🏫 School Board Enthusiasts 🏫 The UnifiEd Student Voice Team's School Board
As we gear up for the coming school year, Hamilton County Schools was hit with shocking news: Dr. Johnson resigned from his position effective August 17, 2021. This news took the county by surprise,...
especially the board members who had the unfortunate task of voting on his interim replacement. Through the sad goodbyes and new beginnings, the school board still had to conduct business as usual.
Delegations: Keeping in the theme of “unusual board meetings,” the delegations that spoke had some interesting topics of concern. The main topic of concern that was primarily discussed was Critical Race Theory being taught in our schools. To provide some context, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has signed HB 0580/SB 0623 into law. This new law will defund schools that teach Critical Race Theory. The topics of this concept include systemic racism, white privilege, sexism, etc. It feels counterintuitive to show up and speak about an issue that is already banned in our state and is not enforced in our schools. Quite frankly, it’s a waste of the board’s time to listen to complaints that aren’t in the jurisdiction of power. Thankfully, Tiffanie Robinson explained a basic pipeline at which issues should be expressed gubernatorially. However, my main issue is with arguments from the delegates Ashley, Scarlet, and Fallon. They consistently subscribe to the concept as “harmful” and refer to experiences like racism as a matter of opinion and not a point of fact. As a student, it feels as though the most vital conversations we need to have are being swept under the rugbecause the adults in power are afraid of discomfort.
Other delegations included Stephanie, who showed up to advise the board about following the proper hiring process for Dr. Johnson, and Taylor, who happily informed the board about 15 new libraries that have been built through the Moms For Social Justice’s Classroom Library Project. Furthermore, some other delegation topics included an analogy in regards to CRT and a Chattanooga State student.
Presentations: This month’s school board meeting brought with it the annual end-of-school-year presentation to recap the school board’s progress this year. It’s great to see that there were still so many successes experienced across the school system this year, despite the pandemic and all we went through this year. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, it’s kind of weird that Hamilton County is still touting their progress from the 2018-2019 school year. Even though there isn’t updated data for year-end testing because of the pandemic, it’s still weird that they are using data from what will soon be three years ago. The other thing that I have consistently noticed from the school system in these types of year in review sessions is that they only focus on growth and success, rather than also looking at what didn’t go so well or what is going to be a focus to improve in the future. Celebrating successes is important, but we learn and grow far more from studying our failures.
The rest of this meeting was fairly standard, with a few questions about miscellaneous things and nothing being pulled from the consent agenda. The only other agenda items which stood out distinctly this month were the passage of a raise in benefits and wages for classified employees like school nutrition staff. This led to a more extensive discussion of where the school system wants to be in the future with its employee wages, which was encouraging to see such forethought and planning for compensation after it had been ignored for so long in years prior. The end of the meeting brought a lot of sadness for the board as they accepted Dr. Johnson’s resignation, expressed their appreciation for him and his work, and discussed the next steps for appointing an Interim Superintendent.
Special Called Session to Select an Interim Superintendent: The school board also voted on the new superintendent in a special session, resulting in a vote for Dr. Towns. What this means for the coming school year feels a bit uncertain, with the threat of closures from COVID-19 still a genuine possibility. However, it does feel as though the school board will continue as usual. As a student, it felt as though the vote took heavier importance than other matters. This, however, seems an unfair judgment given the fact that this special session did accomplish its goal of resulting in the placement of a new Superintendent for Hamilton County. I hope that Dr. Towns can do great things in this new position, and Hamilton County will continue to look towards the future.
In closing, some critical issues were discussed in this school board meeting and special session. Hamilton County received a new superintendent, and essential matters surrounding what should be taught in our schools were proposed. While these matters are highly mature in nature, it is important to remember to be civil. With matters of the heart, we can oftentimes find it difficult to be collected and cool-headed. Over the past two years, students in Hamilton County have faced many challenges alongside the parents and staff. It is only my hope that we can remember we are not stronger divided--rather united.