Board of Education candidates answer questions on diversity in staff and students

Becky Campbell • Oct 28, 2018 at 6:59 PM

A forum last week allowed six Johnson City Board of Education candidates to address questions from the public in hopes of positioning themselves for election or re-election.

Here are answers to a couple of those questions:  

What are your ideas for the recruitment and retention of a more diverse faculty and staff to better represent our diverse student population?

Tom Hager: ”This is a question that has been asked for several years. What we tried to do through our personnel office is to recruit (from) colleges. In the past we’ve even sent the human resources person out to colleges to try to reach diverse population, and we would continue to do that. One of the problems we have her in Johnson City is our students leave and for some reason they want to stay wherever it is they go off to school. So some way or another we need to try to convince those people to come back and work for us.”

Kathy Hall: ”This is something we, as a system, have been working on or quite some time, but I think there are more conversations to be had. I know that our human resources is always looking to recruit qualified candidates. it is important that our faculty reflect the look of our students. I’d like to continue conversations with the community, continue conversations with colleges about how we recruit and retain the best teachers and how we make sure that our workforce is diverse.”

Robert Williams: “Tom’s comment about losing our students to other areas … it’s called the “Brain Train.” That is something that’s a big concern for me and for other business leaders and leaders in our community. As far as trying to find more diverse faculty, I completely agree with that. Diversity is important, It’s important to hear everybody’s different opinion because they differ from ours, and it’s important to be in a room and hear other people’s ideas how we need to approach different ways. I’m not sure exactly how we do that but I’m in support of trying to find the best faculty we can and the most diverse faculty we can.”

Michelle Treece: “One of the reason’s I’m running for school board is we have very few people of color, people of different abilities in our City Commission, our school board and it trickles down into the system. I’ve been in conversation with folks at ETSU and they’re having the same problem. What I would like to see is some type of a coalition of people from the city level, Johnson City Schools, ETSU, to create an atmosphere where Johnson City becomes a place where people of color and different abilities want to come and live here.

“If you can’t see people who look like you in a particular area, you’re probably not going to want to go there. And once you get there, if there aren’t things in place to keep you there, you’re probably not going to stay. So I think we need to start as a group, not just school board but Johnson City proper and ETSU to come with a way to make Johnson City an attractive place to people of color, of all different faiths, groups to want to come here and stay. As far as kids graduating and going different places, again, they’re going places that are obviously more attractive than here, and so we need to make this place more attractive.

“That’s just one of the thoughts I’ve had about diversity in Johnson City schools. I think we have a lot of elementary, middle school and high schools kids who would make great teachers, and I would love to capture those kids in fourth, fifth grade and let them know ‘you would make a great teacher in Johnson City schools’ and I’d like to follow them all the way to the end and encourage them.”

Paula Treece: ”We need to work not just with he school board, we need to work with the city, we need to work with ETSU and probably even go out farther to work with Milligan and some of the smaller colleges that are in our area to bring people into Johnson City. Looking at colleges with my daughter who graduated last year, that’s what other systems are doing and that’s what other cities are doing. They’re working together to bring people into their city because they know if they bring them there through college ... there’s a really chance that they’ll stay in that city. So it has to be a community effort to bring the diversity into our city.”

Herb Greenlee: ”Yes, I think we need diversity. Back in the 1960s when we integrated Johnson City Schools, we had teachers come from the different elementary, middle and high schools that went into the school system. As they grew older and retired we did not replace them. That’s how we don’t have as many black teachers or Latino or whatever in the school system. Because we did not recruit those in a proper way and make them feel comfortable that they belong and they need to be in our system to teach our kids.

“We have a lot of different groups of kids in our system that come ... where people come to be educated at ETSU or whatever. We need to recruit those people for our kids, and I see that everyday. Kids do not identify with a lot of people.”

What resources should be available in the Johnson City School System to provide support for LGBTQ, and other at-risk students?

Robert Williams: ”I don’t think we need to discriminate to any student regardless of their beliefs. They’re students in our system and they need to be educated, so whatever programs we have, we need to offer them to every student that we have through our system. We also have a very strong at-risk program that I know we’ve given a lot of attention to over the past year, the new Topper Academy that we renamed. It’s been given a lot of attention and I’m very proud of the work the school board and our administrators and our teachers and other staff have done to make that a top-notch program in our system.”

Kathy Hall: ”We do a lot of talking and put a lot of resources toward at-risk students as it is, and populations are identified all the time. On the state level there’s a lot of conversations going on about LGBTQ students, an I think what we need to listen to students more. My experience has been that adults have a lot more issues around these topics than the kids, so I’d really like to get students involved in how we best serve populations we are not serving well, perhaps. Perhaps we are, but I’d like to hear from students on that. I think we have some great at-risk programs in place. Our HEROES program has been, our mental health program has been a very successful program. Our Topper Academy is reaching out to students that may have fallen through the cracks in the past, and we just need to be innovative and continue on those paths.”

Tom Hager: “There have been several instances when this issue came up in our schools, and our school people, in my opinion, have handled this the way this should be handled. Several years back, as Ms. Hall said, we started a program called the HEROES program. It’s a program that works with at-risk and the diversified population throughout our school system. They offer support, counseling, guidance and they also work with the police department, mental health, Juvenile Court, so I think we’re on the forefront of this issue and we just need to keep following through with what we’re doing.”

Michelle Treece: “I think one of the first things we need to recognize is, with the LGBTQ community, is that those students and staff are in our system; I think the acronym LGBTQ has become equivalent to the word black 20 years ago when it was whispered, ‘Hey, look, there’s that black person.’ 

“Well, black people know they’re black and LGBTQ people know that they’re LGBTQ, so say the word. I think those students need to be embraced first. I think that they need to be welcomed into the community. They should not be thought of as a little small pocket of kids that are over there. There are lots of things going to be coming down the pike with LGBTQ students, and staff, and  we should be in front of the ball on that; we should be already taking action to welcome that community. I think ... when LGBTQ students become at-risk, it’s not because of family issue and things like that, it’s because of not being accepted. Maybe they’re not accepted by their family, maybe they’re not accepted by students who are sitting next to them in class, or their teachers.

“I would love to see every teacher in every elementary school have a sticker on their door say ‘this is a safe zone.’ That is the number one thing kids need to see on the door that says, ‘That teacher appreciates me as I am.’ Those students and staff are here.”

Paula Treece: “Our HEROES program is phenomenal. They work with Frontier Health if kids are at-risk and need counseling. But I’ve watched my kids go through the school system and their friends who are LGBTQ, and I’ve watched them embrace them and I’ve watched people who have not embraced them. I think we need to get all of our kids ready to embrace. We don’t want any of our kids to be bullied for any reason. We need them to have a spot at the table. We don’t need to section them out for whatever reason. And I think working together and asking them is a great way to work that into our system.”

Herb Greenlee: ”I think they need to be motivated to do things, especially with our after-school programs. We’ve got Coalition 4 Kids, Rise Up and all these different programs, the HEROES program and all that. But those LGBTQ people are in line with everybody else. They want to be known...when we shy away from them and bullying starts to take place that’s where we have a problem in our community. We need to embrace them and let them know that they’re welcome. It doesn’t matter where you come from, everybody’s welcome in our community.”



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