School Board Defers Non-Renewal Policy, Adopts New Superintendent Evaluation Tool

By Sally Absher


The Knox County Board of Education decided last week to postpone further discussion and action on changes to Board Policy GBG, which would give the board the final say on non-renewals and allow non-tenured teachers to appeal a non-renewal decision and request a hearing with the Board.

Last spring a number of teachers with good evaluation and professionalism scores (and no prior indication that there were any issues with their performance) received non-renewal notices. Copper Ridge Kindergarten teacher Christina Graham’s story went viral last May, reported on TheBlaze.com and news outlets across the country.

During the July Board meeting, Terry Hill suggested several improvements to Policy GBG, including adding a requirement to protect both teacher and principal to document or keep a written log of all discussions pertaining to the teachers’ performance; and adding the right for teachers with two or more years and satisfactory evaluations who are non-renewed to appeal to the Superintendent or the Board.

Patti Bounds, concerned by the number of non-renewed and riffed (reduction in staff) teachers who were still looking for positions at the end of July, asked Knox County Law Director to draft revisions to Policy GBG to bring it in line with TCA statute.

The Board discussed the revised policy at Monday’s work meeting, and seemed to agree that non-tenured teachers who have their contract non-renewed at the end of a school year should be given a reason why, and that principals need to thoroughly document any issues and discussions with the teacher.

But some board members thought the proposed revisions went too far. Doug Harris said, “It just seems that we’d be devaluing the authority of our school principals…I just think this is micromanaging to the nth degree and the best way to rectify if we have a problem is to make sure our principals are trained properly on having counseling with our teachers through the school year.”

Amber Rountree asked why non-renewed teachers are no longer given the option to transfer to a different school, since under the previous MOU this was an option if the principal and teacher felt that particular school was not a good fit.

Rountree and Bounds also complained that they had repeatedly requested specific information from Central Office regarding the number of non-renewals for teachers with satisfactory evaluations, but had yet to receive that information.

Lynne Fugate said, “I’d rather have a discussion about transfers or other HR stuff, because I can never support the Board micromanaging the schools.”

Law Director Armstrong clarified that state statutes give the Board due process for non-renewals, and that the board has the power to do whatever they want to under the statute as far as allowing or not allowing hearings for non-renewed teachers. “But,” he said, “these terminations should not be a surprise under our current policy.”

Mike McMillan asked if the Board could put some restrictions on the teachers ability to appeal a non-renewal, for example, restricting hearings to teachers who had an evaluation of three or higher.

Armstrong concurred, saying the board can write the policy however they desire. He also clarified that the Board has the right to obtain any information including teacher evaluation scores to help them make the best decisions on managing state schools.

When it became clear that the concerns were not going to be resolved on Monday night, the Board agreed to continue the discussion on the policy changes at their September Board Retreat. Hill said she felt the policy needed revision because teachers who are being non-renewed want to know why, and if they have any due process. She said, “I don’t want to see the whole thing go away.”

The Board also discussed the proposed Superintendent Evaluation Process. A committee comprised of Patti Bounds (chair), Terry Hill, and Karen Carson, along with the student representative, have met several times over the past several months to revise the way the Superintendent is evaluated.

The new evaluation model is based heavily on the 2020 Strategic Plan and includes an evaluation rubric consisting of 2 domains, 49 indicators, and 5 levels of performance. There is also space for Board members to write additional comments.

The committee felt this was an improvement over the current narrative evaluation used, and that it is more in line with the evaluations teachers are subject to. The committee agreed to a minor revision that would require a written explanation for Level 1 (significantly below expectation) or Level 5 (significantly above expectation) scores on any indicator.

Fugate, Harris, and Sanger were very concerned whether Dr. McIntyre agreed with the new evaluation process, and if all his concerns had been adequately addressed.  On Monday, McIntyre said, “You all are my boss so however you want to evaluate me based on the work we are doing in Knox County schools and how we are achieving our goals with regard to our children is going to be something I will support.”

After a long discussion and a confusion over which of the three documents attached to the agenda the Board was actually voting on, the Proposed Evaluation Instrument was approved unanimously by the eight BOE members present on Wednesday.  Gloria Deathridge was out of town.

The new evaluation instrument will not be used until the 2016-2017 evaluation cycle. McIntyre’s next evaluation is scheduled to begin this November under the current narrative evaluation model.