BOE candidates suggest ways to improve Kingsport schools

Rick Wagner • Apr 23, 2009 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — Candidates seeking a seat on the Kingsport Board of Education suggested Thursday night adding non-voting teacher and student BOE members.

Other suggestions included ending longevity-based teacher tenure, giving the BOE taxing authority, and providing elementary Spanish and automotive programs jointly with Sullivan County schools.

Four of five candidates presented those ideas during a forum hosted by the Dobyns-Bennett High School Junior Statesmen of America that drew about 30 people to the D-B Little Theater Thursday night.

Candidates Susan Bishop, John Hall, Cheryl Harvey and Carrie Upshaw participated in the forum, where most questions were posed by members of the Statesmen with a few from the audience.

Incumbent Ron George, first elected in 2005, had a prior commitment and did not attend. George is a systems analyst with K-VA-T Foods Inc., the parent company of Food City.

The top two vote getters in the five-way May 19 nonpartisan race will join the five-member board. Incumbent Pat Turner is not seeking re-election.

Asked about making improvements to BOE-staff communications, Bishop — who retired from Kingsport City Schools in May 2008 after 15 years on the support staff at Washington Elementary School — suggested a non-voting teacher on the BOE.

Hall, a retired trauma surgeon and former director of trauma and surgical director of the adult ICU and pediatric ICU at Holston Valley Medical Center, suggested continuing the Brown Bag Lunch information sessions at schools and adding non-voting student and teacher BOE members.

Harvey, work force development manager at Eastman Chemical Co., also supported the Brown Bag Lunches and suggested each school could send representatives to selected BOE meetings.

And Upshaw said as a board member she would continue attending PTSA Coffees held monthly at D-B and suggested e-mailing BOE agendas to all teachers. Upshaw has been active in the PTSA at Dobyns-Bennett, John Sevier Middle and Washington Elementary for 13 years.

Asked how the BOE could redirect funds to better equip the John Adams Elementary opening this fall while keeping “vital” education programs intact, Hall suggested “non-core” programs like auto shop and elementary Spanish should be done in collaboration with neighboring Sullivan County schools.

“I would, instead, fight to have additional funds rather than redirecting funds,” Harvey said, adding, “If you don’t put your money where your mouth is, you can’t get the things you need done.”

Upshaw suggested PTSA fund raising be used for start-up costs at Adams, some expenditures be delayed, and “if absolutely necessary” the BOE could seek additional funding from the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.

Bishop said Adams’ additional expense for geothermal wells for climate control will pay off in the long run, and the BMA and BOE should “pull together as a group.”

As for the overall proposed school budget, Upshaw said it doesn’t have “a lot of fat” but called for responsible spending, while Bishop said the BOE is “bending over backward” to do its job although “money is just tight.”

Hall said the multi-age classrooms at Washington need to be evaluated for effectiveness, and so does the elementary Spanish program.

Harvey suggested giving the BOE taxing authority.

Asked if the new proposed alternative high school justified the “termination of four high school educators,” Harvey said she was reluctant to eliminate teachers, but sometimes difficult choices had to be made.

Upshaw emphasized in the 2008-09 budget proposal the four teaching positions (to cost $228,000) would be transferred to the alternative school (to cost $300,000), and thus not be eliminated.

Bishop said no teacher would lose a job because of retirements and other attrition, and some of the teachers likely could go into the non-traditional program.

“The tenure we have now needs to be eliminated,” Hall said. He urged judging teachers by performance, not just longevity, and looking closely at the effects on regular instruction of the four transferred positions.

Asked what problems and opportunities are arising and how they would deal with them, Upshaw said new state graduation and testing requirements in the Tennessee Diploma Project may not always be in the best interest of students, and parents should be urged to volunteer in schools.

Bishop said “teaching to the test” should be replaced with instruction on building self-esteem and inquisitiveness, while Hall said teachers are unhappy because they are micromanaged by the government, principals and the teachers union. He urged an emphasis on “the joy of learning” through the International Baccalaureate program rather than Advanced Placement classes.

“No Child Left Behind has totally reduced our standards,” Hall said, also urging more physical education, health awareness and efforts to combat obesity in the schools.

Harvey said the Tennessee Diploma Project effective for fall 2009 freshmen threatens to overwhelm students, especially those not proficient enough in math to take and pass four required years of it.

“Expect to see the graduation rate go down,” Harvey said, unless the schools get more help to them.

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