Test Time for School Board

For the past year, Knox County Schools administration has been working on a strategic plan for the next five years. Last fall KCS asked the community what was good, bad and what to do next. The superintendent presented the administration’s proposed plan in late June. The superintendent wants the Board to approve the plan at its August 6 meeting.

 

Unfortunately, the plan is not yet worthy of approval. The Board should take time to seek input from the citizens before approving the plan. There are many reasons to take more time before making a decision.

 

The plan has gotten very little public review. The “final” plan was released on June 27, but only people who closely follow the board knew about it until after it was approved on first reading at the July 2 meeting.

 

Some board members said citizens had a month to review the plan before the August board meeting. Except for Ms. Carson’s public meeting last Tuesday, neither the board nor the administration has made any effort to tell parents, teachers and citizens what is in the plan and give them an opportunity to comment. A group of parents, teachers and citizens, calling themselves SPEAK, has assembled hundreds of comments, but most of the community still doesn’t know anything about the plan.

 

The plan does not represent the views of Knox County parents, teachers or citizens. The administration made a good effort to solicit input from the community last fall. Unfortunately, there is scant evidence that anything people said that wasn’t already what the administration wanted to hear got into the plan.

 

Ironically, one of the plan’s objectives is to, “Invite and Earn Stakeholder Feedback.” Ignoring the input from hundreds of people who attended meetings last fall is no way to earn future feedback from parents, teachers or citizens. Failing to give the community adequate opportunity to review and comment on the proposed plan doesn’t “earn” feedback.

 

The plan is incomplete. Some of the plan elements are no more than plans to do more planning. One “initiative” is to “Research and explore the utility of a Parent Resource Center.” One might reasonably expect that after a year of developing the strategic plan, the “research and explore” part of the plan would have been completed. And, the plan provides no information on how much any of the initiatives would cost. It is hard not to take the half-baked strategic plan as a demonstration of disrespect for both the school board and the citizens of Knox County.

 

Some of the plan is ridiculous. For instance, it proposes that teachers “earn” their autonomy in the classroom. The idea that a central office manager is going to determine when a college-educated, certified and licensed teacher has “earned” their autonomy is beyond laughable. Physicians earn their autonomy by their training, not from accountants.

 

Finally, four or five new board members will be serving by the end of November. Neither the members who are leaving nor those who are staying should want such an important decision to be made before the new members are on the board.

 

A good strategic plan can be very valuable to our schools. A good plan needs to be clear and understandable. Most importantly, it must be recognized as reflecting the priorities and best values of our community’s parents, teachers and citizens. A good plan will draw the community together in support of our schools.

 

The test for the School Board is whether it will use the plan to build community support or further weaken citizen confidence in Knox County Schools. If the Board wants to build community support, it needs to say no to the superintendent’s plan, and develop a plan the community can get behind.

 

Submitted by Sally Absher for Lance McCold, lancemccold@chartertn.net

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