Tag Archives: superintendents

Push for elected school superintendents fails again

Despite a plea for passage from Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, the state Senate Education Committee has rejected the latest attempt to authorize popular election of school superintendents in some Tennessee counties.

“This bill does not mandate anything. Instead it eliminates a mandate,” Burchett testified before the panel last week in support of SB1606. “How can we tell Washington to leave us alone when our own state issues mandates to local government?”

The bill sponsored by Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, would allow school systems to hold elections for school superintendents if the local county commission or city council approves the idea by a two-thirds majority vote. It would apply only in counties — including Knox — that had popular election of superintendents before a 1992 change in state law that requires the school director to be appointed by the local school board.

Burchett said refusing to let residents vote on a school superintendent is “insulting to the citizens who elected each of us,” then added: “In my opinion, it’s arrogant.”

He referred with approval to Niceley’s description of those opposing popular elections as “urban elitists.”
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Cleveland school director fired after sex messaging

A week after giving Cleveland City Schools Director Martin Ringstaff a contract extension and a top-notch performance evaluation, the Cleveland Board of Education voted Friday to fire him for sending sexually explict text messages to an unidentified woman.

Further from the Times-Free Press:

“These revelations have seriously impaired his ability to be an effective school leader,” said Peggy Pesterfield, reading a prepared statement.

“We were paying him while this was going on,” said Steve Morgan, who opened the meeting with a prayer to acknowledge the human condition. “I in no way want to contribute another dime. If anything, he should owe us.”

“Did we get his moral fiber wrong in the first place?” asked Dawn Robinson, the board’s chairwoman. “Or was it just one of those situations where — and we’re not going to know the answer to this — power and ego turned him into something different than who he really was?”

The board then voted, 5-2, to fire Ringstaff with cause — the cause being “conduct unbecoming.” As part of the vote, the school system will not pay him any more money, barring an appeal from Ringstaff.

Dirksen, who along with Pesterfield voted against the firing, said he wanted to give Ringstaff until 5 p.m. Friday to hand in a letter of resignation. If he did so, as part of Dirksen’s plan, Ringstaff would have received payment for the 17 1/2 days of vacation he had not yet used.

Dirksen hoped such a deal would convince Ringstaff not to fight the board’s decision.

…On Thursday, a lawyer representing Ringstaff sent a letter to Board of Education Attorney Chuck Cagle, arguing that the elected leaders do not have a justifiable reason to fire Ringstaff.

“The alleged conduct that is presumably giving rise to the Board’s action is completely unrelated to Mr. Ringstaff’s professional conduct,” attorney William Moffet wrote. “We therefore believe the Board lacks a basis to terminate Mr. Ringstaff’s contract for cause.”

Moffet wrote that Ringstaff would be willing to resign, but only if the board agreed to pay him 18 months’ worth of salary, which would be about $210,000. In addition, Moffet said Ringstaff wanted his usual benefits for those 18 months, including health insurance and retirement benefits, as well as for himself and the board to issue a press release explaining the decision to part ways was mutual.

Niceley tweaks elected supers bill to try again

Sen. Frank Niceley plans to tweak his annual attempt to allow elected school superintendents in some Tennessee counties and hopes the controversy over Knox County’s recently-resigned superintendent will improve prospects over last year’s failed effort, according to the News Sentinel.

The 8th District senator serves Claiborne, Grainger, Hancock, Hawkins, Jefferson and Union counties, but he said the recent tumult in Knox County’s superintendent’s office could have been avoided with an elected administrator.

…The proposal to elect a superintendent would come with caveats, according to Niceley. The bill would require a two-thirds majority by a county commission to put a referendum on local ballots for a superintendent vote. And the bill would only apply to counties that previously had elected superintendents before state education reforms made them appointees of the local school board.

Niceley said the bill will mandate a master’s degree and other higher standards for superintendent candidates. Additionally, he said, electing a superintendent would avoid severance payouts. The voters simply don’t re-elect that individual.

A similar piece of legislation Niceley backed last year died in the Senate Education Committee. If his upcoming proposal makes it further, and to Gov. Bill Haslam’s desk, Niceley doesn’t expect it to carry through.

“The governor doesn’t like it,” Niceley said. “He subscribes to the chamber of commerce model … he likes the business model where the board of directors picks the CEO.”

Note: The only apparent difference in the new version described and SB381, which failed on a 4-4-1 tie vote (Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, abstained) in Senate Education and never came up for any vote in the House, is the addition of a requirement for a “master’s degree and other higher standards.” Niceley has been proposing elected super bills since elected to the Senate in 2004. A post on defeat of his 2014 bill, including some comments from critics, is HERE.

Chris Barbic exits as Achievement School District chief

News release from state Department of Education
NASHVILLE— The superintendent of Tennessee’s Achievement School District, Chris Barbic, announced today his departure from the state-run district which serves schools in the bottom five percent in terms of academic achievement.

Barbic has led the Achievement School District (ASD) since its creation in 2011, when the district was launched as part of Tennessee’s “First to the Top” legislation. The district’s mission is to move the state’s bottom five percent of schools to the top 25 percent. This school year, 14 public school operators authorized by the ASD will lead transformation efforts in 29 schools serving approximately 10,500 students in Memphis and Nashville. Barbic has led the ASD’s expansion, beginning with six schools during the 2012-13 school year. He will remain in his position throughout the fall to ensure a smooth transition.
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Nashville’s school director: Don’t sue the state over education funding

Metro Nashville Director of Schools Jesse Register said Monday that schools should not sue the state over education funding, reports the Tennessean. His comments came in an email sent to Nashville school board members, city council members and Gov. Bill Haslam.

School boards in Chattanooga, Knoxville and Memphis have already voted to explore a lawsuit against the state. Nashville’s school board is scheduled to debate the matter Tuesday night.

Instead, Register is asking the school board to open communication with the Haslam administration and the Tennessee Department of Education in the hopes it will produce the same result — boosting Basic Education Program funding for districts.

“I want to go on record as stating that I do not believe that pursuing litigation is the best course of action at this time,” Register wrote. “To be clear: I do not believe the BEP adequately funds school districts. In order to prepare Tennessee’s children for higher education and life, we need to vigorously advocate for additional BEP funding.”

School board members will discuss the issue Tuesday night.

Register said in the email that Haslam’s office has frequently shown a desire to collaborate with the district, including helping get federal grant money for pre-kindergarten programs in Shelby and Davidson counties.

“Finally, with the appointment of (Education) Commissioner (Candice) McQueen, now is the time to work cooperatively with our state leadership to find solutions,” he wrote. “I ask that we exhaust every avenue to develop relationships and build partnerships to accomplish our common goals.”

List of 114 school supers urging no 2015 change in academic standards

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents is asking lawmakers not to change the state’s Common Core academic standards this legislative session.

The group announced at a news conference on Tuesday that it’s sending a letter signed by 114 state superintendents and school district directors to all members of the General Assembly.

Common Core opponents in Tennessee want to repeal the current standards and replace them with ones developed at the state level. Several lawmakers have proposed bills that seek to do that.

Meanwhile, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has set up a public review process of the standards.

The superintendents say in their letter that legislation to change the standards would pre-empt the review process, which they’d like to see fully unfold.

Note: There are 141 school districts in Tennessee, according to TOSS, meaning 27 superintendents did not sign the letter. The TOSS news release,a list of those signing and text of the letter are below.
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Buttleopener causes brouhaha in Williamson County

FRANKLIN, Tenn. (AP) — A Middle Tennessee school board chairman is apologizing for a controversy over his involvement in a business that created a novelty bottle opener shaped like a woman’s behind but says he won’t step down.

Williamson County School Board Chairman Mark Gregory told The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/1v1omHf) that he has the support of other board members and stands by his nearly decade of work on the panel. He was first elected in 2004.

Since he was elected chairman by fellow board members this month, more than 800 parents have signed a petition seeking his resignation and board member P.J. Mezera resigned Monday as vice chairman.

Gregory said he understands why some people find the ButtleOpener objectionable and apologized, but says he is no longer involved in the company, which dissolved in 2012.

From the Tennessean story (link above):
Gregory issued a statement to board members this afternoon apologizing about the situation.

“Several years ago I helped facilitate the production of a novelty product my brother invented and marketed,” Gregory wrote. “The product and my role in the company was the subject of news media stories more than two years ago during my re-election campaign.

“In December 2012 the business dissolved, and at that time I informed the school board that I was no longer involved with the company or its product.

“Recently this matter resurfaced, and I regret the negative distractions and embarrassment it has brought to parents, students, teachers and the board. I understand the concerns some have about this product and the reasons why they find it objectionable. I am sorry and sincerely apologize.”

Chris Barbic recovering from heart attack

Chris Barbic, superintendent of Tennessee’s Achievement School District, is recovering from a heart attack he suffered on Friday, reports The Tennessean.

Barbic, 44 and a resident of Nashville, is out of the hospital, according to state officials.

“We greatly appreciate the questions about Chris — the outpouring of warmth speaks to Chris’ genuine character, investment in relationships, and commitment to the students, staff, and families of the Achievement School District,” ASD spokesman Elliot Smalley said in a statement.

“While he recuperates, we’re asking everyone to please give him and his family privacy. Doctors say all signs point to recovery and a healthy future, and we expect Chris to return to work as soon as he’s ready.”

The online education publication Chalkbeat Tennessee first reported Barbic’s heart attack.

The state-run ASD has authority to take over the state’s lowest-performing schools, dubbed priority schools, and hand them over to privately run charter operators. That effort has concentrated almost entirely in Memphis to date, but the ASD is poised to soon shift its focus to Nashville as well.

Haslam, Huffman holding secret meetings with educators

Gov. Bill Haslam and Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman met secretly with Bradley County educators Monday night – apparently the latest in a series of such sessions – and at least two members of the county Board of Education members are unhappy about the situation, reports the Cleveland Daily Banner.

Haslam and Huffman met with 10 selected representatives from the Bradley County, Cleveland, Hamilton County, Meigs County and Rhea County school systems in the central office of the Bradley County school system.

The unannounced session, which also excluded the news media, was held in the same chambers used by the county school board, a fact that didn’t sit well with its members.

The school board’s Chris Turner said members received an email about the meeting after its conclusion Monday night. Sent by Sammie Humphrey, the assistant to Bradley County Schools Director Johnny McDaniel, the email stated the governor’s office had told local school officials they “… were not allowed to inform board members or media in advance of the event.”

Turner said the fact that school board members were not made aware of the gathering concerned him because he wondered if that meant Haslam and Huffman had “something to hide.”

“That concerns me greatly,” Turner told the Cleveland Daily Banner. “I’m going to assume the worst if it’s a private meeting. Why would you hide this meeting?”

Describing himself as “outraged,” Turner stressed that both the local school system and the state governor’s office need to practice transparency because the educational issues that have been discussed statewide have implications for how children learn in school.

“I think it’s critically important,” Turner said.

While he pointed out he had not yet spoken with anyone who attended the meeting, Turner said he was left to wonder if it concerned serious matters like a “grassroots campaign” meant to be used for political gain.

Talking with the Banner this morning, McDaniel acknowledged the governor’s office asked if the Bradley County school system could host the meeting, and the governor decided who would be invited to attend.

…David Smith, Haslam’s spokesman, told the Banner late Tuesday the governor has made a habit of holding such meetings and is currently traveling to cities around the state to hear from local teachers and administrators.

Haslam is expected to have attended a dozen such meetings statewide this summer.
“Some of those have been public events, and some have been more intimate,” Smith said. “Last year, he did a series of meetings with superintendents across the state, and these meetings like the one in Cleveland are a continuation of those, including teachers and principals.”

Smith said the governor’s office partnered with the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents to organize the meetings, and superintendents of each school system were instructed to choose two representatives to be part of their area’s session. TOSS “took the lead” in organizing the meetings that way “in order to keep them as manageable-sized groups so the meetings can have a candid and productive conversation,” Smith said.
…While Haslam had some questions for the educators, Smith said it was meant to be more of a time for the governor to hear local educators’ concerns than for him to speak on his personal views.

On Williamson County super’s spats with Huffman

Williamson County Schools Superintendent Mike Looney has been openly fighting with state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman for two years now, reports The Tennessean, and has achieved some success.

With the help of a legal team and Williamson County’s state representatives, Looney wrote and saw passed a state law that basically outlines his district’s achievement, declares it “high performing” and exempts it from the state’s teacher evaluation policy and other mandates.

And while it may appear odd for one hired superintendent to routinely face off with the state’s top education official, Looney boasts a hefty fact to back him up: Williamson County Schools’ perennial spot at the top of Tennessee performance lists, a ranking that he says won’t change when the annual statewide data release occurs at the end of July.

Time and again, he has complained that Huffman is not a communicator and desperately needs to talk to educators in the field. Huffman spent two years in the classroom with Teach for America before eventually ascending to a position as the nonprofit’s vice president for public affairs.

“I think the commissioner is an extremely intelligent man, much more intelligent than I am,” Looney, 51, said last week, but it requires experience to understand the real impact of policy.

Huffman declined an interview request, issuing an emailed statement that begins by complimenting Looney’s handling of Williamson County.

“When there are issues that impact kids in Williamson County, I call Dr. Looney directly, as I did earlier this week and have done a number of times this year,” he wrote. “I don’t communicate with superintendents through the media.”

…But Looney also has run afoul of at least one local group — tea party-affiliated Republicans.

They have their issues with Huffman, too. Fifteen lawmakers, most tea party-affiliated but none from Williamson County, signed a letter calling for Huffman’s ouster last month. The letter cites complaints about Huffman’s leadership style, but the same group has attempted to delay implementation of national Common Core standards, which Huffman supports.

So does Looney, although he’s quick to say they should be considered the minimum and to point out that Williamson’s are far higher.