Why the school board changed

Sandra is giving over her space this week to Lauren Hopson, president of the Knox County Education Association

Seven of our nine Knox County school board members (come Sept. 1) have education backgrounds – a feat rarely, if ever, seen in an urban school district. Yet many in the local media still have no clue what just happened or why.

Comments are frequently made that the elections were all about getting rid of Superintendent Jim McIntyre, and now that he has left office, there is nothing left for teachers to organize around.
Wrong. Dead Wrong.

Flipping school board seats was never about a person, but an ideology. People still holding that ideology are just waiting to take those seats back and do what they can to mandate top down management, push out experienced educators, and support charters, vouchers, inappropriate testing, and any other program that will suck public dollars out of our schools.

Knoxville is the last urban holdout for a slew of charter schools, and if we think the dark money put into Nashville school board races this year won’t come for us, we are sorely mistaken.

Test scores are not what earn the true bragging rights of a good school system. Scores are some of the easiest statistics to manipulate. Why has no one questioned our former superintendent’s unwillingness to come to the defense of Bearden High School when test scores dropped? I’ll answer that one. If you question the validity of low scores that may be an embarrassment to the system, you must also question the validity of high scores on which you hang your hat.

A flawed system is a flawed system, no matter which end of the scale you expose.

Saying our school system is headed in the right direction simply because test scores and graduation rates are up shows either benign ignorance or a willful refusal to look beneath the surface.

Also, I am bothered by the continuing erroneous belief that our former superintendent’s problems with teachers were an unfortunate result of state mandates.

Well … that may be true … unless you remember that he testified to Congress about how great he thought all these new reform policies would be. He refused to align with other superintendents across the state who attempted to push back on some of the “test scores at all costs” and other ill-conceived reforms, again voicing his support instead.

He actually increased the difficulty level for some of the state guidelines for the new evaluation system, a move that was undone by the outcries of teachers.

Additionally, I am frustrated with the negative spin in the soundbite that the upcoming BOE sessions will look like a teachers’ union meeting. To that I say, “Why shouldn’t they?”

Nobody complained when only one former educator was on the board helping to set educational policy for our county. Why is an “unbalanced” board an issue now?

Educators who are deeply involved in their union are some of the most passionate and knowledgeable in their field. They don’t just do their job and go home. They spend their “spare” time researching educational issues across the country and advocating for their students.

This leads to my final point. I want the media to understand that “teacher issues” are student issues. At what point did things that are good for teachers became unequivocally bad for students?

Meat and potatoes issues that teachers care about … class size, plan time, discipline, turnover, professional development, toxic testing, under staffing, inadequate funding, etc. all have a direct impact on the success and well-being of our students.

Parents and community members are starting to understand the issues. That is why the school board is vastly different than it was three years ago.

Are the teachers passionate and organized? Yes. They did what they were born to do. They educated and inspired others, getting parents and other community members to vote with them. The school board elections turned out as they did because the public is starting to listen and then ask the right questions of the people who actually live education every day. It’s time for the talking heads to catch up.

Lauren Hopson is president of the Knox County Education Association. The full post is online at speaktn.com

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