County commissioner urges BOE to reconsider contract extension for Barnes

Rick Wagner • Oct 8, 2009 at 12:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — County Commissioner Sam Jones Thursday night urged the Sullivan County Board of Education next month to reconsider its Sept. 9 decision not to extend the superintendent’s contract.

BOE member Jack Bales, however, instead asked the board next month to start laying out the process to replace Director of Schools Jack Barnes.

The two spoke at a meeting that began with a standing- and sitting-room-only crowd of about 130, including a contingent of Sullivan South High School band students and parents supporting a policy change to give marching band students credit for physical education.

Jones asked the board to put the contract extension on the agenda for its Nov. 2 meeting and in the meantime talk with teachers, principals, staff, Central Office administrators and other school employees about what they think about Barnes’ first-year performance.

“You will find strong support among the vast majority,” Jones said, adding that he was speaking for county school system employees who have said they support Barnes but did not want to speak at a board meeting because of future job security.

Jones said morale is high in the school system despite a tight budget year, and teachers tell him staff development is better than it has ever been and curriculum changes have been as quick and resourceful as possible.

“A large group of people have not yet expressed their concerns to you on this matter,” Jones told the seven-member BOE, which last month voted 3-4 on a motion to extend by another year Barnes’ two-year contract, which is set to expire June 30, 2010.

Jones also said county commissioners have expressed support for Barnes but after the meeting said he was speaking for only one commissioner: himself.

In contrast, near the end of the meeting Bales called for the board at the next meeting to consider the search process to replace Barnes.

Bales of Sullivan Gardens and BOE members Larry Harris of Colonial Heights, Jim Kiss of Bloomingdale and Dan Wells of Lynn Garden voted not to renew the contract, while Chairman Ron Smith of the Piney Flats/Blountville area, Vice Chair Betty Combs of the Bluff City area and Jerry Greene of Bristol voted to renew.

“I think we need to go ahead and initiate the search process for a new director,” Bales said. “If we’re not going to extend it, let’s get on with it.”

Jones said the BOE needs to “take the time to examine this issue much more in depth” than it has.

After the meeting, Bales responded that the board did a “very thorough evaluation” of Barnes on a 30-point form provided to members.

For Barnes’ first year in the position — according to a compilation board attorney Pat Hull released in August — Barnes got mostly a C-plus grade, with one that approached a B-plus, on a scale of 0 to 4.0.

On board relations Barnes got a 2.62, community relations 2.66, staff and personnel relationships 2.40, facilities and finance 2.86, vision 2.54, and student achievement 3.23.

In other action Thursday night, the board:

•Voted 7-0 to change the policy and allow this year’s freshman classes, and those in the future, to substitute two credits in marching band for one credit in physical education/wellness.

Assistant Director Gene Johnson said the four high school principals concurred with the change, which is allowed by state law for marching band and ROTC, the latter of which the BOE adopted last year.

South band parent Kirk Stevenson said marching band is definitely a physical activity and a sport, considering “there’s not bench warmers, there’s not second string.”

Later in the meeting upon questioning by Barnes, someone in the crowd explained the students were there to see the BOE in action.

•Voted 7-0 to adopt the 2009-10 contract with the Sullivan County Education Association, which got a 98 percent endorsement vote from the SCEA.

•Deferred action on turning over operation and responsibility of the old Gunnings School property to the County Commission until next month, giving time for a survey to be done to mark the softball field and parking to remain part of the Central High School campus.

•Heard and saw a presentation on helping underperforming students given at a state conference by the principal, a teacher and guidance counselor at Emmett Elementary School.

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