By Steve Hunley

If anybody ever needed any evidence of Superintendent James McIntyre’s penchant for making it up as he goes along, his dropping a proposal to fix the problems at Vine Middle School make it abundantly clear.

It is generous to refer to McIntyre’s document a proposal when it more closely resembles a concept paper. Specifics were as scarce as water in the Sahara. Never once did McIntyre reveal to the Board of Education the cost of the plan, nor was there any indication of just what the proposed remedies were expected to accomplish. Board Chair Karen Carson all but begged McIntyre to give the Board two weeks to digest the proposal, but McIntyre refused. Evidently it never occurred to Carson that the Board could have exerted itself and simply told McIntyre a matter of two weeks wasn’t going to cause the world to end. Several Board members seemed shocked that part of McIntyre’s proposed remedy for the ailing Vine Middle School was to reserve a third of the seats at the STEM Academy for Vine students. Not only would that reduce the number available for other students, it would also change the very nature of the STEM Academy, which was sold to both the public and the business community as a beacon for the future of education. McIntyre’s proposal did not set any specific criteria for those Vine students to be allowed to attend the STEM Academy, while those presently attending the STEM Academy have to meet certain standards.

McIntyre can’t have it both ways. Either the STEM Academy is supposed to be a high school for exceptional students or just another failed experiment loaded down with students from a failing middle school. Obviously McIntyre didn’t think through his proposal as Board member Kim Sepesi asked the question what he intended to do with the students should there be another failing school? Ms. Sepesi realizes there are only so many seats at the STEM Academy and we are already taking students from out of county. McIntyre doesn’t seem to find anything wrong with the notion of changing the rules in the middle of the game, but the truth is both the public and the business community bought into the STEM Academy as a special school with certain standards and criteria. McIntyre’s proposed fix for Vine Middle does not fix Vine, but actually promises to harm the STEM Academy down the line. Like it or not, turning the STEM Academy into a quota school would ruin it.

Lo and behold, after steadfastly insisting the vote on his Vine proposal had to be done within twenty-four hours, he pulled it from the agenda just before Wednesday’s Board meeting. McIntyre determined that a little time to work out the kinks might well be in order. Actually, in my opinion, he did not have the votes to pass it.

Kicking the can down the road is never really a viable solution for any real problem. It might give the appearance of having addressed the problem, but it will generally raise its head again in the future and all too often is worse than ever.

The problems at Vine Middle School didn’t start yesterday. They have been going on for quite sometime and the situation has gotten so bad it finally merits some intervention. Vine Middle isn’t the only failing school in Knox County nor is it the only school that will have to be reconstituted. McIntyre’s vision hasn’t prevented these things from happening and pretending these things just now occurred is silly.

Clearly pouring more and more money into these schools isn’t the answer. As Board Chair Karen Carson hinted recently, eventually we are going to have to consider the culture where children are lucky to have one parent and that isn’t going to be fixed by pouring more money into a failing school or implementing the latest fad in education.