By Sally Absher
When Dr. McIntyre presented his 2020 Strategic Plan to the Board of Education in May, teachers were especially concerned by one of the details listed under Goal 2, Objective 4 – “Centralize recruitment and selection,” because it appears that Central Office, and not principals, will be making hiring decisions.

Apparently, as told by Victoria DeFreese, those fears are not unfounded, and the draft 2020 Strategic Plan, which is flying safely under the radar in the Chamber-controlled media vacuum of Knoxville, will be voted on at the July 2 BOE meeting.

Victoria is a friend, so when I saw her post on Facebook, “Ha! I was audited….and Knox County Schools was found to be in error….NOT ME! Feeling good,” I called her to find out more.

This is Victoria’s story, and the story of other teachers in Knox County.  Victoria has always been passionate about education. She substituted in 32 different schools in the Knoxville area, and in 2010, began looking for a full time teaching position. Between 2011 and 2013, she held several interim teaching positions, including 6th grade at Whittle Springs, and 8th grade at Karns Middle School.

She left Whittle Springs after she was asked to change a student’s year end grade. When she refused, she received notice that she could pack up her belongings, as she would not be returning to Whittle Springs.

In March of 2012 she secured an interim teaching position at Karns Middle School.  At the end of the year, the principal told her she would hire her as a full-fledged teacher for the following year. When Victoria returned a week later, she learned that Central Office had instructed the principal to give the position to someone else. She was told she could be offered another interim position, as that would not have to clear Central Office.

At the end of her third interim position in Knox County, and despite assurances that the principal wanted to hire her, Victoria received a “Thank you for your service” letter from Dr. McIntyre. It said that if she performed satisfactorily and there were openings, she might be offered another interim position, or she could reapply for a regular position.

She reapplied. She took the Praxis exam to extend her K-8 license to include K-12. She received 4 out of 5 on her professional evaluation during her full year at Karns. While there, she earned high praise from her principal and fellow teachers, had no reprimands, and served well in her Professional Learning Community, on committees, and in performing her job duties.

Karns Middle School hired many new teachers, but not Victoria. She applied for nearly 400 positions in Knox County over three years without securing a regular full time teaching position, in spite of being TN State certified in K-12, personal recommendations, and an overall 4 out of 5 on her evaluation. In May of 2013, with her interim contract over and no contract for the following year, she filed for unemployment insurance.

On May 29, 2014, she received notice from the TN Department of Labor that they were auditing her unemployment claim, stating that “We have information that your weekly earnings have not been correctly reported…” and inferring that she may be subject to unemployment insurance fraud and possibly face a variety of serious penalties. Penalties range from repaying the benefits collected, plus penalties and fines prosecution by government authorities and possible jail or prison sentences.

She asked Knox County HR to refile her earnings and employment dates. On June 5, she received word from State that “Knox County Schools reported earnings in error for week ending 6/22/13 and 7/20/13.” Seems Central Office forgot that teachers are paid over a 12 month period for work performed under a 10 month contract.

Victoria’s story goes deeper than her angst over being audited. She is not the only teacher who has been denied employment over the wishes of a principal. There are many examples of a principal’s choice for a specific teacher, with certain skills and experience, being overruled. Our Broad Academy Superintendent seems determined to take as much control and autonomy as possible away from individual schools and principals, and to make hiring decisions that ensure only “his kind of people” are employed in Knox County.

On a personal note, things are looking up for Victoria. She obtained a graduate assistantship while pursuing her Master’s in Information Science at UT, where she works with “a fabulous instructional design team that instructs students, staff, and faculty on how to use software.” She remains hopeful for a bright career in 2015. And she is glad the audit is behind her!

There is still time to review the 2020 Strategic Plan and submit your comments at Watch the video for each goal, and complete the survey. Pay special attention to Goal 1, especially if you have an opinion about Year Round School, which is very much a part of the 2020 strategic plan.