Monday, September 15, 2014

Burchett v McIntyre: One more look

McIntyre, left, Burchett, right
Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett stopped just short of saying the school board should fire Superintendent Jim McIntyre.

But, he said McIntyre needs to go.

WBIR reporter Jim Matheny and I wrote those lines after watching last Wednesday’s taping of the 10News weekend political show Inside Tennessee.

We then reached out to McIntyre to get his comment.

Now, the interview with Burchett was actually geared around his plans for the next four years, but it got off track. A little bit. Heh.

Anyhoo, we felt that McIntyre should have the chance to respond. It wouldn’t have been fair to air the Sunday show and at least not make him aware.

So he did.

I’ve transcribed a lot of what the mayor said and parts of what McIntyre said. (The superintendent repeated himself quite a bit, so I didn’t capture as much.)

You can read the original story that also includes the TV version and McIntyre’s complete interview RIGHT SMACK HERE.

In addition, the Inside Tennessee show is below.

Here’s some of the key quotes from Inside Tennessee Mayor Burchett:

  • “I think what you have to realize is that the superintendent – he is a staff person. 
  • “He’s not supposed to have control of the school board, which he does. He works for the school board, yet he tells the school board what to do.” 
  • “He uses the Sunshine laws to his advantage.” (He’s referring to executive committee meetings.) 
  • “When in this world did it ever become popular for either political party to beat up on school teachers? To me that is just nonsense and that seems to be what we’re seeing out there in the public."
  • “And you have school board members limiting the conversation when you have the open mic (referring to the BOE public forum section). “And you have a school board member (Karen Carson) saying that if you work for the school system then you need to go through your supervisor to discuss with them and they need to OK what you say. If that was on County Commission, I would run down to the mic and I would demand that person’s apology in public. Because First Amendment is something we should all hold sacred. But since it’s the school system . . . they’re allowed to do that. And that is wrong.” 

(Karen Carson got in touch with me and sent the following: "I can tell you that I have never said that they needed to go thru their chain of command and get an OK before coming to the Board. I have stated on many occasions that if they have a concern I firmly believe they should work thru their chain of command--that is , start with their first line manager to try to get the concern addressed. I want a mechanism in place that deals with all employee concerns, quickly, appropriately and adequately. I see public forum as the avenue to get things addressed when the manager won't or can't address the concern--both for teachers/staff and parents/students.")

Burchett was then asked what he would like to see happen:

“I would like the school board take their proper role and take control of the school system.”

This then followed:

Don Bosch: “Do you think Jim McIntyre should be gone?”

Burchett: “Yes, I do. Yes, I do.”

John Becker: “And why do you say that?”

Burchett: “Because his style of leadership. I don’t like, I don’t like talking to teachers who are afraid for their own jobs because they’re speaking out. I welcome that in county government. I don’t like hearing from professionals that testify before school board about kids crying on Friday mornings. Yeah, I cried on Friday mornings because I didn’t want to go to school – not because I had to take some ludicrous test. They’re just continuously testing, they’re mining our kids for information. You know, our children should not be a decimal point on some big shot from Wall Street’s portfolio. We should hold them very close and sacred and we’re not. And I’m afraid that it’s out of control. I’m afraid we’ve let the foxes in the hen house.”

Burchett says he supports electing a superintendent and is also against term limits in general.

He then blasts the superintendent’s salary of $222,000, plus all sorts of awesome benefits.

“He makes more than the vice president of the United States. It’s out of control.”

He’s asked by Mike Cohen how often he “meets with somebody from the schools.”

Burchett: “I meet with somebody from the school every week because it’s usually a disgruntled teacher or parent. It’s every week. When they can’t get in to see him, I get the call, and I get it weekly. And it’s just more and more, and more . . .”

John Becker: “How about the superintendent?”

Tim: “What about him?”

Becker: “How often do you meet with him?”

Burchett: “As little as possible. He and I don’t get along.”

Burchett then says “we met periodically.”

Burchett: "I just have a hard time with his style of leadership. I’ll be honest with you. I try to lead by example and get in there with the folks that are doing the work and find out what’s going wrong. I don’t try to micromanage.”

The mayor goes on for awhile and even suggests that the school system misused the $3 million that he funneled through the Great Schools Partnership as a grant. The plan was to start a pilot reading program, as I recall, for third graders.

The mayor suggests that it is not a pilot program but rather the money is used throughout the school system and that he can't get a straight answer from the superintendent. He says that it's possible that he will pull the funding next year.

McIntyre responds

Here's some key quotes from the superintendent's interview:

  • "Over the years, I’ve really tried to reach out to eh mayor and collaborate with him on some educational issues I thought were of some mutual concern and benefit."
  • "It is a bit surprising (the mayor’s remarks). I honestly don’t understand why the mayor seems to feel the need to constantly pick a fight with me and engage in this kind of rhetoric. It’s unfortunate. It’s disheartening."
  • "But, the reality is I don’t work for the mayor. I work for the school board and for the families and children of this community and I’m going to continue to work hard to make sure that we provide a truly outstanding education for our children and prepare them for a bright and successful future. That’s my job and that’s what we’ve done and that’s what I will continue to do."
McIntyre is asked about the mayor's suggestions that he micromanages and doesn't build good relationships with the teachers.

He doesn't answer the question. Instead he says things like:

  • "Our teachers are doing a fabulous job of educating our kids."
  • "I feel like we’re moving in a really positive direction."
  • "We’re really making strong academic progress in Knox County schools” and today’s education is “vastly superior” to what the county provided to students five years ago.
He later says: "I work for the board of education. I work for the families and children of this community. My intention is to continue to do that work. To do the important work of educating kids in our community. To lead this effort where we have truly extraordinary educators doing a great job, preparing our kids for the future. That’s my job. That’s really my mission, my calling in  life. That’s what I’m here to do."

The superintendent also acknowledges at some point that he talks in paragraphs.

Finally, he ends his interview, talking about the accusations that he controls the school board:

“That’s ridiculous. I am an employee of the school board . . . I work for them. People sometimes mistake that (because) there’s not acrimony between the superintendent and the school board that they’re some sort of rubberstamp. They’re not. The reason there hasn’t been acrimony is because I take the vision of the school board. I take the strategic plan of the school board and I implement it. That’s my job. They developed the vision, they developed the policies in order to support that vision and I carry them out . . . ."

Again, check out the interviews. They're both pretty engaging.

But, remember at the end of the day, the teachers are still teaching and the students are still learning.

None of this really matters.



Jennifer Owen said...

" the end of the day, the teachers are still teaching and the students are still learning."

"None of this really matters."

I disagree.

When teachers are forced to spend more time on test prep than real learning, it matters.

When teachers spend the drive to and from school in tears, nearly every day, it matters.

When teachers see harm being brought to children, through inappropriate testing and other poor practices, and are told not to talk about it, it matters.

The person at the helm determines a great deal of the attitude throughout the district - whether it be one of collaboration or closed doors. That attitude flows from Central Office, through administrative offices, and on into classrooms throughout the county.

The emotional well-being of our students and staff matters.

Mike Donila said...

I think you misinterpreted what I meant. At the end of the day, the mayor and superintendent can crap all over each other. It's not going to make a difference. The old "action speaks louder than words" cliche kicks in.

Jennifer Owen said...

I agree, that "action speaks louder than words." I also agree that pushing back and forth for power is pointless. While their power play is going on, teachers and students are *not* getting to do what needs to be done in the classroom.

As long as people see this as only a pissing contest, nothing will change. Though this tug of war has gone on for years, this time, the mayor isn't alone in his feelings. I recently spent a day talking with community members about our school district and I didn't find a single person who had anything kind to say about KCS leadership. I spoke with a mother who had to take her SECOND grader to therapy - due to testing, a grandmother who is trying to work out homeschooling her upcoming kindergartener, and the stories go on and on.

The community is angry. If the Mayor can show people a way out of this mess, they are ready to follow.