Sullivan BOE self-evaluation cites need for better team effort

Rick Wagner • Oct 14, 2017 at 3:00 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County’s school board believes it is doing a good job when it comes to recognizing student accomplishments, reviewing policies, not making excess personal requests of staff, having a budget reflect the district vision and mission and setting policies needed for operation of the district.

On the other hand, the board sees sizable room for improvement on being a team that supports decisions made by the majority, contacting legislators about school issues on a regular basis, not having individual members speak on behalf of the whole board and being able to disagree while still having respect for one another.

In presenting the information, the Board of Education viewed a ranking that indicated team building was No. 2 on its list of important things but finished No. 9 of 9 currently. The No. 1 ranked item of importance was student achievement, which ranked No. 2 currently. 

“When I look at the board, I see us as a team,” Chairman Michael Hughes said. Members have individual ideas and differences “but at the end of the day, we all pull in the same direction.” He said board members, once they made a decision, should speak with one voice.

Issues that have divided the board recently include choosing of sites for the new middle school and high school, with member Jane Thomas disagreeing with the majority decision for the middle school site, and the whole school building and consolidation plan, which member Mark Ireson has continued to question although funding is in place and groundbreaking on the middle school is tentatively set for Nov. 10.

Other lower scores were the board being respected by the community and being open and honest with one another and administrators.

The board also gave the new format high marks. It had six questions compared to six last year and was done online. Member Matthew Spivey said the old survey was more of a collective “pat on the back” than an instrument to look at how well the board was operating.

“This one really was a lot more in depth,” Ireson said.

Hughes and member Jerry Green said they liked the new question and format. As for split votes, Greene said he has been on both sides of close votes in 33 years on local school boards in Sullivan County and Bristol, Tenn.

“We need to support the majority of the board,” Greene said. “We are not always doing that.”

Hughes and Greene said that everybody on the board has different talents and things to share and that disagreement is actually good. For instance, he said Vice Chairman Randall Jones has an administrative and policy background from his time in the central office of Bristol, Tenn., schools, while Greene’s favorite focus is facilities.

“I like the differing opinions,” Hughes said. “I think that’s a good thing. It’s good to debate.” Greene said, “I’m not expecting all 7-0 (votes).”

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