TWU alum aims to open local charter school

GAPA Founder Paul Gaffney, shown here, speaking to students about the importance of working towards their dreams during the Career Day at Westside Elementary School on March 22.

A Tennessee Wesleyan University alumni and former professional basketball player is applying to develop a local sports-centric charter school here.

Paul Gaffney, a 15-year Harlem Globe Trotters member, is the chief executive officer (CEO) and founder of Gaffney Athletic Prepatory Academy (GAPA).

A 501(c)(3) nonprofit, GAPA is striving to plant the nation’s first international T.E.A.M.S. college preparatory charter high school for sports enthusiasts in McMinn County. The school would be tuition free and open to the public via an application process.

Because of state law, GAPA’s application to start the public charter school in McMinn must be approved by the McMinn County Board of Education before it can become a reality.

GAPA’s focus for the school’s specialty resembles the academic discipline for STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics — but with Athletics added, forming the acronym T.E.A.M.S.

The primary goals of GAPA, according to Gaffney, are to “serve as an innovative and high-achieving academic sports charter school” focusing on careers in sports and to “develop and create sports enthusiasts to become scholars, college graduates and productive game changers in a global sports centric society.”

Gaffney noted he wants the school to prepare students for jobs in the sports field beyond being an athlete, by offering classes in areas like Sports Medicine, Sports Marketing, Sports Nutrition, Sports Communications and Sports Management.

“There’s people that have the athletic ability and people that don’t have it, but there’s more to the sports world than physical ability,” he explained, referencing “engineers, artists and other people that play a big part in sports.”

Sports, he said, “is a bigger world than the physical aspect,” and with GAPA, he hopes to “open up the horizon of what sports are” by empowering students to learn how their passions and areas of expertise can be channeled for use in the industry.

The GAPA founder explained why he desires to make McMinn County the home of the school.

“I think the area and location has a nurturing spirit,” Gaffney said. “When these kids are coming from different areas around the world, they’re coming to get nurtured.”

Commenting on the popularity of sports in the region, he said “what more sports-centric area is there than East Tennessee,” before noting that he believes McMinn County specifically “is nurturing for this kind of school.”

He added, “sometimes you just know that this is where it needs to be.”

Because of the international nature of the school, Gaffney explained that the campus would host national, international, local and multipurpose events. He said the facility “will bring economic interest and advancement to the area.”

The county “is growing and it’s a great place to plant yourself and grow with it,” he said.

Although the former Globetrotter said his own life experience has undoubtedly been a driving force in the idea to develop the school, he also noted feeling convicted by a higher power.

“My background and life has played a major role, but the idea came to me in a vision as a dream,” he explained. “God puts purpose in your life and He puts that in you to develop when you know what you’re called to do.

“It’s like my ministry to help young athletes and people in the athletic world to grow,” Gaffney continued. “It’s a burning desire.”

Along with an emphasis on facets of athletics, according to Gaffney, GAPA would also offer a college preparatory program, many English as a Second Language courses, advanced placement and honors classes — and several online courses for student-athletes whose athletic competition schedules require traveling.

According to Gaffney, other amenities and features included in the vision are campus housing, international academic sports learning centers, recreational activities, Olympic-style sports training, an indoor sports expo center, a multi-sports park, a golf training center, equestrian center, an RV Park and radio and television stations.

Pending approval of his application by the McMinn County Board of Education, Gaffney said he hopes the school will be open by 2020 and would like to begin accepting student applications in March of 2020.

Director of McMinn County Schools Lee Parkison explained that the Board is awaiting GAPA’s application, since Gaffney has filed a letter of intent to apply for the Board’s approval by April 1.

“They’ll apply by April 1 and then we will review the application,” Parkison said. “We’re preparing to do what we need to do by state law to approve or disapprove.”

In light of the process, the McMinn County Board of Education formed a Charter School Review Committee — in which Parkison is the chair. Other members of the committee include Donna Casteel, Diane Vincent, Sharon Brown, Rebecca Morgan, Roger Freeman and Dr. Vant Hardaway.

By Tennessee law, from the time of the charter school application, the local board has 60 days to approve or deny the application. Before the body can make its decision, legally, it must grade the application by a rubric provided by the state and ensure that certain standards were followed.

In the event that the application was denied, GAPA could appeal the decision and the state department of education could approve it.

Gaffney is a member of Wesleyan’s Board of Trustees and the Amateur Athletic Union’s Future Leaders Committee. He graduated from Wesleyan with a degree in Business Management and was later inducted in the university’s Hall of Fame and the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

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