This week’s meeting began with an incredible pledge and meditation from CSAS students Salsabila Nurhidajet, a spoken word poet, Alaysha Harden, a visual artist, and Parth Doshi, a violinist. We congratulate those students and CSAS for a spectacular start to the school board meeting!

Jonas Barriere, UnifiEd’s Executive Director, then approached the board to introduce himself and discuss some of our recent initiatives. He began with a description of the newly released Public School Guide, that provides a one-stop-shop for information about all of Hamilton County’s public schools for parents, teachers, students, and community members.

He then addressed the board about the importance of community voice in the superintendent selection process. He presented our 4 recommendations for community involvement, crafted through input from our superintendent discussions in each district. The community said they expected:  1) public, livestreamed interviews, 2) resumes online on HCDE’s website, 3) an open forum for finalists and, 4) the creation of a community advisory council.

Three community members spoke on behalf of our recommendations and in support of increasing community input in the superintendent selection. Kirsten Johnson, a teacher at Ooltewah Middle School, spoke in support of making all interviews for superintendent candidates public and livestreamed, in addition to making candidate resumes available online. Tyner High School parent, Vanessa Jones, spoke about how she wanted to see an open forum for the community. One of UnifiEd’s Student Organizers, Kalena Rodriguez, discussed the importance of creating a community advisory council. D’Andre Anderson, the student representative on the school board, spoke in agreement with these recommendations and voiced his support of the creation of a community advisory council.

After this presentation, the board voted unanimously to approve the consent agenda. They unanimously approved the Retirement/Sick Leave, Compulsory Attendance Ages, Zero Tolerance Offences, and Wellness policies. Finally, they unanimously approved the North Hamilton County-Bakewell Utility Easement allowing test drills to find a permanent water source for the community.

The meeting ended with a long discussion on the superintendent search process. Initially, the board was going to deliberate on the search firms they interviewed Tuesday and vote on their top choice. However,  Kathy Lennon, Karitsa Mosley Jones, Tiffanie Robinson, and Joe Wingate were all in agreement about waiting to choose a firm until they had a school board retreat that included a strategic planning session. Rhonda Thurman, Dr. Greg Martin, Joe Galloway, David Testerman, and Dr. Steve Highlander felt this was unnecessary and wanted to vote for a firm that evening.

After much discussion, there was a 5-4 split vote that ended in favor of waiting to vote on a search firm until a school board retreat and strategic planning session is held. Jones, Lennon, Wingate, Robinson, and Highlander all voted in favor of this, while Thurman, Martin, Galloway, and Testerman were opposed. Highlander agreed to meet with Scott Bennett, the District Attorney, to schedule a retreat for the school board members. Bennett agreed and the meeting ended with him saying he would make suggestions for an outside facilitator for the retreat.