Johnson City superintendent declines to sign petition

Nathan Baker • Sep 17, 2013 at 3:09 PM

Johnson City Schools Superintendent Richard Bales said Monday that he did not join with at least 60 of his counterparts elsewhere in the state in signing a letter critical of the policies of Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, because he doesn’t believe a petition is the correct way to address the issue.

“I actually did not sign it,” Bales said. “I prefer to send my own correspondence on topics like this.”

Bales said he met personally with Gov. Bill Haslam a few weeks ago to discuss “opportunities for improvement” regarding the current state of the education system in Tennessee.

The letter Bales opted out of endorsing was circulated at the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents’ fall conference last week by Tullahoma City School District Superintendent Dan Lawson.

It criticizes the Department of Education for having “no interest” in working with school administrators, and has reportedly been signed by at least 60 superintendents statewide, but Lawson has yet to publish an official list of signees.

Washington County Director of Schools Ron Dykes declined to confirm if his name was among those supporting the letter.

“When you see my name on that letter officially, then I’ll discuss it with you,” he said last week. “I don’t have any comment about it at this point.”

Lawson has been attempting to collect more signatures in the meantime, and said Monday that he expects to release the full letter, including the confirmed supporters, on Wednesday.

At its regular meeting two weeks ago, the Johnson City Board of Education passed a symbolic resolution condemning a new state Board of Education policy connecting the granting and renewal of professional teachers licenses to students’ performance on standardized test scores and in-class evaluations.

The resolution, which calls the new licensure policy “inequitable and counterproductive,” was sent to the governor, the state education commissioner and the chair of the state Board of Education bearing each of the board members’ signatures.

At the meeting in which the resolution was unanimously approved, Bales said there was little correspondence between state and local education leaders regarding the policy, and said the policy change was hurried to approval by the state board.

When asked about that apparent communication failure, the superintendent said “there are always areas for improvement,” and said the issue will be addressed at a later date.

Commissioner Huffman, who confirmed that he saw an unofficial copy of the petition, disputed assertions contained in it, saying he regularly communicates with school superintendents.

Huffman pointed to the recent gains Tennessee has made in nationwide education rankings as evidence that the state’s more stringent policies are working.

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