Give peace (and Bill Flanary) a chance

Johnson City Press • Jun 3, 2018 at 8:30 AM

Bill Flanary is a known quantity with a proven record in Washington County Schools.

Despite all the recent infighting, backroom shenanigans and rudderless decision-making, Washington County Board of Education members managed a unanimous vote last Wednesday to name Flanary as the school district’s interim director.

Even if on a temporary basis, we suspect Flanary will bring some much-needed calm and reason into the boardroom. If for no other reason than familiarity, it’s unlikely he will face the same kind of scrutiny that forced Kimber Halliburton to head south to Mississippi after two tumultuous years in Washington County.

Coming from Nashville, Halliburton automatically was viewed at least by some as a snooty outsider after more than a century of homegrown leadership. Her critics grew as time went on, particularly over her handling of the Gerald Sensabaugh debacle at David Crockett High School and the unending negotiations over how to improve Jonesborough’s K-8 schools. Fair or not, her early departure was inevitable.

Before Halliburton was selected in 2016, Flanary was a candidate for the job, as board member Clarence Mabe had moved to add the assistant director to the list of finalists put forth by the Tennessee School Boards Association. While new blood can bring new ideas to any organization, there’s something to be said for local knowledge, tenure and track record.

Based on 20 years experience with Flanary, we know him to be first and foremost a professional educator with a clear mindset on improving performance and opportunity for the county’s students. His test will be navigating through the shark-infested waters of Washington County politics, particularly as the school board continues to butt heads with the County Commission over the Jonesborough school proposals.

Even with a new county mayor and a realigned commission on the horizon after the August election, the school board’s relationship with the courthouse is strained to put it mildly. While his appointment was unopposed, the school board is still composed of two distinct camps.

For now, Flanary is in wait-and-see mode on whether he will again be a candidate for a long-term contract as the board searches for its next director. We can’t say that we blame him.

The county’s climate — whether it’s truly focused on education or merely more politics — undoubtedly will sway his decision.

When Staff Writer Jessica Fuller spoke with him Thursday on his first day as interim director, he seemed to have the proper — or at least pragmatic — perspective.

“You’ve got nine people on the board with unique ideas,” Flanary said. “How can you avoid friction sometimes? I wonder if it isn’t healthy to some level.”

What would really be healthy? For both the school board and Washington County’s leadership to give Flanary all the support he needs to make his interim tenure successful.

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