🏫 School Board Enthusiasts 🏫 The UnifiEd Student Voice Team's School Board Blog
This month’s School Board meeting started out unlike any other I had seen before (which isn’t many, but this one definitely made a statement). The Pledge and Meditation were led by Mrs. Jennifer...
Brownlee, the Interim Principal at Harrison Elementary School. She presented the School Board Members with a unique challenge, one with which I am extremely familiar. The challenge was to clean a dirty water sample with only a few given materials, such as containers, sand, and cheesecloth. The catch? They only had 90 seconds to complete the task. When the time began, the room erupted into friendly yet competitive chatter. As I watched the room struggle with the task, I found myself laughing with them.
I have completed this challenge multiple times throughout my time at Normal Park (both at the Lower and Upper School), but it never got easier as I got older (and we had longer than 90 seconds!). However, this challenge taught us the necessity of pre-planning, collaborating, and redesigning in tasks like this, even outside the academic world.After the 90 seconds were up, Mrs. Brownlee described the exact design process that I was taught and so accustomed to. She also told the story of a student at her school who would typically get frustrated and quit when presented with a difficult assignment. On a different occasion, however, she saw him persist after another student offered their help. This heartwarming story left the Board Members with the message to continue to work with the community for the sake of the 44,000+ kids in Hamilton County Schools.
During the Administrative Business Matters portion of the school board meeting, board members addressed multiple topics that would unfold over the next school year of 2021-22. Leading the discussion was the matter of HCDE bus driver contracts; unlike most other Hamilton County Schools employees, school bus drivers are contracted by an outside company. As contract employees, bus drivers are often moved from route to route depending on the assignment they receive. When working to find potential bus drivers for Hamilton County Schools, it is important to keep in mind the riders’ safety and condition; more info on HCDE school buses here. As a student in this county, I’ve experienced several instances when dealing with a somewhat inattentive driver; I find them usually blasting inappropriate music or not being the most patient when dealing with students. In contrast, I’ve also had really lenient and kind bus drivers.When choosing specific drivers to transport students across Hamilton County, personality or social skills are rarely questioned. It is exceedingly important to note how these drivers act and deal with students because not only is there an interaction between the driver and student, but as the transporter, you are taking precautions for a total of about a dozen students.
Sadly, there have been several bus incidents taking place in the Hamilton County area. As seen before in the Woodmore Elementary School bus crash taking place in the year 2016, a total of six elementary students lost their lives in this accident. Five students passed immediately, leaving everyone else on board with multiple injuries; one student later passing while in the hospital due to his severe injuries. According to News Channel 9, “Along with recommending seatbelts, the NTSB voted to amend the official cause of the Woodmore bus accident. Members say it expands the blame from just the driver of the school bus to include the Hamilton County school system and Durham School Services.” As Hamilton County school buses are continually used today, they continue to lack the use of seatbelts. When looking at this incident that occurred only about five years ago, what is to say that another similar event could happen again? However, as mentioned earlier in the quoted article, some parents believe that the blame should be placed on Hamilton County school bus drivers’ regulations.
In summary of the bus contract discussion during this month’s school board meeting, it is important to make sure that school bus drivers are experienced when dealing with large groups of students, extra cautious (safety is critical), and provide a comfortable yet safe environment for all students. Similar to the training that Hamilton County teachers, principals, and other faculty require before taking upon a job, I believe that bus drivers should be required to receive this same training to further substantiate their understanding of overseeing and handling groups of students. In addition, to ensure our county’s students’ safety and well-being, some changes to the HCDE bus rules and regulations may be needed.
Following the board’s discussion on bus driver contracts, they then launched into debilitation of HCDE’s custodial contract with ABM. Several members brought up individual experiences with the inadequate cleaning done. Mr. Perez recounted an encounter with a student who protested against a visitor entering the bathroom because it was disgusting, for lack of better words. Mr. Perez stated how this issue is widespread across the county, with bathrooms, classrooms, and cafeterias being below the standards in terms of cleanliness. Although this does fall under the custodians’ jurisdiction, I believe this also reflects students’ inability to use facilities properly. Within my school, I have seen students neglect even the most basic protocols of using the bathroom. Students also continue to make messes that they could easily clean up; however, they leave it there for someone else to clean up or tidy. However, this does not outweigh the fact that ABM’s services are also lacking in terms of unavoidable mistakes or messes.
Mr. McClendon then took the floor to express his dissatisfaction with ABM’s services and how impressed he was with SSC (the board’s newly proposed cleaning service). He and a colleague had researched SSC’s past work in other school districts, which yielded promising results. Mr. McClendon and several others felt unsure about the higher costs the new company would carry. However, it was also brought to attention that SSC had higher wages, better benefits, newer equipment, better training, and better leadership, which many board members agreed was well worth the money. Mr. McClendon emphasized the importance of leadership, which carries not just within the custodial contract but throughout our education system. For example, if a Principal is fully involved and goes above and beyond his duties, his school will thrive and benefit under his leadership. However, if he neglected his job and largely ignored students, the same connection would not be formed, and the school would likely fare worse. The same principle applies to this contract; it seems that ABM has been lacking in the administration department, which is reflected in their work within our schools. Strong leadership is needed to fully utilize all equipment and employees, which seems to be emphasized more heavily at SSC.
Several other board members expressed their reluctance to commit to a more expensive company. I believe that switching to this company will be beneficial to educators and students alike. I have often walked into the bathroom and had to walk right out because every single stall was utterly filthy. Although this is partly due to the fault of us students, I believe that the better resources and training provided by SSC should turn the tide. However, I am also worried about custodians currently employed by ABM. Although SSC has said that they will try to hire previous ABM employees, they are under no legal obligation to do so. I believe measures should be put in place to prevent these workers from losing their jobs, especially in such trying times.
Previously in the meeting, the delegation to speak was Kevin Lloyd, who had a unique and passionate presentation. Most delegations focus on matters that directly affect children, but Mr. Lloyd was on a mission to clear his name. As the owner of Mean Green Janitorial services, the Chattanooga native has been serving the community for 12 years with his business. He also served in the US Navy for 12 years before that. All things being considered, it seems like no matter how established you are in a particular field, one mistake can have the potential of erasing all of your credibility. He came to the board pleading for a “second chance” to have his cleaning services be reconsidered for use as an outdated felony charge resurfaced. He claimed the mistake he made was a result of a Post Traumatic Stress-induced episode. He has since served his time for the incident. As a student, I’m disappointed in the county’s failure to accept and understand an honest mistake. The fact that his business credentials are being reconsidered because of one mistake is ridiculous to me as he poses no threat to our community and represents what Hamilton County would hope for as a productive member of society.
While this was an unusual school board meeting, the unorthodox meeting was entertaining to watch yet informative. As Hamilton County nears the end of its school year, I’m curious to see what decisions they will land on regarding the pandemic. Their diligence and dedication to the students doesn’t go unnoticed. I know they have difficult choices to make, whether it’s renewing janitorial contracts or reopening schools fully. One thing's for sure, though. The Student Voice Team will be reporting on final decisions moving forward. Hope to see you there!