Go Local, Except For The Good Jobs

editorial-logo3Despite qualifications and the communities’ desire to see a Jefferson County native hold the office, the school board has, once again, gone outside Jefferson County to find a director for Jefferson County Schools. One local candidate, Mark Garrett, made the final three for the directorship, but it was clear that he was fighting an uphill battle with some members of the school board. Though Garrett was clearly the most qualified applicant for the position (as he was the only one of the three finalist that had any experience as a director or that had even created a system wide budget), that did not appear to be a matter of concern for five of the seven current school board members. One, Bill Jarnigan, was openly hostile to Garrett during the interview process, but it takes more than one to kill an applicant.

So, the question is simple: what could possibly trump high qualifications, glowing recommendations, comprehensive answers on not only ideas, but actual experience with issues like budgeting, educational advancement, and personnel? Apparently something, because the board bypassed Garrett like bad cheese. But did they give him any consideration, despite the clear qualification differences and the wishes of the community to bring the directorship back to the people of Jefferson County? Why, yes. They gave so much consideration that the majority placed him third, behind a principal with no system wide experience that had written a nasty letter to the Tennessean when he was passed over for the last position that he applied for and did not receive. That is how badly the four school board members did not want Garrett as the Director of Jefferson County Schools.

Garrett was the only applicant that had enough experience to answer board questions fully, and was the only one that did not leave the interview early after board members ran out of questions. Search facilitator Wayne Qualls confirmed in an phone interview that, “the board would not be under the water with any of the three candidates, but one, Mark Garrett, is certainly more experienced than the others,” in answer to who he [Qualls] would hire if it were his decision. One can only guess why the board couldn’t or wouldn’t see what the professional did, but if I were a betting person I would lay my money on the fears that were rumored to be flying around the central office concerning Garrett “cleaning house.”

Were those fears founded? Maybe, eventually, for some that were not performing to their standard of pay. But, the question was never posed to Garrett. The central office staff was largely in favor of Johnston, who was the clear choice of four members of the Board, and Johnston referred to, “the people sitting behind me,” [the central office staff and some principals] in regard to conferring on issues such as budget and lagging schools. Let’s be clear: Johnston wasn’t bad in his interview. He is a minister and a good orator. He just clearly isn’t the most qualified. He is still green, just being in his second year of system wide administration, and that is not just my opinion. He recently applied for the directorship of Hamblen County Schools, and they were concerned that he had not managed a budget, nor run a system. They went with experience; we, again, went with the person that Hamblen County didn’t want. There seems to be a real pattern.

So, here we are again. Political decisions made in an effort to protect those that only needed protecting if they weren’t doing their job will impact the quality of education that we have in Jefferson County. There is no way that Johnston will be able to hit the ground running because he just doesn’t have the experience to know what he needs to know. He will be relying on the current central office, and so it will be business as usual, or should I say the usual business, in Jefferson County when we could have had so much more for our children. Despite believing that Garrett was a political pawn in a game that should never have been played, I hope that Director Johnston does well for Jefferson County. Our future depends on it. It is not Johnston that I that believe should be called on the carpet, it is the school board. They are going to contend that, like many others in Jefferson County, Garrett is my relative, and that is correct. I am related to many, many people. It is a small county. And, while most of us hope for the best for family, I would never berate a school board for choosing the most qualified. It just so happens that Mark Garrett was the, hands down, most qualified for the position. If you brought in any seven sixth grade students and asked them to compare the resumes of the three finalist, they would agree with Qualls and with me and with many, many members of this community. Garrett could have lost half of his experience and still been the most qualified. And he was from Jefferson County.

The moral of this story, and we have seen it played out over and over in the Jefferson County Department of Education, is that they [school board] will expound on how Jefferson County provides a quality education and Jefferson County students can compete anywhere – except for the “good jobs” in the Jefferson County School System. And, heaven forbid, don’t ever let one apply for the Directorship. Shame on the school board and shame on us for putting the wrong people in office. This is what apathy gets us.

Source: K. Depew, News Director