🏫 School Board Enthusiasts 🏫 The UnifiEd Student Voice Team's School Board
Introduction: Sophia The last Board Meeting of the school year was certainly one to remember. While many matters went on as usual there were also intense discussions and even some heated protests (most were about...
masks), but we will get into these events later on in the blog. The meeting began with a sweet and sentimental mediation and pledge by Mr. Gary King, the Coordinator of Harrison Bay Future Ready Center. Mr. King is retiring after 39 long years in education, but he clearly loved every single year of it. His meditation shows how much he truly cares about students and strives to engage and encourage them. After his meditation, Chairman Wingate took time to honor the Student Representative to the Board, Macy Tidmore. Macy is an admirable and accomplished student and deserves every recognition she got at this meeting. Wingate also introduced the new Representative to the Board, Jamal Makin, a model student and will do a great job as Student Representative.
Presentation about Partnership Network: Kaitlyn Following the intro and pledge, the Hamilton County Partnership Network Advisory Board exhibited their recommendations for the upcoming school year through a presentation and rounds of questioning. For those of you who were not aware of this committee, they are composed of seven members who have extensive community engagement and education backgrounds. These leaders work with both the Tennessee Department of Education and the Hamilton County Department of Education to create better learning environments and standards of success for the lowest-performing schools in the county. Hamilton County has entered into an agreement with the state to move the 5% of schools with the lowest rate of academic achievement into this partnership network. These schools, including Orchard Knob Elementary, Orchard Knob Middle School, Brainerd High School, Woodmore Elementary, and Dalewood Middle School, have become a priority for the school board as we finish off the school year. This partnership allows the district to retain jurisdiction over these schools while still garnering state support and aid, preventing Tennessee’s Department of Education from completely taking over and adding them to the Achievement School District. At this meeting, Valoria Armstrong (the current Network president) presented the committee’s recommendations for the aforementioned, low-performing schools. These proposals were separated into four main subjects: Differentiated Compensation/Salary Scale, Staffing, Resource Allocation Review, and Continued Monitoring. Mrs. Armstrong advocated for pay increases for several positions within these schools, including a 30% increase in base pay for hard-to-staff jobs, 25% for core staff, and 15% for extra staff. In terms of actual positions, the Network pushed for additional staff in k-3rd grade, behavior specialists, interventionists, additional guidance counselors, and/or social workers to address the stresses incurred to the students during the pandemic. Mrs. Armstrong drew strong emphasis on the latter piece of information due to the unaddressed effects and aspects of the pandemic. The Resource Allocation Review is a recurring assessment between the Tennessee Department of Education and HCDE to ensure that proper progress and communication is occurring. The last subsection of the recommendations consisted of a more significant focus on academics, professional learning, and the district priority plan review. This included a review of academic standards, a proposition for staff to be trained in first aid/mental health/trauma by Dec. 2022, and a set deadline for the priority plan.
After the conclusion of the Network’s presentation, several board members had questions concerning the effectiveness of the plan and their role within it. Dr. Highlander brought up queries about the costs the differentiations in base pay will bring about, which the Network was unable to provide at the moment. It may not be my place to say so, but I feel that if someone were to ask for additional money, they should have at least a clear estimate of how much it’ll be. If the values were minimal and less than expected, it might help their proposal. However, if the proposed pay increase is excessive and not within the budget, the board should have the right to know before deliberating upon the recommendations. Mr. Perez voiced confusion as to why they were reviewing the network’s plan when they had already voted on the budget at the last meeting. However, the previously approved budget did not include differentiated pay, which arrives in September. Although this does allow members to jump on planning for them, I believe it was presented in a confusing manner that could be further clarified next time. If the actual voting for these recommendations happens in September, I hope that the Partnership Network will review their presentation with the board around that time. Mrs. Robinson finished off the round of questioning with concerns surrounding the project’s sustainability and its support. In response, one of the members voiced how the state wishes to remain engaged and sees this as sort of a pilot program they want to succeed in, seemingly alleviating Mrs. Robinson’s issues.
As I read previous articles about the Partnership Network’s recommendations, I noticed several continuities in their advice as several proposed actions were repeated once again in this month’s meeting. In turn, I began to question the effectiveness of the council’s proposals and the reality of their enactment. The lowest-performing schools in the district still remain in the Network, which leads me to wonder if any significant progress has been made. I do not know if it is the failure to follow up on the Network’s recommendations, the lack of effectiveness, or if the schools mentioned above are so far behind that no noticeable change can be observed. I believe that standards of development or progress would be beneficial to the Network’s presentation for citizens or students like me who are not able to track this evolution on their own. I also felt that the answers to the board members’ questions were a bit vague and could be further expanded upon. For example, rather than promises that the state does care, it would be more effective to show proper evidence through their actions that they do. However, I do commend the Partnership Network’s work and hope their recommendations are followed through with. I believe the connection between HCDE and the state is beneficial for schools governed by local leadership. However, if the plight of low-performance persists in these schools, further state interference may be necessary for the sake of these students.
Delegations (Screen Limitation and Social-Emotional Learning Speakers): Jerald Meg Day led this month’s presentation of delegations with concerns regarding online use and safety. Especially in a school year such as 2020-21, the extensive interaction between students and technology has undoubtedly become more visible. As said by Ms. Day in her speech, “I’m very pro screen; it’s the world we live in. [However] safety, quantity, and quality must be addressed. There needs to be science-based research on the quantity of screens being used in the curriculum.” After hearing her perspective on limiting screen time in schools, I can certainly agree with her viewpoint. Comparative to the past teaching methods in schools — with the use of sizable textbooks and traditional lectures, being able to use devices such as Chromebooks or iPads, it is certainly a privilege that students tend to overlook. According to edCircuit, “Several studies have proven that the incorporation of electronic devices like laptops, cell phones, and tablets can significantly improve student enjoyment in the classroom. Many platforms allow teachers to run live polls, quizzes and surveys, encouraging student interaction and maintaining classroom engagement.” Agreeable with the listed benefits above, I concur that utilizing technology in classrooms can, in fact, make teaching more dynamic and enjoyable. Apart from reading textbooks or perhaps even being lectured by their teacher, students are encouraged to learn proactively and are clearly seen to be thoroughly engaged when participating in lessons or collaborating with peers.
Considering the extensive amount of benefits when implementing technology in student curriculum, as mentioned by Ms. Day,there needs to be some sort of infrastructure in schools to ensure that screens are not being overused.Considering that a typical school day is approximately 7 hours in total, and devices are used in almost every class, I’d estimate that students tend to use technology up to 4 - 5 hours in the classroom. With examples of adverse effects of technology from MedicalNewsToday, “Technologies, such as handheld tablets, smartphones, and computers, can hold a person’s attention for long periods. This may lead to eye strain. Eye Strain may also lead to pains in other areas of the body, such as the head, neck, or shoulders. Many technologies promote a “down and forward” user position [which] can put an unnecessary amount of pressure on the neck and spine.” While this information may seem alarming, I do believe that the use of devices has not only helped to conserve the use of materials in schools, but in part, it has also proven to help students that may be homeschooled, learning online, or temporarily absent. However, to add on top of the 4 - 5 hours of device use in school, students learning online due to the recent pandemic have been seen to use up to 8 hours of device time when learning remotely; not taking into account all the adverse effects that may stem from this.
With a connection to Ms. Moddrow — the subsequent speaker after that of Ms. Day, she states, “I’d like to talk about social-emotional learning. The emotional toll all students and teachers have been through this year is the most it’s ever been.” Throughout her speech, I could see how this concern could be interconnected to the same discussion of “overuse of screen time”. In addition to the negative physical effects of technology addressed earlier, when overusing technology, whether it being a phone, video game, laptop, or tablet, some mental and emotional effects can slowly develop. According to the all4kids Children’s Bureau, “It has been linked to depression, low self-esteem, and loneliness – symptoms that often lead to diagnosable mental illnesses and worsening issues that were already present. The passive use of social media sites (such as Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and Facebook) is specifically linked to being a risk factor for increased levels of depression. To put things into perspective, about 50% of lifetime mental illness cases started at the age of 14, and 75% began by 24. With this in mind, it is important to take cautionary steps to mitigate potential risk factors for our children, including their access to technology.” I strongly believe that being too attached to technology can not only inflict long-lasting chronic pains to your body but can also influence ill-minded thoughts in a person.I am incredibly appreciative and thankful for these two speakers — both Ms. Moddrow and Ms. Day, for presenting their perspectives to the HCDE School Board in hopes that it could bring attention to these two concerning topics.
Delegations (masks and vaccines speakers): Carson In watching the May School Board meeting, one of the most aggressive moments of this month’s board meeting was by far the delegation speakers concerning mask rules for our schools. During this portion of the meeting, three speakers were specifically addressing the issue of masks within schools. Two of them spoke aggressively and with an audacity that I have never seen in a meeting like this. They both cited what they claimed was research (research that goes against all of the information I have personally seen and read for the past year) and personally targeted the teachers within their children’s schools. Aside from some bold statements that had distinct “Karen” energy, I was struck not only by how inconsiderate these speakers were of the other people in the room and the community with their anti-masking opinions but also of the teachers within our school system. During their speeches, they claimed that teachers were having too much influence in our schools (and do so by rudely calling out a specific teacher in the room) and that the school board was working to appease the teacher’s union (it’s not a union, but we won’t get into factual inaccuracies in these speeches or we could be here for a while). I was personally appalled at the horrific way these women were speaking about the teachers in our community who have been through so much this year and have been worried about their safety and the safety of their loved ones. The third speaker in this section of speeches was my personal favorite, and he echoed many of the things that I have held as accurate throughout this pandemic. He emphasized that we should continue to wear masks to protect those around us and those in our community, both young and old, from the coronavirus. He also reminded the board that we should not allow the politicization of masks, vaccines, and science, as that is what was happening with many of the anti-mask speakers present at the board meeting. I thought it was bizarre for these people to speak so passionately about getting rid of masks to the school board when there were only about two weeks left in school at the time, and the board had already said that masks wouldn’t be required next school year or over the summer. Overall, this was a very frustrating section of the board meeting for me to listen to, and it hurt me greatly to know that there are people in our community who just don’t care about the effects that their actions have on others.
Administrative and Board Matters: Sophia (SRO/SSO): In recent years, Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond has had trouble hiring and retaining School Resource Officers (SROs) in our public schools. So, the School Board has come up with a resolution that would hire School Safety Officers (SSOs) in schools that do not currently have SROs. The main difference between an SSO and an SRO is that SROs are actively sworn-in deputies of the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office (and therefore have arresting powers), while SSOs are mainly retired officers or military (and cannot arrest people). Because of this, having additional SSOs would be the equivalent of having SROs, since they require the same amount of training and qualifications. Not all Hamilton County Schools have SROs in them, so if the School Board wants full coverage in all schools, they need SSOs to fill in any vacant positions. Whether or not the County Commission likes this resolution, it is essential that the Board had this discussion. As Board Member Tiffanie Robinson said, this starts a crucial conversation about safety in our schools.Since this is such a relevant issue, I think that it is a serious lack of judgment for certain board members to be more concerned about the Sheriff's feelings than the real issue at hand. It shouldn’t matter if sending the SSO resolution is “fair,” “cool,” or “good,” (as Mrs. Thurman said), it matters that the board is starting the crucial conversation about how schools can be more secure and safe.
Masks Board Discussion: Sophie As we near the end of the school year, the state of Tennessee announced that the mask mandate would be lifted. However, Hamilton County will continue the requirement of masks in our educational facilities through the end of the school year. This announcement has stirred up some controversy as a group of anti-mask protesters brought signs, beat on doors, and spoke out against the “child abuse” of forcing a child to wear a mask. The board was called upon to vote on whether or not masks should still be required in schools for the last week. Tempers rose as Tucker McClendon expressed his concern to make such a rash decision as there were only nine days left in the school year. Rhonda Thurman butted in during Tucker Mclendon and Tiffanie Robinson’s address to the board as she claimed that the focus was on the children. The Board eventually went back and forth about the proper procedural voting that would need to happen to make such a decision until it was finally decided that the schools would maintain their mask requirements. With so few days left in school, I don’t see any need to change the mask requirements near the end of the school year. Furthermore, it feels like the conversations surrounding masks have less regard for safety and science and are nuanced around the politics of a piece of cloth. I understand the board members are doing their best to make the right decisions and to represent their district well;I just can’t help but to think how different these conversations would be if we cared less about political parties and more about the experiences of the students.
Conclusion: Jerald Being the last of this school year’s school board meetings, apart from the expected planning of next school year, unexpectedly, one of the most discussed topics was the use of masks in schools for the rest of the 2020-21 year. As repeated by many of the board members, the continuous discussion of wearing masks was not only seen as insignificant but rather a waste of time. Importantly mentioned by Dr. Bryan Johnson, the HCDE School Superintendent, “I really want to spend the next nine days whether students are masked or not, talking about students.” In an attempt to echo the well-put words of Dr. Johnson, when closing out an incredibly chaotic school year despite all of the strange events taking place during this period, we as a community need to realize what is truly important at this moment. I want to congratulate all of the students who made it through this unusual year and wish the best of luck to any graduates entering into a new chapter of their lives this upcoming year. Undoubtedly through any conditions, the Student Voice Team will be here to address any thoughts or concerns in the years to come. Until next time, we hope to see you there!