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By Steve Hunley

If the WBIR Inside Tennessee segment that aired on November 23 is any indication, the school system could save a lot of money by eliminating their entire half-million dollar PR department, and simply relying on District 3 School Board member Doug Harris to be in charge of the spin.

Harris is one of McIntyre’s biggest and most vocal supporters. He whines that the school system needs more resources/funds/money at every opportunity.  Translation: you should be paying higher taxes. This continues in spite of an embarrassing parade of financial debacles emanating from school system’s Central Office over the past six months.

Harris, who was elected to the board in 2012 and currently serves as vice-chair, is, by all accounts, a successful businessman. But he may have just crossed the threshold from credible board member to school system spinman with his statements on the Sunday show. In the process he alienated a good many teachers – and parents – in his district and across the county.

If you missed it, you can watch it here:

Harris made a number of interesting statements about the Knox County Schools, SAT-10 testing, and grade inflation.

Harris also said that he would give Superintendent McIntyre a grade of B, and said, “Dr. McIntyre’s communication skills are pretty darn good. We’re lucky to have him.”

Harris’s statement about McIntyre’s communication skills is in direct conflict with the evaluations given by most of his fellow board members. In McIntyre’s last evaluation, “improving communication” was at the forefront of things McIntyre needed to improve.

WBIR panelist Susan Williams asked about the Knox County Mayor’s  $8.4M reading literacy program grant. Harris said, “That program is very important… There’s a lot of coaches who are going out and helping teachers learn how to teach kids how to read, and we still have some work to do as far as training our teachers how to teach kids to read. They don’t come out of college prepared to teach kids to read.”

Do what?

How on earth did Harris’s kids – or even Harris himself, learn to read in the days before highly paid professional coaches “trained” the teachers how to teach reading?

WBIR’s Mike Donila asked how long the program should be continued, given the  not so good mixed results. Harris replied, “if you take it away, where would we have been?” (Translation: the scores would have been much worse without those great  and highly paid coaches!) He then again put in his usual plug for more money, or, in other words, a tax increase. He said “it doesn’t have to be a huge tax increase. Forty million dollars, one-to-one technology in every school, more teachers…” Yada, yada, yada.

I don’t know about you, but $40M is a “huge tax increase” to me! Heaven help us if “High Tax” Harris were to ever actually ask for a “huge tax increase.”

But in 2011, McIntyre ended a very successful reading program – Reading Recovery® and fired 20 RR teachers. If Harris was truly concerned about kids reading, he’d eliminate the high paid coaches and push to rehire those teachers and put two teachers in the elementary classrooms like he was so eager to do for his pet project, Emerald Charter School, since he just happens to sit on the Emerald board as well.

The conversation then turned to the SAT-10 test that the board recently voted to discontinue.  Harris admitted once again that he only voted to discontinue the SAT-10 because of a parliamentary procedure that would allow him to bring it back up later, presumably when there would be a majority of board members who favored the highly controversial test for students aged 5 to 8.

He made the ridiculous statement that “We are not going to be able to evaluate reading until somebody’s almost in the 4th grade.” Really, Mr. Harris?  Students actually take the TCAP first in the 3rd grade.

Teacher Lauren Hopson, who first posted about the segment on the SPEAK (students, parents, and educators across Knox County) Facebook page, said, “As a third grade teacher, I take great offense when anyone says that I will have no idea how well my kids can read without a standardized test. One would think a school board member would have better idea of what teachers are capable of doing.”

Harris also said, “It was a small group of teachers that were pushing to have the SAT-10 thrown out. I had no complaints from any parents, and very few teachers that complained.”

Harris’s last statement, by the way, goes beyond spin and is just not true. There are numerous testimonials, and even screenshots of emails that parents sent to Mr. Harris regarding their desire to eliminate the SAT-10 test on the SPEAK site.

He said “There is a lot of support from the teacher ranks for a test in first and second grade.” But Mike Donila pointed out there are numerous other, more appropriate tests and assessments that are given in the first and second grade. Harris responded that the teachers are just giving the SAT-10 test incorrectly! “They’re not giving it the way they were trained.” So, now it’s the teacher’s fault.

Do what?

Harris then said, “The problem with public education is grade inflation… A lot of our students will get As and Bs, and they are not proficient in English or math. As a parent, I need a standardized test once a year to see how my kid stacks up. The grades will not tell you really where they are.”

Wow. Is Mr. Harris actually making the accusation that Knox County School System, led by Superintendent McIntyre, is actually inflating grades? I have been saying this for some time because, in my opinion, the graduation rates are highly inflated because they do not come anywhere close to the preparation rates.

But Harris isn’t known for letting facts get in the way of the rhetoric and spin from McIntyre and his Broad Academy cohorts in the School System. My guess is that Harris will continue to be a rubber stamp for McIntyre as he always has been.