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School board candidates give their thoughts on local education ahead of November elections

Brandon Paykamian • Updated Oct 6, 2018 at 5:18 PM

The Johnson City, Jonesborough, Washington County Chamber of Commerce Board recently asked each Johnson City Board of Education candidate to respond to a questionnaire ahead of the November school board elections.

The candidates are Kenneth Herb Greenlee, Tom Hager, Kathy Hall, Michelle Treece, Paula Treece and Robert Williams. The candidates were asked to limit their answers to 50 words or less.

Paula Treece did not respond to the survey.

What are your three key reasons for seeking a seat on the School Board?

Greenlee: To help make changes for the future progress and welfare of our children by simply expanding activities in such a way that every child gains understanding, competence and feelings of success. That we as a board keep abreast of the changing times we now live in.

Hager: Understanding the importance of education; experience as a school board member; involvement, knowledge and future vision.

Hall: To continue to help lead of one of Tennessee’s highest achieving systems; to be involved in planning for our future needs; to help bring innovative ideas and programs to our students.

M. Treece: As a retired teacher, I would like to be a voice for our at-risk students and represent a teacher’s perspective to our board. Johnson City has very little diversity in its leadership positions. I want to add some diversity to one of our local leadership organizations.

Williams: I am a Johnson City native, and my wife and I have raised our children in our school system. I have a passion for my community. I believe in education, and with my business acumen, leadership experience and communication skills, I feel I will be an asset to the board.

If elected, how would you contribute to the work of the Board of Education?

Greenlee: I would suggest that we periodically have joint meetings with other school boards in our area to determine what we as boards can do to enhance the education and development of our children.

Hager: Participating, gathering and exchanging information. Listen, study and deliberate with other school board members for good decision making in open school board meetings.

Hall: I will continue the work I have done in many areas including facilities, planning, finance, policy, communication and safety. During this next term, I will also serve as the President of the Tennessee School Board Association and will add my voice to advocacy at the state and federal levels.

M. Treece: I plan to bring to the board a perspective on education from that of a career teacher. I have actively done the work the board expects of our local teachers! I hope to provide insight that no other member can provide.

Williams: If elected, my job will be to make sure we remain one of the best school systems in the state, and that our educators and administrators are given every possible resource that they need to be successful.

How will you work to achieve more collaboration between the School Board and City Commission?

Greenlee: Our two boards should have joint meetings to discuss issues concerning the school system and other projects.

Hager: Encourage open dialogue with city commission and respect each other roles and responsibilities.

Hall: The relationship between the school board and the commission is as positive and collaborative as I have ever seen it. I will continue to do everything within my power to continue that collaboration by conveying the school system’s needs and work toward a shared vision that meets those needs.

M. Treece: I currently know several members of the city commission, and I hope this familiarity will allow discussion of pertinent issues. I hope to meet new members and continue interacting with our commissioners in other city-wide events.

Williams: With my experience as the Chair of the Johnson City Development Authority, I have a great working relationship with our commission, our city manager and our city staff. I will work hard to sustain the collaboration between to the two boards.

What distinguishes you from the other candidates?

Greenlee: I have had the privilege of working for more than 40 +years with children. Ten of these years were spent at the Boys and Girls Club, 8 years within the Johnson City School System as security guard and 40 years as a school bus driver.

Hager: Longevity and Perspective.

Hall: I think each candidate will bring strengths to the board. I feel I will add experience and in-depth knowledge of many of the issues facing the schools. I am involved with our schools and engage students, parents, teachers, administrators and the community in discussions about how to improve our system.

M. Treece: During the first few years of the 25 years I taught in our system, there may have been one or two retired career teachers who served on our Board. With that, my teaching experience distinguishes me from the other candidates and current board members.

Williams: I am the only candidate seeking the four-year seat that currently has a child in the school system. While this is not a requirement, it does mean that I am more engaged with our students, parents, teachers and administrators, with a valuable perspective.

How can the school system better prepare students to meet the needs of our area employers?

Greenlee: Classes should be offered to those students in different fields of 21st-century electronic employment and vocational-technical education. When these classes are completed, the students will be able to qualify for employment that will be available to give them a decent income.

Hager: We are working with local employers through the College, Career & Technical Education Program at Science Hill High School to add industry certification for students in Career Technical Programs. We are also speaking with representatives for the TCAT about adding programs at Science Hill in the evening.

Hall: Working with area employers to understand their needs is key. We should expand our efforts to encourage students to consider all options after high school. Our career-technical classes are designed to encourage students to explore jobs that may not require a four-year degree but may require other training.

M. Treece: Many of our graduates move away from this area for college and/or work. Students that remain in the area, and have work as a priority, need our support. We should provide more opportunities to gain skill sets that will help them find stable, acceptable living wage employment.

Williams: Our focus in our school system and in school systems across the state have been increasing the percentage of college graduates within Tennessee (Drive to 55), a wonderful initiative. However, not every student will go to college. We need to continue strengthening our vocational education and opportunities for all students.

Identify measures that could enhance the education of the students in the Johnson City School System that would not materially increase the cost of educating them.

Greenlee: Encourage retired school teachers to volunteer within the school system where ever needed. Encourage the parents to become more active in the education of their children. Tutoring classes conducted by volunteers can also be a part of the education program without cost to the system.

Hager: We have state-supported initiatives for literacy that schools are working on that include Read to be Ready and the Tennessee Early Literacy Network. These initiatives are designed to improve literacy outcomes for students in grades K-3.

Hall: There are several areas that could enhance education: reconfiguring to two middle schools, increasing our AP and dual enrollment opportunities, a later start time for high school, second language opportunities in lower grades and partnering on career technical classes. None of these have large ongoing costs.

M. Treece: Our at-risk students need mentors. They need to know that at least one faculty or staff member truly supports them, regardless of their problems and issues. Mentoring is a short conversation or a pat on the back showing support. Letting a student know you care is truly priceless.

Williams: With limited resources, districts must think outside the box, developing innovative ways of educating without breaking the bank. A great example of such innovation is the STEAM bus. I believe the foundation has been a great success and could play an even larger role in enhancing education through corporate philanthropy.

Identify any aspects of state law that you consider to be an impediment to operating the Johnson City School System.

Hager: The State Legislature has passed laws that require testing and value-added measures for teachers. Much of the assessment plan is a result of the required student assessments.

Hall: The state rules and regulations on testing have been frustrating and ineffective. I have been an advocate for less testing and a more streamlined approach. The legal loophole that allows our county government to use dollars collected in the city without city taxpayers benefitting from them. Unfunded mandates.

M. Treece: I cannot think of a specific state law that is an impediment to operating our School System. I do, however, believe that the state’s mandate for statewide testing is more problematic than necessary. Many individuals involved in this procedure do so under excessive stress and frustration.

Williams: I have noticed that the focus of our district, and districts across Tennessee, is on Testing. Testing that is defined by our bureaucrats in Nashville and DC. I would like to see that focus shift back to empowering our teachers to do what they do best, teaching our children.

Identify areas of Board of Education and/or administration policy that you think should be changed.

Greenlee: The truancy program should be reevaluated. The present plan works a hardship on all involved, the parents and the students. The use of cell phones during classroom activities should be reevaluated.

Hager: All JCS Board Policies are reviewed annually by system administration and Board of Education members by section with changes made as necessary.

Hall: Few people know we make changes to our policies all the time to serve our student, families and staff as well as meet state laws. We review our over 300 policies annually, there are always areas that need to be changed and we do our best to address them.

M. Treece: I would like to see change in board and/or administrative policy to be more inclusive of the diverse population of faculty, staff and students. I would also like to see a stronger effort by our board to employ more diverse individuals in teaching and administrative positions.

Williams: I have noticed that the focus of our district, and districts across Tennessee, is on Testing. Testing that is defined by our bureaucrats in Nashville and DC. I would like to see that focus shift back to empowering our teachers to do what they do best, teaching our children.

The Board of Education is responsible for overseeing the work of the director of the Johnson City Schools. Please describe your expectations of his performance and his relationship with the Board.

Greenlee: The school director and the board should work together on establishing policy and procedures for the school system and work to implement them.

Hager: Superintendent to serve as CEO of a multi-million dollar budget. Expect the superintendent to hire the best-qualified people to work in the various capacity. The lines of communication and discussion between the superintendent and school board members should be open at all times for the best decision making.

Hall: Our board has an excellent relationship with our superintendent, Dr. Barnett. We expect him to put students first and work with his staff and our board to achieve excellence. He does both of those things.

M. Treece: I expect our director of schools to take into consideration the concerns of the faculty and staff, the students and their families/guardians and community stakeholders when making decisions that impact Johnson City Schools. As a board member, I hope to be a liaison between those groups.

Williams: I know Steve Barnett well, and I have observed his performance and his interactions with our School Board over the past several months. Dr. Barnett is an excellent superintendent with excellent communication and leadership skills, and we are blessed to have him at our helm.

Please state your position regarding extracurricular activities.

Greenlee: There should be more after school programs and tutoring classes and more parent involvement.

Hager: It’s a vital component of receiving a well-rounded education and all students should be welcomed to participate.

Hall: Extracurricular activities are an important part of student engagement and success. There needs to be a wide variety of opportunities for all students and we need to remove any barriers to participation that exist.

M. Treece: I think extracurricular activities enhance character and should be available to all students, including those who may have before or after school transportation concerns. I would like to see our system play a larger role in ensuring all students who want to participate are able.

Williams: I feel extracurricular activities, and the life lessons that these teach our children, are as equally important as what our students are learning in the classroom. Activities that not only include athletics, but also academic clubs, student government associates, service clubs, and the arts, like dance, theater and music.

What’s your perspective on ensuring the safety of our students and teachers?

Greenlee: A Safety Board should be mandatory within the schools to set safety rules to be followed in case of emergencies, and there should be one or more individuals whose responsibility would be to set the plans in motion if ever needed. There should be safety drills at least once per month.

Hager: Safety is a very high priority. Our current HEROES program, I feel, helps greatly by providing safety and other valuable resource personnel. Cooperation between the school system, police department, juvenile court and Frontier Health is vitally important and must continue system-wide.

Hall: In my 13 years on the board, I have seen safety become an increasingly important issue. We need to constantly evaluate our facilities, SRO coverage, mental health programs and security equipment. Johnson City is a leader in these areas.

M. Treece: Teachers and staff are hired to educate. SROs and other public law officers are hired to protect as they deem necessary. I think all students and school staff should be regularly informed and trained on appropriate emergency procedures and allow officers to do their job.

Williams: The safety of our students and our teachers should be our utmost concern. Each school should have its own School Resource Officer (SRO), and safety should be our highest priority.

What will you do to continue the collaboration between the Chamber and the Board?

Greenlee: There should be open and honest dialogue and transparency between the two boards. Quarterly or monthly meetings should be held with open discussion on current projects and/or problems.

Hager: We will continue to work through our media/communication specialist to promote the good work being done in the Johnson City Schools and provide stories that spread the news about the great place we call home.

Hall: I enjoy being an active part of the Chamber’s Workforce Education Industrial Council. I hope to continue to be a catalyst for cooperation and communication between area employers, the chamber and the school system.

M. Treece: I plan to reach out to chamber members for productive conversation to support our community. Our youth need stronger ties to their community beyond our schools. Collaborating with the chamber could provide a platform for connecting our youth to volunteer and future employment opportunities here in Johnson City.

Williams: A good collaboration begins with communication, and we will ensure that the Board of Education and the chamber are communicating frequently.

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