By Steve Hunley

The ballots in the recent election had barely been counted when the News Sentinel started giving the new Board of Education advice about how to pick the next superintendent.  The Sentinel told the incoming Board members just what to look for in a new superintendent and even rehashed a little history.

The Sentinel didn’t exactly get it right about the fact that seven of the nine members on the new Board are former teachers.  When I was a member of the Board of Education, I was the ONLY member who was a businessman amongst a sea of former school administrators.  Never once do I recall the Sentinel editorializing about the need for occupational diversity on the Board back then.  Eventually, the Board became so top heavy with former administrators that a friend of mine made the observation old school administrators don’t go to either Heaven or Hell when they die; they get themselves elected to the Board of Education.

The Sentinel wrongly puts the past two election cycles in the context of a “teacher revolt,” although they were correct that the former Board majority was wiped out due to former Superintendent Jim McIntyre.  The teachers didn’t elect any candidate to the Board; McIntyre, with the unfailing support of the Chamber of Commerce and the Knoxville News Sentinel, managed to turn the great majority of people in the community against him.  It also turned the voting public against those members of the Board who were perceived as rubber stamps for  McIntyre.  If you’ve forgotten which candidates those were, simply look in the archives and see who the Sentinel endorsed.

The Sentinel says McIntyre quit when it became evident he had lost his majority on the Board of Education, which is true.  McIntyre blamed the “toxic atmosphere” surrounding his superintendency as being one of the reasons he was leaving, but what neither he (nor the Sentinel) ever acknowledged, was no one single person had more to do with creating that toxic atmosphere than McIntyre.

McIntyre quit about a month after seeking yet another four-year extension of his contract.   McIntyre was mighty slow on the uptake, which was one of his many faults as a leader.  In a weird analogy, the Sentinel attempted to excuse McIntyre’s “slight” teaching experience by comparing him to David Cutcliff’s lack of football playing experience.  First of all, that’s like comparing a cricket to a stallion.  Secondly, even saying McIntyre had “slight” teaching experience is like saying someone who looks at a lot of postcards is a world traveler.  The Sentinel, which incidentally, opposed virtually every new member sitting on the Board of Education come September, is now telling those folks just what they need in a new superintendent.  The Sentinel says we need someone with “vision and passion,” both of which they attributed to Jim McIntyre.  Basically, what the Sentinel is saying is the permanent superintendent ought to be Jim McIntyre 2.0.  The Sentinel says we need a “top-notch administrator” (another trait they used to attribute to  McIntyre), yet they failed to recognize McIntyre was a terrible administrator.  One of McIntyre’s chief failings was his tendency to rule like a tyrant.  McIntyre’s style was dictatorial, autocratic and imperial.  That is one reason  McIntyre never connected with the people, the teachers, or much of anyone outside Knoxville’s wealthy elite establishment.  Of course he got along with the establishment as he was handpicked by what good ol’ Georgianna Vines likes to call our “business community leaders.”

The Sentinel ignores the fact since Jim McIntyre’s departure, there has been a collective exhaling of breath.  Buzz Thomas,  has done a good job.  Yet Thomas has had no difficulty in spotting those areas where the school system needed overhauling and is methodically making changes. I suppose the Sentinel would contend Buzz Thomas is merely expanding upon the good job done by McIntyre, which is a fantasy.  Buzz Thomas has earned more good will for the Knox County School system in a month than Jim McIntyre did in eight years.

It seems to me the Sentinel is mighty free with its advice, especially considering it was entirely wrong about Jim McIntyre and I would remind readers the Sentinel died in the trenches with and for  McIntyre.  The fact is Jim McIntyre was not much of a leader and the only thing more preposterous is McIntyre running a leadership academy.

A superintendent needs to understand as many perspectives as possible, including those of teachers, students, parents, and taxpayers, a word you will rarely ever find in a Sentinel editorial when schools are mentioned.  The new Board of Education doesn’t need to be reminded it cannot represent solely teachers; any Board member who does not consider taxpayers, the folks who pay the freight, the children, the professional staff and the community ought to be replaced.  If a Board member represents the teacher’s union instead of the plain folks, he or she ought to be sent packing and likely will be in the next election.

Nor does the Sentinel need to remind the incoming Board members they will be held accountable, as that is precisely how they got there.  Despite  the Knoxville News Sentinel and the Chamber of Commerce, the voters held the McIntyre rubber stamps accountable and now they are gone and it is time to move on.