By Sally Absher

Last week the Board of Education defeated a resolution supporting Cultural Competency Training brought forth by Amber Rountree on behalf of Student Representative Sydney Gabrielson.  Gabrielson is continuing efforts on this topic started by last year’s Student Rep, Adam Hasan.

The resolution supports training for teachers and administrators to better interact and instruct with students from all ethnic, socioeconomic, and religious backgrounds.

While all members of the BOE support the training, at issue was the board majority’s desire to wait until the Disparities in Educational Outcomes task force completes their work and brings recommendations to the Board, scheduled for this May.  Chairman Doug Harris was especially leery of adopting a resolution that commits the Board to accepting all the Task Force’s yet to be known recommendations. He said, “Frankly, we can’t make that commitment because it could come with financial constraints that we’re just not able to meet…I’d hate to promise something that we potentially cannot do.”

A student-led press conference was held at the AJ Building immediately prior to Monday’s work session meeting. Board member Karen Carson complained that she had not been notified about the press conference, and then proceeded to “school” Gabrielson on proper procedure for writing resolutions and organizing press conferences. Gabrielson showed great maturity and class in politely and humbly accepting the criticism, but many who attended the meeting were shocked by the way she was treated.

Carson responded to a public forum speaker on Wednesday, saying that she had spoken to Gabrielson both before and after Monday’s meeting and that as far as she was aware, Gabrielson did not feel “beat down, put down, or disrespected by anything that I had to say.”  Perception is everything.

Also on the board agenda were a number of revised Board policies. One of the policies recently reviewed was BCBI, “Appeals and Appearances Before the Board.” In the current version, this policy also addresses public forum under “appearing before the board.” Tracie Sanger brought forth a revised policy BCBI, titled “Complaints and Appeals to the Board,” and a completely new policy, titled “Public Forum” which pulled text regarding appearing before the board from the original BCBI policy.

As noted on social media last week, there was some confusion among regular attendees at BOE meetings who reviewed the revised policy BCBI, and seeing language about public forum deleted, incorrectly concluded that the BOE was eliminating public forum altogether.  Despite efforts by some board members to restrict the number of speakers, or the time allotted to speak, the new Public Forum policy maintains almost all of the current public forum procedures.

Slight revisions include those calling the Board Secretary to sign up for public forum are asked to call by 12:00 noon or speak to the board vice chair in person prior to the start of the meeting.  Rountree and Bounds also expressed concern about the sentence in the first paragraph of the new policy: “Meetings may occur, on occasion, when the Chair deems it in the best interest of the district to not include Public Forum.”

The first reading of both policies was approved.

The board voted to approve construction contracts for both the Hardin Valley Middle School and the Gibbs Middle School projects. The vote was symbolic only, as the school system is committed to the contracts after approval by county commission at the end of January.

The board also discussed the procedure for hiring an interim Superintendent. Chairman Harris proposed a process in a January 28 Memorandum to the Board in which he stated that Dr. Tammy Grisson, Executive Director of the Tennessee School Board Association, had “indicated that the Board could empower the Board Chair to identify and talk with potential internal and external candidates and make a recommendation to the full Board for a vote.”

That appeared like too much of a power grab to some board members, however. Both Rountree and Patti Bounds followed up with Dr. Grissom, and learned that “We don’t keep data on the selection of interim director of schools. As you know, boards can choose whatever method they like in their selection process. Most boards select an internal candidate, if there is one the entire board can agree upon. However, an external candidate, such as a retired Director of Schools, is always an option.”

Terry Hill brought forth a draft proposal on Wednesday whereby the entire board would be available to interview and question any interested candidates. Concerns were mainly around the proposed timeline and the budget process, which occurs in April, and the logistics of having all nine BOE members conducting individual interviews, which was the reason for choosing one person to interview. Lynn Fugate said, “I think if that person was you, this board would support that. Please think about that.”

The board decided to discuss the criteria for the interim Superintendent at their February 17 mid-month meeting, and then vote on the search process in a Special Call meeting at the end of that mid-month meeting. Carson updated the board that the Law Director’s legal opinion related to the 2003 Order of Compromise, which she requested on January 6, 2016, was “90% complete.” David Buuck, representing the Law Department said, “This has been much more extensive than even I imagined… the document has many ambiguities and vagaries, and that has given rise to a whole lot of conflict… we’ve had four attorneys working on this in the office.”