EDITORIAL – New School Board, Old Ways?

It has been a really long time since I have been mad at a meeting. Years have gone by since I first started attending School Board Meetings. My first foray into the wonderful world of our local school board came long, long ago when I, as a parent, had some very serious concerns regarding the health and safety of students and teachers at Dandridge Elementary School due to sewer issues. Back in those days, one of the most challenging parts of attending a school board meeting was actually finding out where it was being held. Apparently, the concept that a concerned parent might actually want or need to attend a meeting was unthinkable. One board member actually read the children’s book Chicken Little aloud to a handful of parents that attended one meeting. Never before or since have I witnessed such a disregard for students, teachers, and parents… but Thursday’s meeting was a real close second.

It has become custom to invite students and their families to school board meetings to receive recognition and cheers for various accomplishments. For many students and families this is a big deal. Honestly, I am not sure that a business meeting is the place or time for such recognition, because I believe the focus be elsewhere, but I do applaud the effort on the part of the DOE to dole out kudos to their students. Historically, the recognition portion of the agenda is directly following the approval of the agenda, this way the students don’t have to sit through the meeting on a school night. They can do their thing and be gone in about 15 minutes or so. That was not the case at the most recent school board meeting.

The works session for the Board directly precedes the voting meeting. Normally, it is largely run by the Director of Schools, with the largest portion of the work session being the Director’s Report. The Director hits the high points on several issues, answers questions from board members, and then moves on to the voting meeting. This is, generally, a fairly speedy process that is well organized. Not this time. Instead of Director Arnold being the main presenter and speaker, answering questions and providing important information, this meeting was anything but informative, well-organized, or time-saving. In fact, Director Arnold barely got in a word, edgewise. The work session droned on for hours as students arrived, waited for their time to be recognized, and ultimately left without so much as a nod from the board. Maybe they couldn’t hear them as they waited in the hall outside the meeting, but I sure could. Time crept by as board members were read out loud from items that were in their packets. Those young students, who so proudly arrived, became bored and sleepy and hungry. Eventually, their recognition certificates were given to them and pictures were taken on the steps of the Courthouse. This was a far cry from what they and their families expected. It was sad. I was sad and mad for them. What kind of blinders does a school board have to be wearing to ignore the very students that are their sworn purpose? Make no mistake, those children were the elephant in the room for all but the school board. Finally, way past time for these kids to have been doing homework, having dinner, and getting ready for bed, Board Member Jarnigan whispered to Board Member Bradley (who was not yet chair but was overseeing the work session) that kids had been waiting and families were starting to go home. Many more minutes passed before the work session finally came to an end and the voting meeting began, but it was way too late for those students and families. All but three were long gone. Parents were visibly angry and there was much angst. From my cheap seat I could hear it all, and it was appalling.

If this is the way that this board intends to conduct itself, then we are in trouble. It is never, never more important to read the temperature of the room than when you have little eyes and ears watching your every move. What they heard were adults (that were supposed to be their biggest cheerleaders) that refused to zip it long enough to do the invited business. What we heard was a board that has forgotten why they are there. If you can’t see a big picture as glaring as the one right in front of you, or hear the voices of your most important constituents, perhaps it is time to rethink just why you sought this position in the first place. If we can’t depend on you to know when enough is enough, then how will we ever be able to depend on you to know when enough is enough? Since nobody else, save Director Arnold, bothered to apologize for the blatant disrespect of our students and families, I will gladly do so. You deserved better. We are proud of you, and we, as adults, should be more aware of what is going on around us.

School Board, it is time to take the blinders off and take a good look at what is in front of you. Oh, and by the way, no meeting should take almost four hours. We are so interested in grading the schools and the teachers and the students. Maybe we should grade the School Board. This meeting definitely gets an F. On the upside, one would assume that there is no way but up from here. But, then again, we all know what they say about assuming.

Source: K. Depew, News Director