Overhauling Antiquated Discipline Practices Should Not Wait

The Knox County Schools Board of Education recognized a need to make changes to discipline practices several years ago. After nearly three years of work, a clear and comprehensive plan has been created and presented for the Board to approve, but suddenly, there is a huge political push to put the brakes on all of our work.

At the June work session, I realized that policy language that had been agreed to in the review committee had not been fully transcribed to the policy document that was to be voted on during the next regular session. Though the staff scrambled to correct the error, I felt it was too late to post the corrected language in a timeframe that could be reasonably considered transparent communication with the public. I made the motion to put off the vote until the July meeting, so the public would know exactly what language was up for vote.

The Board seemed to have consensus regarding the policies and even discussed waiving two readings. We had certainly agreed to this language in the review sessions.

Within weeks, political forces began working overtime to convince the public that three years of work and multiple opportunities for public input never happened. Many are now fighting AGAINST improving our discipline guidelines. I would like to be amazed, but I am more disheartened, that people would have either so much tainted political dependence or such evil in their souls that it would cause them to work against helping children.

The idea that changes to discipline policies in Knox County Schools have popped up suddenly, and without ample time and opportunity for community input is being pushed by those with a solid agenda to maintain the status quo and the school to prison pipeline. It is being sold by those who want to ensure that principals in Knox County Schools have NO autonomy to make the decisions necessary for equitable and appropriate treatment of the students in their schools. These people want to ensure that students are given “equal” consequences – whether children are 8 or 18 years old. Most of these individuals have never worked in any classroom – and have neither the experience nor the basic understanding of student behavior to begin to comprehend the potential consequences of their misguided proposals.

I have not been able to find ANY of these individuals who have READ the proposed guidelines.

These changes have been a work in progress for many years, the largest and most public piece of work beginning in November 2014, with the creation of the Disparities in Educational Outcomes Task Force. The Task force was made up of community members who were business leaders, faith-based leaders, experienced community volunteers, and teachers, administrators, and parents of Knox County Schools students, as well as Knox County Schools students. Their goal was to consider reported outcomes in academic achievement and discipline in Knox County Schools and recommend ways to address disparities that seemed to be correlated with income, race, language, or disability. (Members of the original Disparities in Educational Outcomes Task Force are listed at the end.)

Those who claim that school administrators and other staff have not been involved and/or had input into changes in discipline are ignoring basic facts: Principals have been involved in these changes for at least two years. At the October 29, 2015 Principals’ Meeting, all K-12 principals were engaged in a discussion related to disparities in educational and discipline outcomes in the Knox County Schools. That meeting yielded NINETEEN pages of notes from principal input, which has been continuously available to the public, here:

https://www.knoxschools.org/site/handlers/filedownload.ashx?moduleinstanceid=34393&dataid=27534&FileName=Principals%20Forum%20Notes.docx

Principals have also been involved in many other meetings regarding discipline changes that are needed in Knox County Schools. They have met for discussions, have submitted ideas and concerns to their supervisors, and repeated that process many times. I have been told that all of their concerns were addressed and all of the changes they requested were integrated into the current guidelines. When I sat in on one of these meetings, it was very clear to me that principals in that meting were ready to embrace moving forward with these guidelines to better serve the students of Knox County Schools and grow toward meeting more of our students’ social and emotional needs.

One notable recommendation from principals:  “Whole community support”

We can only build community support by involving the community. In December 2015, the “Superintendent and the members of the DEO Task Force invited students, families, educators, and community members to participate in a community meeting to share options, triumphs, and challenges with regard to their observations and personal experiences with disparities in discipline and education.”

DEO Task Force – Community Forum Video – December, 2015:

https://www.knoxschools.org/Page/13651

 

The recommendations presented by the DEO Task Force at a community meeting in April 2016 were drafted using the input, suggestions, and opinions of those who attended that meeting, in addition to all of the other input that the Task Force had already solicited from all of us who are concerned with creating the best possible schools for all students.

DEO Task Force – Community Forum Video – April, 2016

https://www.knoxschools.org/Page/14017

 

To continue the work begun by the DEO Task Force, The Disparities in Educational Outcomes’ Steering Committee was created. It is made up of members of the original Task Force as well as other community, governmental and educational leaders. (Current Steering Committee members are listed at the end of this document.) Its charge is to:

  • Review progress, discuss issues and refine efforts
  • Identify and include additional stakeholder perspectives and expertise to include subcommittee working groups
  • Evaluate outcomes and ensure public accountability and transparency
  • Regularly solicit input from the community, follow up on concerns and communicate frequently with Knox County Schools leadership to address issues.

 

The community expressed great concern that the work of the Disparities in Educational Outcomes Task Force will be ignored by the Knox County Schools administration and the Knox County Board of Education. Based on our history with such recommendations, this is not an unwarranted concern. The difference between the 2007 task force recommendations and the 2017 recommendations, however, is that Knox County Schools has been moving forward with the recommendations this time around. Those whose livelihoods depend on suspending or incarcerating high numbers of youth, as well as those who depend on using those incarcerations to move their political agendas must be terrified that we will succeed in helping our students find better coping behaviors that help them stay in school, graduate on time, and move on to be excellent citizens.

 


 


 Other reading on the topic:

http://knoxfocus.com/2016/05/disparities-in-educational-outcomes-task-force-shares-draft-recommendations/

http://knoxfocus.com/2016/06/school-board-votes-to-approve-amended-disparities-resolution/


Members of the original Disparities in Educational Outcomes Task Force

  • Charme Allen, Knox Co. District Attorney General
  • Elizabeth Alves, KCS Exec. Dir. of Curriculum
  • Pastor Daryl Arnold, Overcoming Believers Church
  • Tomma Battle, parent
  • Susan Benner, University of Tennessee
  • Adolphus Brown, Coldwell Banker
  • Terry Brown, Knox County Juvenile Court
  • Dr. John Butler, Clinton Chapel AME Zion Church
  • Andre Canty, Highlander Research & Education Center
  • Michelle Casini, KCS Spanish Teacher
  • Ronni Chandler, Project GRAD
  • Maurice Chunn, KCS student
  • Tanya Coats, KCS Curriculum Specialist, Farragut IS
  • Clifford Davis, KCS Chief of Staff
  • Rabbi Alon Ferency, Heska Amuna Synagogue
  • Rita Geier, retired attorney
  • Coral Getino, parent
  • Chad Hensley, KCS, SDHS Master Teacher
  • Timothy Irwin, Knox Co. Juvenile Court
  • Sheriff J.J. Jones, Knox County Sheriff’s Office
  • Kamau Kenyatta, KCS Asst. Principal – Karns MS
  • Nathan Langlois, KCS Principal – Austin-East HS
  • Sam Lee, Knox Co. General District Attorney
  • Rosa Mar, Retired Community Volunteer 
  • Missy Massie, KCS Exec. Dir. Student Support Services
  • Alise Ndacayisaba, student 
  • Phyllis Nichols, Knoxville Area Urban League
  • Randy Nichols, Knox County Sheriff’s Office
  • Chief David Rausch, Knoxville Police Department
  • Mayor Madeline Rogero, City of Knoxville
  • Amber Rountree, Knox County Board of Education 
  • Mark Stephens, Knox County Public Defender’s Office
  • Thomas Strickland, City of Knoxville
  • Rosalyn Tillman, Pellissippi State Community College
  • Cindy White, KCS Principal – Vine Middle School
  • Kim Wilburn-Cullom, KCS Principal – Maynard Elem.

Current Steering Committee Members

  • Andre Canty– Co-chair, Highlander Research & Education Center
  • Jered Croom– Co-chair, Parent Representative
  • Bob Thomas, Superintendent, Knox County Schools
  • Charme Allen, Knox Co. District Attorney General
  • Chania Arnold, KCS Student
  • Tomma Battle, Parent
  • Christian Blair, KCS Student
  • Terry Brown, Knox County Juvenile Court
  • John Butler, Clinton Chapel AME Zion Church
  • Emma Cosigua, Parent
  • Coral Getino, Parent
  • Alex Lundy, KCS Student
  • Rosa Mar, CEO, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
  • Phyllis Nichols, President, Knoxville Area Urban League
  • Randy Nichols, Knox County Sheriff Department
  • Angela Patrick, Teacher, Belle Morris Elementary
  • David Rausch, Chief, Knoxville Police Department
  • Bryson Rosser, Teacher, Central High School
  • Mark Stephens, Knox County Public Defender Office
  • Rosalyn Tillman, Dean, Pellissippi State Com. College
  • Juan Villegas, KCS Student
  • Cindy White, Principal, Vine Middle School
  • Missy Massie, KCS Dir., Student Support Services
  • Jeannie Dulaney, KCS Director of Community Relations

 

 

A Board Governs Through Policy - Part 1

 

I implore you to learn about policy changes that took place during the previous administration and ask your school board members to return responsibility for managing KCS to the BOE. It is their DUTY under the law. Delegating this responsibility to one person is reckless and irresponsible.

For years, people have asked how/why the KCS superintendent had so much unchecked power.
They asked why nobody could do anything about it.
The answer is pretty simple:
A Board sets policy and their policies empowered him.

The argument between managing or micro-managing is pointless.
These policies determine whether the supervisor manages the employee or the employee manages the supervisor. If the employee isn’t willing to be managed and/or if the supervisor isn’t willing to manage, it is time for a change.


A Board governs through policy.

Waiting until AFTER something happens is an extremely poor way to govern. By that same token, creating a policy that delegates authority away fromScreen Shot 2016-12-07 at 2.27.51 AM those who have a duty to manage closes the door on oversight and transparency.

For the past three months, I have been trying to help others understand the seriousness of some of the policy changes that took place under the previous administration. The interim superintendent has railed against anything that limits his unchecked power and continues making unprecedented changes to positions as well as to the entire administrative reporting structure. The current Board seems to have a serious lack of concern for doing their job and correcting this situation.


Policy change introduction, presented to the BOE at the December 5th work session:

These four policies were changed during the previous administration. At that time, we had a superintendent with a management style that was very top-heavy – and some have gone so far as to call it “dictatorial.” Yes, there was “a reason” these policies were changed:

  • These changes made it easier for mis-management to work, unencumbered by questions or transparency.
  • These changes delegated away the Board’s legal duty to “manage and control all public schools established or that may be established under its jurisdiction” (T.C.A. 49-2-203)
  • Related to the duty to manage, there was an opinion expressed in the Supreme Court of TN, which (though not always embraced) has remained legally true for nearly 40 years:

The duties of the superintendent are highly important but they do not, with respect to essential features of school management, override the authority of the school board. Naturally, the superintendent’s advice will be given much consideration, but the ultimate responsibility and the finality as to choice rests with the school board.”

This quote continues with the following (which was not read in the Dec. 5th meeting):

It may act on its own sound judgement as to what is required by the public welfare, and contrary to advice from any source, even from the superintendent of schools. The school board is still the master and not the servant. 201 Tenn. 190-191, 297 S.W.2d 640”  (All from 558 S.W.2d 838 (1977), Sanders vs Vinson, et al. December 5, 1977)

That we are STILL having this problem – almost 40 years later – should be alarming.

 


Policy A-100
School District – School Board Legal Status and Authority.

This policy was revised 7/16, as the Board’s 5-4 voting bloc was running out of time in office.

3885_A-100 School District-School Board Legal Status and Authority Second Reading Revisions 
(This is the red-lined version.)

My focus was to make this simple: just revert to the previous policy.

It would be a simple matter of replacing the one line that had been removed and renumbering:

“2 Approve the number of positions of employment & salary schedule for such positions”

Easy, right?

No.

It seems the misuse of semicolons is/was of no consequence to anyone, with the exception of the one between item #1 and #2. A Board member said it looks like #2 refers to #1, yet when I asked what they would like to see to make it clear. I got nothing constructive.

It would have been very easy to make a friendly amendment to move #2 to the top of the list, add the word “system-wide,” or just change all of the semi-colons to periods. Though several took issue with the language, nobody presented any amendment to make it more agreeable to them. Instead, the policy passed on first reading.

A full month later, Terry Hill stated in the work session that she still has a problem with the language and wants to invoke “personal privilege” to put off the second reading until January. She doesn’t want to DO anything to improve it – just put it off for 30 days…

 

PERSONAL PRIVILEGE

The reason this is significant is that this Personal Privilege ends all discussion and there can be nothing more said until the January meeting. The interim superintendent can continue creating, changing, or terminating positions however he likes. He may set the salary for those positions to be whatever he likes and create any job description and reporting structure he likes, as long as it can be funded within the present budget. In other words, if he wants to terminate 47 employees and create 5 brand new positions that report to the supervisor of underwater basket weaving, he can – as long as he does so within budgeted cost of those 47 terminated employees.

He (or the next super) can absolutely do that – and anything else you might imagine. And your elected Board won’t be able to do a darn thing about it (unless we begin another expensive termination process), because we GAVE him that power. 

Crazy? Yep.

And that is how we have been operating for the past several years.

Unchecked.

Unencumbered.

Unhinged.

 

And this is only the beginning.
Please watch for part II.
(If you can’t wait for the continuation, links to the other three policies are at the bottom.)



 

SPOILER ALERT!
  
 
 
 
 
 

Suggested Policy Revisions to Return Responsibility to the KC BOE

At the Board retreat in October, I presented a list of close to 30 policy revisions that I believe we need to consider as soon as possible. Of those, I will bring five to the October 31st work session and the November 2nd meeting. 

It has become important to note that these policies are not about individuals, past or present, in any position. This is not an attempt to control who is in what position. That is not my job – and I don’t want that job.

This is simply an attempt to return to the Board, the ability to meet our responsibility to manage this LEA. This is not about hiring or firing people. This is about the Board and the public having a clear understanding of exactly what positions are created, how much those positions cost the taxpayers, how that impacts the budget, and giving the Board the ability to do the job we are tasked with doing.

There has been some discussion that these changes will not align with the interim superintendent’s contract and the “corporate model” he has agreed to work under. He has stated that he will not work under these conditions.  Therefore, additional consideration may need to be given to whether to make adjustments there OR whether some of these should simply include a note that they will begin when the new superintendent is hired (or June 1).

POLICY A-100

Policy A-100 (Formerly ABB) was changed twice under the last administration. The first change, in March 2011, renumbered the policy as A-100 and removed the Board’s responsibility “to approve the number of positions of employment.” This left the 2011 version saying only that the Board would “approve salary schedules for positions.”

The policy was adjusted again in June and July of this year, as the administration was changing. That new language removed all mention of the Board approving positions and salaries for those positions. It now mentions ONLY approving salaries of teachers and leaves all other salaries and numbers of positions to the sole whim of the superintendent.

As good stewards of public tax dollars, I believe we need to correct this oversight as quickly as possible. Therefore, I will make the motion to accept our responsibility for managing the Knox County Schools by inserting the following language (from the 2008 policy) as number 2 under “DUTIES OF THE BOARD OF EDUCATION:”

Approve the number of positions of employment and salary schedule for such positions
[To begin June 1, 2017.]

This is the exact language from #2 under “Duties” in the 2008 policy manual, under ABB. This change will cause a renumbering of the duties which follow, but does not remove any language or authority.

POLICY B-140

  • Board policy B-111 lists the Director of Schools (aka: superintendent) as an executive officer of the Board with both a secretarial and advisory duties.
  • B-140 causes that executive officer to serve as a member of the executive committee, along with the Chair of the Board of Education.
  • Policy B-162 requires the executive committee to deliberate by giving it responsibility for “developing an agenda for each Board meeting,”
  • The Open Meetings Act requires all committees that report to the Board, are subcommittees of the Board, or make recommendations to the Board, to have meetings noticed (sunshined).
  • The Executive Board has been thought to have an ability to make “emergency” decisions on behalf of the Board. This is not a legal function of the executive committee, nor is that function in policy.
  • Since the superintendent, serves as an ex officio member of this body, it is important that we make clear whether the actions of the executive committee may be deliberative or not.

Ex officio:

because of your job, office, or position;
by virtue or because of an office;
adj. to describe someone who has a right because of an office held, such as being allowed to sit on a committee because one is president of the corporation.

In the interests of transparent government, if those meetings are not open, no deliberation should occur and no decision-making should take place. If the meetings are to serve any function that will cause them to have any decision-making authority, those meetings should be
appropriately noticed to the public.

To help this policy and our executive committee meet the requirements of the Open Meetings Act (TCA 8-44-102(b) ), I will make the following motion:

Any meeting of the executive committee, which may involve deliberation, decision-making, and or recommendations to the board, shall be open to the public and shall require public notice at least 48 hours prior to the meeting.

Current board members shall be allowed to observe meetings of the executive committee at any time, whether the meeting is open to the public or closed. Board members who attend as observers may not comment, discuss, or deliberate with the committee and their attendance will not require additional public notice.

 

POLICY C-110 – Lines of Authority and Staff Relations

In 2011, the Board relinquished responsibility for approving lines of authority and organization within the school district, handing that responsibility entirely to the superintendent by changing the first two lines of the policy.

The first two lines of the 2008 policy:
“The Director of Schools shall establish lines of authority which shall be approved by the Board and communicated to employees.”

The first two lines of the 2011 policy:
“The Board authorizes the Director of Schools to establish efficient organizational lines of authority and staff relations which shall be communicated to employees.”

Our current inability to create a full organizational chart for the district is indicative of the problems caused when lines of authority are unclear or constantly changing. In the interest of transparent government and accepting our fiduciary responsibility as the elected Board of Education, it is urgent that we revert the first two lines of policy C-110 to the language used in the 2008 policy. Therefore, I make a motion that we remove the first two lines of the current policy, C-110 and replace them with the following:

“The Director of Schools shall establish lines of authority which shall be approved by the Board and communicated to employees.”

 

POLICY C-132

2008 LANGUAGE:

“All administrative and supervisory positions in the school system are established initially by the Board, by state law, or State Board Rules, Regulations, and Minimum Standards. In each case, the Board will approve the broad purpose and function of the position in accord with state laws and state regulations, approve a statement of duties as recommended by the Director of Schools, and delegate to the Director of Schools the task of writing, or causing to be written, a job description for the position.

LANGUAGE CHANGED IN 2011

“The Board authorizes the Director of Schools to establish administrative and supervisory positions in the school system as constrained by the Board approved budget, by state law, and State Board Rules, Regulations, and Minimum Standards. The Director of Schools will develop a written job description for each position established.”

This motion will bring the policy in line with current practices. The current policy states that the superintendent will write each job description. As that responsibility is normally delegated to department supervisors and/or the Human Resources department, the policy should be changed to reflect that.

Proposed motion:

To remove the current language:
“The Director of Schools will develop a written job description for each position established,”
and replace it with:
“The Board will approve the broad purpose and function of the position, as recommended by the Director of Schools, and delegate to the Director of Schools the task of writing, or causing to be written, a job description for the position.”

I believe this covers the function of the previous language, allows the director to delegate the responsibility, as needed, and still removes the superfluous duplication regarding following the rules, laws, etc.

FORMER POLICY CO

This policy has either been completely removed at some point or it was missed when the policies were renumbered. The motion will be to put this policy back in the manual, exactly as it was before:

The Director of Schools shall report monthly the names of newly employed personnel.
The Director of Schools shall make annual reports concerning conditions of efficiency and needs of the school system. Included in the reports shall be information regarding employment of instructional staff as follows:

  1. Number of applicants interviewed and the number employed;
  2. Procedures being used to ensure that the best applicants are being selected;
  3. Evidence that all non-tenured teachers were evaluated;
  4. Number of non-tenured teachers;
  5. Number of teachers non-renewed;
  6. Summary and explanation of how our school system is meeting the state and national requirement[s] of the No Child Left Behind Act and other mandated accountability measures.

Board members shall be made aware of all reports prepared by the Director of Schools’ office for transmittal to the local legislative body, the State Department of Education, or any federal agency.

The words, “of the No Child Left Behind Act” can be removed and an s added at the end of requirements, to bring the policy in line with current and future federally named requirements.