By Sally Absher

The planning was extensive and high level. Fifth District BOE member Karen Carson listed the numerous public opportunities to talk about where KCS should go in 2020 (see sidebar) during the Wednesday night meeting and then added, “But until you put a proposed plan out, it’s very difficult. People can give you input and thoughts and ideas, but by putting something out, people have the opportunity to hold it in their hands, look at it, critique it, question it, and offer suggestions.”

  • 70 one-on-one interviews with elected officials, senior staff, and community leaders
  • 8 insight sessions that included over 800 people in the community
  • 2 feedback sessions with over 100 people
  • 20 “chatterboxes” with over 700 people responding
  • Survey responses from more than 5,000 people
  • BOE retreat November 1, open to the public
  • BOE mid-month meeting November  18
  • Steering Committee chosen and met in September, October, November, and December
  • Knox County School Leadership team met 3x in September, 4x in December
  • District Advisory Council meeting in November
  • State of the Schools address
  • Strategic Plan mini-movies and surveys
  • Virtual Town Hall on April 29 with 20 people
  • Face to Face Town Hall May 8 with over 60 people
  • BOE talked about the plan in March, May, June, and July
  • Steering Committee met in February, March, and April
  • Leadership Team met 2x in April
  • Strategic Plan Task Force met
  • Steering Committee met 4x in April
  • Teacher Advisory Group talked about Plan in April
  • K-12 Principals meeting in March and May

“If the board approves this on the first reading, that’s an opportunity to have a document out for people to look at and offer feedback.”

After 10 months and over 135 separate interviews, meetings, and sessions, plus numerous surveys, the Knox County School Board is willing to give us, the average citizen and tax payer, approximately 30 days to review 49 pages of slick PR and give them feedback.

Note that most of the aforementioned interviews, meetings, and sessions did not involve the average citizen and taxpayer, but rather elected officials, senior staff, community leaders, Board of Education, Steering Committee, Knox County Leadership Team, District Advisory Council, Strategic Plan Task Force, and other important people. Many of whom have never spent a day teaching in a classroom.

What have you, the average citizen and taxpayer, heard about the 2020 strategic plan? What do you know about balanced calendar? Have you ever heard the term “Year Round School?” Well, that’s Balanced Calendar. Last year just over 3400 teachers responded to a survey on a variety of topics. 51% favored “balanced calendar”, 49% did not favor this schedule.

Maybe you love the idea, maybe you hate it. Maybe you don’t know enough to have an opinion yet. While there are various forms of “balanced calendar, the most common is a school calendar with 9 week quarters divided by two week breaks and a six week summer break. Is it fair to call these 2 week periods “breaks” when academically struggling kids will spend the time at school, in “intervention”? Who is going to hire a kid for 6 weeks in the summer? What about teachers that have second jobs over the summer?

Maybe it won’t matter because you don’t have children in school. But if you are an employer, how are you going to differentiate job applicants, all with 4.0 GPAs due to today’s inflated grades, when none of them have ever worked a summer job? Do you want to be that kid’s very first employer? If you have teenagers, how will the earn money for college, or car insurance, without a summer job?

What do you think of letting Central Office take care of screening and interviewing teacher candidates for your child’s school, rather than the principal? Who knows your kids school, kids, parents, and community better, the principal, or the Executive Director who speaks of teachers as “human capital?”

There are some (Broad Academy Fellows) in Central Office who think KCS needs Teach for America teachers. Do you want a brand new college graduate with 5 weeks of education “training” to teach your son or daughter to read? There is a reason that elementary school teachers have a strong background in early childhood development and early childhood education – something that sadly, no one on the team that wrote the Common Core standards had.

The plan is 49 pages. In those pages, the words “rigor” or “rigorous” occurs 19 times, “technology” occurs 26 times, “robust” occurs 17 times, and “achieve” or “achievement” occurs 28 times. The most honest thing Carson said about the plan at Monday’s Work Session meeting was “It’s a little too wordy… too many adjectives.”

Lance McCord and Bob Savery both addressed the plan development process in Monday’s Public Forum. McCold said, “The insight sessions last fall were excellent… the kind of thing you need to do, but since then there’s been a lot of silence. Now you are about to approve this, but it was made public three days ago …It is really important for the public, community, teachers, parents, and the rest of us buy in to it. This fast track to approval… does not give me the sense of legitimacy that I would like to see.”

Savery, a BHS teacher, compared his thoughts about the plan to what a repairman said as he was upside down and sideways working on his A/C unit – “I’d like to get ahold of some of these engineers with their designs, that have never had to work on them. If they had to work on them, they would come up with better designs.” He said the plan had a lot of input, but “this administration has stayed the course, acting interested, but written their own version, just like those engineers who never work on their own designs.”

Savery agreed with McCold that there isn’t enough time for careful review and community buy-in. This plan needs a “rigorous” review and a “robust” discussion. The flowery language and jargon needs to be cleaned up. It needs the BOE members out in the community, holding town hall meetings, explaining the plan, and answering questions.

The first reading was approved in Wednesday’s BOE meeting. Mike McMillan asked if the plan had to be approved in August. Dr. McIntyre said that is the timeline that was laid out a year ago, and that it was “vitally important for the timeline to remain so that by August the board has the opportunity to consider and approve the plan.”