By Steve Hunley

Suddenly Knox County teachers are beginning to let the public know about the unreasonable constraints they have been laboring under for the last several years. Finally they have allowed their dismay and dissatisfaction to explode after literally suffering for years under almost impossible circumstances. It didn’t start just yesterday.

The Legislature has done some crazy things, not the least of which are trying to pick United States Senate nominees as well as the numerous so-called “reforms” to education. By any standard, public education needs significant improvement, but the idea that teachers are the only source of the problem is foolish.

Much of the local media, while finally reporting on the poor morale of teachers and their unhappiness with the evaluation process, has overlooked one very significant fact: Superintendent James McIntyre, who now seems to be singing the refrain that he is not responsible for the state mandates, scurried down to Nashville every chance he got in the past to offer his endorsement to just about anything and everything Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman wanted. By the way, The Focus has been pointing out these problems for well over two years.

McIntyre seems to be trying to have it both ways; telling teachers he is listening and has finally indicated he intends to do something to try and fix some of the problems. We’ll see. For those who have paid little attention to Dr. McIntyre, note the hallmark of his administration is to use a lot of happy adjectives, yet he is never specific about much of anything. Irrespective of just what the problem might be, McIntyre never offers specific solutions. As Board member Mike McMillan likes to say, Dr. McIntyre is full of glittering generalities and education speak, but any solutions from him are as rare as hen’s teeth.

McIntyre is quick to point out much of the teacher’s dissatisfaction stems from mandates enforced by the State of Tennessee, yet fails to mention the fact he has dutifully endorsed just about every proposed change. Kevin Huffman is no professional educator either. McIntyre has never seemed to care about the ramifications, especially to teachers, of the changes mandated by the state. In fact, McIntyre and the school board have implemented several policy changes that weren’t even mandated by the state.

Teachers aren’t complaining about being evaluated, but they, like any rational person, wish to be evaluated fairly. The Focus has pointed out numerous times in the past many of the flaws in the new regulations, but the Superintendent has never once approached any member of the Knox County legislative delegation to tweak existing law or fix the problems. Only now that the discord has “gone public” does he seem to realize that he has a big problem.

McIntyre seems to have little understanding and virtually no empathy for teachers. Of course his entire teaching experience is miniscule, if not actually almost nonexistent. McIntyre only taught for one school year in a school with a student body of some 40 students. In my opinion, McIntyre is not qualified to oversee teachers much less be the head of an entire school system.

The series of public meetings held by McIntyre and his very expensive public relations department have produced one thing in common: it is becoming a regular sight for folks to see and hear teachers and citizens blast McIntyre’s performance as superintendent.

We can brag about scores and tests galore; we can point to miniscule improvement here and there, yet we are spending over half a billion dollars a year for education and not getting an adequate return on our investment as tax payers. In Knox County the only scores that really matter are the preparation rates. Does it truly matter if we graduate 100% of the students if only 12% of them are ready to go on and further their education or get a job? Isn’t that the entire point of educating children? And folks, the preparation rates would horrify you, if you paid attention to them.

McIntyre has been superintendent for six years and has had more than enough time to show significant improvement in preparation rates. This has not happened.  I personally believe it is time for the Board of Education to make a change. By doing so, I believe we would be removing the biggest impediment to restoring confidence in and getting the Knox County school system to where it needs to be.