The full June 15, 2017 school board meeting was recorded – watch the video here

Working Session

The board met before the regular meeting for a working session to discuss the finalist candidates for the superintendent position. Chairman Highlander announced that candidate Dr. Wayne Johnson had withdrawn his candidacy that day.

Board member Tiffanie Robinson explained that she had lunch with each candidate and got to know them one-on-one and have more in-depth conversations than those who spoke with the candidates in group settings. She complimented the search and selection process and said she was excited about the vote.

Board member Karitsa Jones said she found the process difficult and complicated. She had previously advocated for structure in the process and stated that she felt it didn’t occur. She spoke about a meeting that she and Robinson held in their districts to get constituent feedback on the candidates and relayed that she heard a lot of support for Dr. Bryan Johnson and Dr. Kirk Kelly. She then highlighted that she wants to ensure decisions are made based on the best interests of the district’s children rather than “outside forces.” 

Board member Joe Galloway relayed a devotion regarding diligence, then stated that he believes the board had been diligent in the selection process.

Board member Joe Smith said he is at total peace with the process and argued the board needs to be 100% behind whichever candidate is selected. He said he backs Dr. Kelly because he heard from many teachers and principals that he would be their choice. He added that Dr. Kelly’s biggest obstacle has been lack of sufficient time in the interim position to show definitive results.

Board member Joe Wingate read a Proverb stating that hard work brings a profit. He felt it was relevant because the board had put in hard work during the selection process, and said the board would go to work no matter the outcome of the vote. 

Board member David Testerman observed that the process created a lot of pain, as well as a lot of growth. He believes that the board emerged from the process a different board than they were a few months prior. 

County Mayor Jim Coppinger then thanked the board for performing their due diligence in the process. He stated his confidence that the board would make the right decision. He acknowledged the following elected officials for their presence at the meeting: Commissioner Chester Bankston, Commissioner Randy Fairbanks, Commissioner Sabrina Smedley, Commissioner Warren Mackey, Senator Todd Gardenhire, and Councilman Darrin Ledford.

The board then took a break prior to the regular session.

Regular session

The regular session began with a roll call and the vote to select the permanent superintendent. Dr. Bryan Johnson won with a 5-4 vote.

The board members voted as follows:
Dr. Kirk Kelly votes: Galloway, Lennon, Jones, Testerman 
Dr. Bryan Johnson votes: Highlander, Thurman, Wingate, Robinson, Smith 

A motion was made, seconded, and unanimously approved to confirm the selection of Johnson as superintendent. Discussion regarding contract negotiation followed.

Board attorney Scott Bennett then asked for clarification on what term the board wanted him to pursue in Johnson’s contract negotiation. There is a maximum contract period of four years by law. Thurman requested a two-year contract, or if a four-year contract were pursued, she suggested that it have no buy-out clause. Wingate stated that a  two-year contract does not show a lot of faith in their decision.

Robinson opposed a four-year contract term and made a motion to vote for a three-year term. Testerman stated that Johnson may turn down the offer without a four-year contract and considered it foolish not to offer the maximum term. The board voted down the proposed three-year term, then subsequently unanimously voted in favor of a four-year contract term.

Chairman Highlander reviewed agenda changes, which were unanimously approved.

Greg Bagby, principal at Barger Academy, led a meditation and the Pledge of Allegiance.


Dan Linert of the Hamilton County Educators Association thanked the board for their due diligence in selecting Johnson. He spoke on the topic of a memorandum of understanding that was created in collaboration with the board that is funded in the balanced budget sent to the county. He requested that the board approve the memorandum per their agreement to three terms:

  • Increase in teacher salaries of 3 %
  • Bonus in November of $250 per teacher
  • Teachers and educators will be paid $15 / hour for professional development

Michael McAmish spoke on behalf of a group of concerned Signal Mountain residents who live outside town and in unincorporated areas. He stated that the group has been monitoring the viability committee currently investigating breaking away Signal Mountain schools into a separate school district and observed that momentum seems to be building toward validating a break away. Two viability committee members went to Memphis to meet with leaders of school systems that had previously broken away from the county school system there, and McAmish says they have honed the direction of the committee as a result. He expects they will soon prepare a proposal and said it’s possible the issue will go to a vote. He stated that he is part of the opposition to this movement.

He shared a bumper sticker that the opposition group has created and will be distributing that states, “Community is bigger than a mountain.” He pointed out that residents who live in unincorporated areas of Signal Mountain would not have an opportunity to vote if a referendum is held in the municipality of Signal Mountain. The opposition group wants to work with the board in partnership and collaboration to benefit from their expertise. He concluded by requesting a sit-down meeting with the board soon.

Signal Mountain resident Debbie Poss spoke next and asked the board to address what would happen regarding ownership of buildings and property if the Signal Mountain schools left the Hamilton County school district. 

Approval of minutes & agenda

Chairman Highlander moved to approve minutes from May 18 and May 25 meetings and approve the consent agenda. Thurman moved to pull agenda items B1a, C1T, and Ai, which received a unanimous yes vote.

School operations

Thurman stated that she would not approve a field trip to Panama scheduled for this summer and would not vote for any more trips that go that far from home. The field trips on the agenda were approved, with Thurman and Testerman voting no.

Business and finance

Thurman spoke about an EBS consulting contract totaling $128,000 a year.  EBS is used through insurance claims, school injuries or fires. She asked what the relationship is between EBS and Collins and Company and was told there is none. Collins and Company is a vendor. The EBS contract was then approved by the board.

Thurman then asked how many students graduate from the diploma completion program, pointing out that the director makes $100,000 per year. She also asked what kind of responsibility the director has. An employee from a related program, Renee, was called from the audience, who stated that they have served 96 students last school year, and 85 of those completed their diploma. She stated that the diploma completion program is necessary in addition to the adult high school because some students do not have transportation to get to the physical school in Ooltewah, and this program is available online. 

Thurman argued that there shouldn’t be duplicate services, and said the board has talked about creating an adult high school downtown. Renee responded that the diploma completion program is a less expensive option than opening another adult high schools.

Chairman Highlander motioned to vote on approval of money for services discussed.

Campus support

Dr. Lee McDade spoke on a first reading of policy change for community use of school facilities. Robinson asked if this policy would support community schools and McDade confirmed.


McDade then requested and received approval of the memorandum of understanding between HCDE and the Hamilton County Educators Association.


Thurman objected to a policy she found discriminatory because not every school would offer free lunch. She said that every child and every school should have the same opportunity to free meals. 

Robinson stated she held a forum with her constituents to talk about the state’s proposed takeover plan for failing schools in her district. She proposed a committee or working group be formed to explore the state’s proposal in more depth. She said the forum opened her eyes to other possibilities and ways to bring community into the process. She said she spoke with Representative Todd Gardenhire about the potential state takeover, because the move is currently not legal. The state department of education would have to pursue a change to legislation to make the state takeover legally viable. That change would have to go through Gardenhire’s education committee.

Lennon thanked the delegation from Signal Mountain for attending. She pointed out the meetings happening on Signal Mountain every week on the topic of the potential breakaway. She then asked board attorney Scott Bennett what would happen to buildings and property in the event of a breakaway.

Bennet said that the schools belong to the Hamilton County board of education. Signal Mountain would not just get the buildings. State law says that the title is vested in the county board of education. The general assembly spelled out that municipalities could buy, sell or lease school building (but not take them).

The contract between the town of Signal Mountain and the school board agreed the board would own the facilities for the duration of their life. The town of Signal Mountain committed in the contract that Signal Mountain Middle High School is owned by Hamilton County. Lennon stated that since the board owns the schools, she does not want to sell them.

Thurman asked if the Signal Mountain school buildings were paid for. Attorney Scott Bennett said that the county issued bonds to pay for the schools, so one cannot say there is a note like a deed on a house house. It is his understanding that there are still bonds issued, so legally they cannot transfer ownership.

Lennon reminded the audience that there are meetings regarding the potential district breakaway the first and third Wednesday of every month at 7 p.m. at Signal Mtn. Town Hall.  

School start times were next discussed. Changing to a two-tier start time would cost more money than the current three-tier start time to operate. Since the schedule is already tight, there would be increased expenses in the transportation budget to make this change.

Thurman then asked about bus contracts and suggested a work session and committee to evaluate bus contracts to present an alternative contract to the board for its approval. Dr. McDade agreed he would work with the committee on revising the contract. Wingate, Thurman, Highlander, Robinson, and Lennon volunteered to sit on the committee. A work session will be announced one week prior to meeting.