KCS BOE Candidate Q & A from the Knoxville Mercury

The Knoxville Mercury sent questionnaires to all the candidates in the March 1 primary. These are the full responses submitted by candidates for Board of Education in District 2.


Age: 48 Family: Husband, Robert Owen How long in Knox County? 20 years Job: Former teacher, Knox County Schools Ed: B.S. in Education, University of TN (1991) Political experience: No response


Age: 59 Family: Wife, Rhoni, and three adult children How long in Knox County? 24 years this March Job: Executive director, Compassion Coalition Ed: B.A. in Bible, Lubbock Christian Univ, 1978; M.A. in Biblical & related studies, Abilene Christian Univ, 1981; doctor of ministry in missional & spiritual formation, Lipscomb Univ, 2015 Political experience: None

What stoked your interest in running for this political office?

The Knox County School system has the potential to be an education leader in our state and region. However, the district has become mired in a culture of distrust and finger-pointing that hampers its ability to make real progress. I want to help our school district rebuild trust with students, parents, staff, and the community to enable us to begin to be the great district we can be.

 I have had a concern for, and a commitment to, public education for many years. The nonprofit I lead has always placed an emphasis on public-schools engagement as a great place to have a positive impact in our community. Education is critical to the future of our children and our community, and the Knox County Board of Education is responsible for establishing good policy for our public schools. Serving on the board, therefore, is a logical place to have a positive impact on the future of Knox County.

What are the two most important issues for you, and how will you address them if elected?

1) Put the focus on students and let our teachers teach: Students are much more than data, and board members must demand that they are treated as such. As a board member I will continue advocating for students by speaking with county commissioners, legislators, the community, and our business partners to help them understand the complex needs of students and public schools. I will insist that petty squabbles or any discussion that takes away from issues of importance to our students is not conducted in board meetings. 

Our board must ensure that every child receives an appropriate education which meets his or her needs, while supporting policies and programs that promote the development and well-being of all children. The board must work to attract and keep great teachers by allowing them the freedom to use their specialized skills to make instructional decisions which are in the best interests of the students in their classrooms. They need both genuine support and instructional autonomy to make the pedagogical decisions that allow them to be great educators.

2) Repair community relationships by being representative, accountable, and transparent: Government systems must be representative, accountable, and transparent at every level. A board that functions with any kind of voting bloc is none of those. We must end us-against-them games and work together. As an involved voter, I know you expect elected officials to act with integrity and fiduciary responsibility. To do that, the board must also be open and transparent in all actions.

1) The state of Tennessee has made good strides in academic growth and achievement in recent years. Knoxville has set the standard for other communities in Tennessee. The most important issue for me is continued growth in student success. We have made progress, but we still have much work to do.

2) There has been a great deal of conflict surrounding public education in Knoxville. My work in the community has been to bring those from broadly divergent perspectives together to address and engage some of the most pressing issues of our community. My desire is to be a consensus builder in this context, too. My goal is to be someone that helps bridge some of the divides so we can take positive steps forward. This is about the well-being of our children and the future of Knoxville. We have to keep our eyes on the most important thing, the children.

Are you thumbs up or thumbs down on Superintendent Jim McIntyre’s departure?

Thumbs down to the circumstances around Dr. McIntyre’s departure. There has been a great deal of discussion about what the “new board” will do in the future without anyone asking potential new board members whether any of the speculation is true. As a result, this very unfair and unfounded soothsaying has cost the taxpayers a great deal of money that could have been used much more responsibly.  The decision has been made. Dr. McIntyre will be leaving in July. It is, I believe, counterproductive to focus on the past. Dr. McIntyre did some very good things for Knox County Schools and for our community. That was not, however, without controversy. Referring to my answer to the previous questions, I will work in a spirit of cooperation with other board members and select the best possible superintendent and forge a positive path forward.

What are the three characteristics you believe are most important in the next superintendent?

The next direct of schools must: (1) have extensive experience in public schools;(2) be able to understand and relate to the community with skills to enhance, rather than impede, the flow of information; and(3) have a child-centered philosophy which puts the well-being of students above all else.  I am looking for a person committed to academic excellence for all of our children. Our new superintendent should be able to communicate clearly, cast vision, and work with others in a way that they consider themselves an important part of making that vision a reality. It is also critical that this person be someone that is able to listen, gather critical data, and make hard decisions regarding what is best for our children.

For superintendent, do you prefer a local or a new set of eyes (or no preference)?

I prefer a person who has deep experience and real qualifications, from an accredited university, and a track record of working for the best interests of students.  We need to find the best person for this demanding job regardless of where we find them. We certainly should not neglect quality candidates that are close to home, but we shouldn’t limit ourselves to local individuals either.

Testing and relationships between teachers and the administration have been a source of local controversy over the last few years. What, if anything, would you change about the district’s approach on either of these topics?

The source of controversy has been less about the existence of these problems and more about the district’s refusal to acknowledge problems in any meaningful way. There is a deep culture of mistrust, which will be difficult to overcome. As a board member, my first responsibility would be to work to create actual transparency. Transparency is a great buzz word, but when parents call the central office regarding a test and they are told that it is mandated by the state, and they call the state’s Department of Education about the same test and are told that it is mandated by the district, and then they call the school and are told it’s a federal mandate, it is completely meaningless. I expect to be given real and accurate information and for that information to be shared openly and honestly with the public. Nothing less is acceptable. 

The district’s administration expended great time and resources to have “listening tours” all over Knox County. However, when people attending those sessions saw the reports they were often shocked that the final reports looked nothing like the discussions they had. This was reported by multiple participants at multiple locations.

 Much of the testing done in our schools is federal- and state-mandated. With the new ESSA legislation at the federal level there should be more control at the state and local levels, although there is considerable uncertainty about what that looks like at this time.  The new superintendent and the Knox County BOE must look closely at the amount of testing that is being done beyond what is required at the federal and state levels and determine if there is too much testing and, therefore, too much teaching to the test. There still needs to be, however, good ways to measure the progress and effectiveness in our classrooms. A balance must be achieved.

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