Incumbent Ron George, two-time candidate John Hall and newcomers Sharon Bishop, Cheryl Harvey and Carrie Upshaw appeared before the Kingsport Rotary Club’s luncheon meeting.
They are seeking two seats in the May 19 election, the one held by George since 2005 and the one held by Pat Turner, who is not seeking re-election.
In a year-round schedule, used some at the elementary level in Johnson City, students still attend school 180 days a year but have shorter breaks throughout the year instead of a long summer vacation.
George, a systems analyst for K-VA-T Food Stores Inc., the parent company of Food City, said a year-round calendar has been discussed and that the current calendar has a longer fall break than it used to have.
“I don’t know that we’re ready to do that yet,” George said.
John Hall, retired trauma surgeon and retired director of trauma surgery at Holston Valley Medical Center, said a better answer is a longer school day, which the BOE has discussed.
“It’s not the parent, it’s the teacher that makes a difference,” Hall said. I would look at longer days before I look at a year-round schedule.”
Cheryl Harvey, work force development manager for Eastman Chemical Co., said the year-round schedule at the elementary and middle school levels would require less remediation in the fall. She said the current schedule is based on an antiquated idea that students work on farms in the summer.
“We haven’t adapted to the change in society,” Harvey said.
If logistics can be worked out, Harvey said year-round schools at the lower grade levels would help reach mandates of the Tennessee Diploma Project requiring more math and other academic rigor to graduate.
However, Carrie Upshaw, a chemical engineer who retired to become a long-time parent volunteer active in parent-teacher-student associations, said the downside to year-round schools is they could interfere with music, academic, sports and other camps held in the summer.
And Susan Bishop, a retired member of the Washington Elementary School support staff, said the year-round schedule in elementary schools would cause problems for parents who also had middle and high school students.
In addition, Bishop said that summer school and tutoring programs in the summer help students catch up on proficiency.
Another Rotarian asked the candidates’ qualifications as “accountants,” saying that it seems more money spent on education results in worse outcomes.
Moderator Randy Montgomery, a BOE member not up for re-election, rephrased that question along the lines of how the school system could meet increasing performance demands without funding increases.
Bishop said teachers and administrators are doing their best but at times are overwhelmed with paperwork, regulations and requirement of ever-changing standards.
Upshaw said that sitting through a three-hour BOE budget meeting has given her insight into the BOE’s “shoestring budget” and expenses like utilities and maintenance required to operate a system. “Let’s just put our money where our mouth is,” Upshaw said.
Harvey called for collaboration with the business community to help tutor students and to set top priorities and stick to them.
George emphasized that the city schools excel, meeting adequate yearly progress requirements. He also pointed out that Dobyns-Bennett seniors were accepted to Harvard, Yale and MIT this year.
And Hall commented on the BOE’s 4-1 vote to put six elementary Spanish teachers back in the budget at a cost of more than $300,000. He said language is best started at the elementary level, helping children learn it and other subjects better, but he said the current program was not consistent and effective.
“We need to look at where our money is being spent,” Hall said. “Just throwing money at it will not help.”
He also called for learning centers to help students after school in all subjects, not just math.