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Hawkins BOE chairman denounces public criticism of Volunteer staff

Jeff Bobo • Apr 7, 2018 at 12:00 PM
 
 
ROGERSVILLE — A letter written by school board member Chris Christian criticizing Volunteer High School’s administration for coaching decisions was denounced as a violation of Board of Education and state policy Thursday by board Chairman Bob Larkins.

The letter was written on the heels of a decision to replace Volunteer boy’s basketball coach Greg Barnett, who was head coach for the past four seasons after serving four seasons as an assistant.

Christian, who represents the Church Hill area on the BOE, suggested that despite multiple high-profile coaching replacements in the past two decades in baseball, basketball and football, those athletic programs haven’t consistently lived up to expectations.

The one consistent during that time has been the athletic director, Christian said.

Christian noted that Barnett’s departure was characterized as a “mutual agreement to go in a different direction,” but he said the different direction that should be considered is in the athletic director position.

“The question is when should we start looking in other directions within the program itself to get different results and not just pointing fingers at the coaches?” Christian stated in his letter. “The problem may lie elsewhere. For instance, has anyone looked at the internal management of our programs or how coaches are chosen? Well, let’s look at this over the last 20 years. The same people that have chosen our coaches are the same people that have the responsibility to manage the programs.”

Christian further asked, “Why are some employees of our schools held to higher expectations than others? There are some that perform their jobs 110 percent. Then, we have those that don’t fulfill their job requirements even to the minimal requirements. Some are held accountable and some are not. This inequality among staff becomes a reason why some teachers/coaches feel like they are being treated unfairly.”

During Thursday’s BOE meeting, Larkins addressed the letter, which appeared in the Rogersville Review on March 24.

“While everyone wants our student-athletes to succeed in the classroom and on the sports field, it becomes frustrating for players, coaches and student body, and the community at-large, when athletic programs struggle. As chairman of the board, I was contacted by staff members, members of the community, and fellow board members in regard to the article. It generated a significant response from the staff at Volunteer High School who were criticized and insulted by the allegations of misconduct and not performing their jobs.”

Larkins added, “After extensive interviews with the director of schools, Principal Bobby Wines and others, it appears that some of the allegations are not completely accurate. Staff leadership will not publicly respond to the allegations.”

Larkins also suggested that Christian may have violated school board policy and state policy which prohibits school board members from publicly criticizing faculty and staff and requires board members to bring staff concerns to the director of schools for resolution.

“That atmosphere and culture at Volunteer High School, while not perfect, appears to be very positive,” Larkins said. “There is no question that there are some discontented students, parents and social media contributors regarding Volunteer High School.”

Larkins added, “I denounce the practice of sending negative criticism of district staff to media sources, to follow our adopted policies and direct all personnel matters to our director of schools. Anything short of this process appears to be counterproductive and appears to do more harm than good. … We’re not perfect and there is lots of room for improvement, and that is our goal.”

Christian’s letter can be seen at the bottom of the online version of this article at www.timesnews.net


 

Online Only: The letter written by Chris Christian

Jim Beller,

I read your article in the Rogersville Review dated March 17, 2018, on Coach Barnett over the weekend, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. The statement made that it was a mutual agreement to go in a different direction got me comparing to other coaches throughout the years, and this is what came to mind. At VHS, coaches in all sports have changed many times with the results being the same whether related to football, baseball, and basketball. It just seems to me, we keep doing the same thing over and over and getting the same results.

The question is when should we start looking in other directions within the program itself to get different results and not just pointing fingers at the coaches? The problem may lie elsewhere. For instance, has anyone looked at the internal management of our programs or how coaches are chosen? Well, let’s look at this over the last 20 years. The same people that have chosen our coaches are the same people that have the responsibility to manage the programs.

Also, let’s look at the amount of support that is given to the coaches from the administration side. We have the athletic director who is supposed to oversee the sport programs, and then we have the principal of the school that has the responsibility of everything in the school. What influence does an administrator have in dictating to a coach? It is very evident that a coach can be replaced at any time with no real reason given. Would that not be a form of control over a coach?

When the statement was made about parents wanting more playing time, it would be very interesting to know how hard the internal management supporting the coaches are truly willing to support the coaches, or are they willing to tell the coach to play this person more in order to keep the peace, or a certain parent has a personal relationship with any of the administrators.

I know for a fact that certain people that are in positions of leadership has and will continue to say and do whatever is necessary to not be held accountable for the responsibilities of their position. I am aware of coaches being given direction from these so-called people of authority to play kids just because the parents are becoming a big problem. As to why we loose kids to other schools, well, it’s like I stated earlier, have we looked internally at the management of these programs?

It seems these kids have, as well as their parents, and see nothing seems to change. A high school career goes by very fast. To have the opportunity to use a sport as an avenue to college, to learn life lessons and build character they want the best opportunities that are available. That, my good sir, is not found at VHS until we determine that it may not be just the fault of the coach. It very well may be the culture that has grown over the years due to limited expectations and no accountability for lack of responsibilities from the management of the school and the programs within the school.

Perfect examples of the lack of responsibilities are: 1) the superintendent of the school system felt the need to intervene by calling a meeting with basketball coaches without instructing school administrators to intervene first, and 2) complaints reported to the school administration about a former football coach that were not acted on until the superintendent was made aware of the lack of action of the management of VHS. By definition, the principal has total administrative control over all aspects of the school.

The athletic director should be responsible for the management of the sports programs. However, I can find no job description listed on the school website nor have I received one, but the athletic director does have, as all employees have, the school board policies to refer to as well as supporting supervising staff. How does the superintendent hold them accountable for not upholding their job responsibilities/requirements when everyone is to perform their jobs according to standards? Why did the situation escalate to such a point to where the superintendent felt the need to take action before any action was taken by the school administration itself?

Let’s take a look at how coaches have been replaced over the years. What does it take to make a coaching change? To get straight to my point, the last 3 coaches, the football, baseball, and now basketball coach, were asked to step down as a result of parental pressure that was placed on the administration, not solely due to the administration adequately evaluating the program itself prior to any parental concerns. This, in my opinion, is not healthy for the program, the students, the parents, and the community.

Over the years, I have had conversations with the leaders in our system about the concerns the community and myself have had for a long time. I haven’t seen any real action taken except to remove a coach. Perception is what a school system lives on, and the perception of this to the public is, well, here we go again.

Until we start looking internally, we will never be able to create the opportunities for our students to be successful. If this is how we manage our athletics, what does that say about how the academic side of the school is being managed? For example, a teacher that is very well liked by the students in a learning environment and seems to have a very big impact on those students for them to learn, why does it seem those teachers are pressured to leave the school for other systems when it seems they had no intentions of leaving to begin with?

When a teacher contacts me in tears and asks why they don’t want me, when I have students contact me and ask why this teacher, who was an inspiration to them and actually learned in their class, left to go somewhere else, I must question the entire culture of the school. Are we here for the students or are a few here for the position? I am not making assumptions, but rather looking at the history from the viewpoint of an alumni, a former athlete, a parent, a citizen, and a board member.

Before I was elected to the position of the board of education of district 2, I remember asking the board member at that time as to why a certain person was appointed to a position and the answer I got was that it was the only choice we had. I guess that sums up what I am very concerned about. Are our expectations and the reasons we do things rooted in the well-being of our students or in what’s best for a few that know the right people? In addition, in reference to accountability and job responsibilities, why are some employees of our schools held to higher expectations than others? There are some that perform their jobs 110%.

Then, we have those that don’t fulfill their job requirements even to the minimal requirements. Some are held accountable and some are not. This inequality among staff becomes a reason why some teachers/coaches feel like they are being treated unfairly. When attempts are made to make the inequalities known, they are held in fear of retaliation, but nevertheless, this has become the culture of our school system. How is this fair and how does this create the cohesiveness every school needs in order to be successful, have successful programs, successful students, and foremost a successful future?

Thanks,

Chris Christian

 

 

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