Carter Co. school board votes against renewing Schools Director Ellis' contract

John Thompson • Feb 16, 2012 at 11:32 PM

ELIZABETHTON — By a 5-3 vote on Thursday, the Carter County Board of Education decided not to give Director of Schools Shirley Ellis another year in charge of the school system. Ellis’ current employment contract will expire on June 30.

Board Chairman Kelly Crain, Vice Chairman Ronnie McAmis and board members Bobby Blevins, David Buck and Jerry McMahan voted not to extend Ellis’ contract. Board members Keith Church, Daniel Holder and Don Julian voted against the motion not to renew the contract.

Ellis made no comments after the vote was taken and remained silent for the rest of the meeting. She declined to discuss the decision after the meeting.

Immediately after the vote, Crain said “I do appreciate what Dr. Ellis has done.” He said Ellis only asked for two years as director when she was chosen by the board in 2010. Crain then turned to Ellis, who was sitting next to him at the board table, and told her “I have nothing personal against you.”

Following the meeting, McAmis said “We are just looking to go in a new direction. It is nothing personal about Dr. Ellis.”

When asked to explain the need for a new direction, McAmis discussed the school system’s evaluations on the annual examinations. Although he did not mention specifics, the state Department of Education reported eight of the system’s 17 schools did not reach all the federal benchmarks for Adequate Yearly Progress last year.

While he said demographics had some bearing on the standings, other surrounding school systems did better.

McAmis said “we need to make some changes if we are going to move forward.”

Crain said he has talked with many inside the school system and parents. He said his talks included superintendents, principals and teachers and he was told there was a desire for change.

None of the five who voted not to extend Ellis’ employment contract spoke prior to the vote, but all three of Ellis’ supporters spoke for her.

“I personally think she was the right person at the right time when we hired her two years ago,” Holder said. Her prior experience as a supervisor of testing and her evaluation skills were needed, Holder said, especially at a time when testing, evaluation and Race to the Top were so important

“I think she has done an excellent job as director of schools,” Holder said. “Every change has had a positive effect ... I think we have a great school system, but there is always room for improvement.”

Holder said the people he talked with in the school system and the community were satisfied with Ellis. He said “you can’t solve everything at once.”

Julian agreed and said “it would be detrimental to our system, with all the testing going on, we don’t want to change horses in the middle of the stream.”

Ellis has spent her entire career in the Carter County School System. She served 15 years as an elementary schoolteacher. She was a high school teacher for five years. She served as principal at Little Milligan Elementary School for two years and as principal at Hampton High School for seven years. She was named Tennessee Secondary Principal of the Year in 1993.

Ellis served as secondary/vocational supervisor for the school system from 1994-2000 and director of federal programs and systemwide testing from 2000 until her retirement in 2006.

She was retired for four years when she applied to become director of schools. After the board interviews with the finalists, Ellis was chosen by acclamation.

In other matters, an item to approve the termination clause in the director of schools’ contract was removed from the consent agenda and will be discussed in an upcoming workshop.

The board voted unanimously to install the block curriculum in the four high schools next school year.

The next board meeting will be held at Happy Valley High School on March 22 at 6:30 p.m. The purpose for the location change is to provide adequate room for a farewell program for retiring basketball coach Charlie Bayless, who has been the head coach since 1953.

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