By Steve Hunley

Teachers, parents and students turned out in force at the most recent meeting of the Knox County Board of Education. For months The Knoxville Focus has been telling readers about the ties between Superintendent James McIntyre, the do-nothing Chamber of Commerce and local news media outlets.

Evidently, WBIR-TV news reporters had done a story about McIntyre having less teaching experience than  all the superintendents in the biggest school systems but one. McIntyre has exactly one year of experience teaching in an actual classroom, a fact that The Focus has been talking about for the past few years. From what I’ve gathered, WBIR-TV management killed the story done by its own reporters only to revive it a few days later. At the time, management offered the rather lame explanation that they killed the story to give McIntyre the chance to rectify those things that have demoralized teachers recently.

For years McIntyre has enjoyed the support of the business establishment and political elite. After all, they were the ones that actually brought him here in the first place. Unfortunately in this town, that all too often equates to support from most of the local news media. McIntyre has never received the kind of scrutiny from the local media that other public officials have, despite the fact that he earns more than Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett and Mayor Madeline Rogero.

Some, myself included,  would likely cite the fact McIntyre is appointed, rather than elected like most other officials. Considering nothing in Knox County’s budget comes remotely close to the half a billion dollars expended annually by the school system, I fail to see just why McIntyre deserves special treatment by the media. Any minor courthouse scandal is piddling compared to the vast sums spent by the school system.

The Knoxville News Sentinel has only really walloped McIntyre once during his reign over the school system, which was due to some excellent reporting by Jamie Satterfield. Ms. Satterfield pointed out many of the security systems in the schools either did not work properly or did not work at all. This occurred around the same time as the Sandy Hook tragedy and McIntyre did his best to ignore the ties between school security chief Steve Griffin and the contractor chosen to install the security systems. An investigation took place (if you can call it that) at McIntyre’s behest and tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars were spent, yet Griffin managed to retire on his own terms. Still, McIntyre took credit for raising security in our schools to unprecedented levels following this fiasco. Right.

It is a fact local news media has never held McIntyre’s feet to the fire. McIntyre has endorsed virtually every change in state law regarding teacher evaluations, as well as most anything Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman has wanted. Yet McIntyre hollers that the changes in the law have tied his hands, so teachers ought not to be mad at him. I wonder if his hands were tied during his frequent trips to Nashville to support these new “Education Reform” laws. But you’ve heard little about that from other local media outlets.

McIntyre and most of his rubber-stamp Board of Education have tried to assure teachers, parents and students they are “listening” and hope to make some changes. McIntyre’s lack of classroom teaching experience likely makes it difficult for him to empathize with educators, much less truly understand the challenges they face on a daily basis. It would be very interesting to have Dr. McIntyre spend a day teaching in an elementary, middle and high school classroom and have his performance evaluated by an experienced educator from outside of the county.

McIntyre is attempting to prop himself up with the announcement of improved scores, intimating somehow he is responsible for these improvements locally. Frankly, it doesn’t make any difference whether we graduate 100% of our students. The most important statistic is one almost never mentioned by the local media or McIntyre. I refer to preparation rates, which is the number of students actually prepared to further their education or join the work force. After all, isn’t that fundamentally what education is about, to have these young people graduate and become productive, taxpaying citizens?

The Chamber of Commerce, the Knoxville News Sentinel and our local TV stations have all but pretended preparation rates don’t exist.

The reason you hear nothing about preparation rates is because they are so abysmal as to be frightening. The preparation rate at Austin – East High School has gone up a whopping 200%, from 1% – 3%. That means fully 3% of students graduating from Austin – East are prepared to go on to college or university or get a job. The highest preparation rate in the county is at Farragut High School and the preparation rate there has dropped; 40% of those students graduating from Farragut High School are prepared to go on to college or join the work force. That means 60% of the youngsters graduating from Farragut High School are NOT prepared to further their education or get a real job.

The only real critic McIntyre has had on the Board of Education is Mike McMillan, who is also the only member of the Board to have spent his entire adult life, 33 years before retiring, as a classroom teacher. McMillan has been completely independent, yet had he lost the last election, his opponent Conley Underwood, a McIntyre supporter, would have been just another rubber-stamp, along with the rest of the board, for the superintendent.

Too many of the Board members are representing  the superintendent, not their constituencies. It seems pretty clear that Humpty-Dumpty has fallen  off the wall and neither the Chamber, the rubber-stamp Board of Education nor the rest of the local local media can put him back together again.

Despite Board members assuring the public they, too, are “listening,” they will almost surely extend his contract, which already runs for three more years. Still, five seats are up for election in May 2014 and anyone who doesn’t believe the big issue will be McIntyre himself is either deluded or simply not paying attention.

For those who truly want rid of McIntyre, it’s time for action. Don’t wait for others to do it for you, but let your voice be heard and get up and make a difference. Ultimately, the only thing that will cause Jim McIntyre to leave is changing the Board of Education.

<h1>Extension of McIntyre’s Contract Not Needed</h1>
Knox County School Superintendent James McIntyre is asking the Board of Education to extend his contract. Currently his present contract with the Board of Education runs for three more years. Is there some pressing need for the Board to extend it yet another year? No, there is not. Tennessee law permits a Board of Education to extend a superintendent’s contract up to a maximum of four years in advance and Dr. McIntyre wants the most he can get.

McIntyre has been under fire by angry teachers, parents and students recently and despite his claim that he and the Board are “listening,” the best example that they are not listening is Board Chair Lynne Fugate’s curt refusal to give a student critical of McIntyre merely one more minute of speaking time beyond the five minute limit at a recent board meeting. Clearly, Fugate didn’t want to listen anymore than necessary. It is typical of the McIntyre administration and the majority of his rubber-stamp Board of Education.

Aside from soothing buzzword words and educational jargon, there is little to praise in McIntyre and the Board of Education. On one hand, they have tried shining on teachers by claiming that most of the changes in policy are the responsibility of the Tennessee General Assembly; that begs the question of McIntyre having promoted and endorsed virtually every change proposed by legislature and he testified on behalf of the current evaluation system. Simply because the local media is too lazy to report the truth and all the facts does not mean that major problems in education do not exist.

The fact is, any intelligent teacher, parent or student has no reason on earth to believe a thing McIntyre says, nor the Board of Education for that matter. There has been some effort to make the teachers appear slothful and resentful of being evaluated at all, which is absolutely not true. Many educators are not even evaluated in their own field. I’ve said it before, evaluating a plumber as if he or she were a brain surgeon and vice versa is neither fair or reliable. In fact, I have always thought that was the job of the many many supervisors in the school system: to evaluate educators in their respective fields.

One of McIntyre’s proposed “solutions” to address teacher concerns is to have Board Chair Lynne Fugate appoint a committee, which will discuss these same concerns and recommend solutions. This is the very same Lynne Fugate who wouldn’t even literally give the time of day to one of the students leaders who had the temerity to be critical of McIntyre at a recent Board meeting.

The Board has not only bent over backwards to accommodate the McIntyre in his own evaluation, but has come to resemble nothing more than an acrobatic pretzel in its desire to let the superintendent have his way. Neither the Board nor McIntyre seem to grasp the inherent hypocrisy in his evaluation process and that of the teachers who are working in the classroom for a fraction of McIntyre’s princely salary.

Other local media outlets have killed stories unfavorable to the superintendent, yet it has not failed to hide the fact McIntyre has so little teaching experience as to be practically nonexistent. I wonder how many of the establishment or political elite in town would allow a medical intern with one year’s experience operate on their own brains or hearts? Darn few is my guess, yet McIntyre’s claim that his one year of teaching experience was “formative” and just an extraordinary experience just doesn’t cut it.

Considering that McIntyre’s present contract has three more years to run, the ONLY reason to extend his contract by another year is to protect Jim McIntyre. Extending his contract yet again does nothing for a single soul in Knox County except for Jim McIntyre. One can make the unlikely argument that another system might come and steal him away, but I don’t see anyone beating down his door to snatch him.

The Board, if indeed it does extend his contract is sending a signal to teachers and the public. It is an endorsement of McIntyre, his authoritarian administration and his record. If they vote to extend his contract, they will take complete and total responsibility for his failures and should be held accountable at the next election.