make a good teacher today, it's just the tools that are different."

And his list of those good teachers is long. He remembers with fondness Jimmie Eldridge who taught kindergarten at Sharps Chapel for years, and many more.

"She was so good at getting parents into the building," Mincey said. "She wanted every parent to get involved, and they would keep coming. That was so good for the school."

Mincey grew up attending First Baptist Church of Maynardville, and nowadays he and wife Mary Ann attend Loveland Baptist Church, where Mincey serves as treasurer. He is active in the Lion's Club of Union County and serves on the board of Preservation Union County and East Tennessee Preservation Alliance.

For many years, he put his classroom memories in print with the now-defunct Union County Shopper-News, and he plans to reprise his weekly stories starting in January on HistoricUnionCounty.com.

"Mary Ann tells me that I live in the past, and I do because the past is comforting. The past is what made us what we are today," Mincey said.

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