Roy Exum: It’s Time For Talking

Thursday, November 30, 2017 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

There is a coffee shop atop Signal Mountain called the May Fly and most mornings you can hardly find a seat. It is a friendly, cozy place and filled with nice people – all kindly neighbors. The “best dish,” if you care to call it that, is “conversation” if it is served warm. This is a fact: Get any group of people to share a cup of coffee together and something good will come from it. Good things make people happy. And what’s been true for years is that once neighbors get to know and respect one another, no fences will ever be built between houses.

But what is puzzling to me is why Bryan Johnson, trying hard to become the best superintendent of the Hamilton County Department of Education ever, hasn’t carved 45 minutes of a given day to sit down over a good cup of coffee with Town Mayor Chris Howley? Man, if you ain’t talking about where you want to go I’ll guarantee you’ll never get there.

I’m saying Dr. Johnson, who once played linebacker at Austin Peay, and Mayor Howley, at one time the only white guy on Georgetown’s basketball team, will evermore delight in one another but every time Howley has tried, the “Super” has tried to bring his lawyer and his school board representative. Lawyers and the School Board ain’t real popular on Walden's Ridge right now but, please, if two men can’t have a “good faith” conversation it’s time for one to change churches.

Try this silly --The HCDE’s biggest barb on Signal Mountain is that nobody will do a thing about the stupidity of starting class at the high school at 7:20 in the morning. That’s ridiculous, as we all know. Bryan and Chris together could solve that one in less time that it takes for coffee to cool.

If I was the “Super” I’d ask Chris what time he’d like for school to start. Then I would tell him effective January 1, we’ll make it happen. I then would go back to the central office, call in the heavy lifters and order them to do whatever it might take. Brother, that’s a quick fix to a daily headache hundreds of people face every day. This ain’t rocket science.

There is an easy solution if someone – just one person who cares – will seek it out. But because of consistently ignored complaints, the HCDE wonders why Signal Mountain folks stay every bit as unhappy as some 17-year-old getting pulled out of bed by his screaming mother at 5-flipping-30 on a rainy morning! “Mama, you turn loose of my leg!”

I learned long ago you can accomplish more in a friendly game on the golf course or sitting beside somebody at a football game than you ever will in some sterile, cold lawyer’s office where a tape recorder is on the table. Our president plays a lot of golf and, when the media bashes him for it, that’s because the poor wags don’t understand “the bigger game.” Trust me, Johnson and Howley should be the only ones at the table and neither should worry about been quoted by the other.

At the table across the room – where they can’t eavesdrop on the Mayor and the ‘Super,’ -- I suggest two members of the group play pass-the-sugar with the mountain’s Feasibility Committee chairman, Dr. John Friedl, and another guy -- Eric Witherspoon, who just started a new “pro split” website,

Both websites are splendid but you know what would make both better? If each side would simply talk to each other. Conversation is the freshest way we eliminate “false news.” I read both but when they both have what’s best for the mountain’s children in common, why is it knowledge and understanding suddenly need a bridge?

What is happening in the total community, where houses have been a realtor's dream since the new high school was built, is the key players aren’t talking. When this happens, there aren’t enough dunce hats to pass around. The goal of every single soul in the big picture is identical, or so each claims. “Our children must aspire to be the best and we’ve got to give each whatever it takes to get there.”

There are only two things a parent can give a child – a good name and a good education. So why hasn’t some smart person from “Stay with HCDE” asked Dr. Fredl – the former Vice Chancellor at UTC who has dedicated his entire life to education – to explain why, with all of Signal Mountain’s immense brain trust, our test scores aren’t better?

When you look at Dr. Friedl’s eyes, and see the excitement that his blue-chip committee has unearthed, he will tell you the wheres and whys of any question you can ask. As anybody at the golf course will tell you, he would be disappointed if he didn’t have the opportunity to make his “newest best friend” because you are too timid to ask.

The three biggest questions that must be answered in both the “Stay” and “Leave” camps are making sure every child will be better off, who will supply the school buildings, and how can whatever happens be sustainable. None of those will ever be suitably addressed unless the good and noble people of Signal Mountain talk to each other as the longtime friends they most certainly are.

Scott Bennett is a gifted attorney and has done a marvelous job for the Department of Education and the School Board. People must realize he represents his clients. Yet he also lives on Signal Mountain and, if you want to watch him cry, just ask him what the Signal Mountain schools have meant to his family. It seems to me anybody in the entire process would be well-served to have a totally-off-the-record cup with a neighbor so knowledgeable.

The big news, that 600 houses to be built near Boston Branch will bring 1,200 more children into the community, will have quite an effect on education. My thinking is that a separate middle school is one answer, freeing more high school classrooms, but both of the elementary schools will be swamped, too.

I know that when the high school was being built a healthy number of families moved to Signal Mountain. If a new school district is formed that promises a better standard, you’ll have a lot of parents who’ll want the new and improved model. Houses will sell. And I’m thinking some on the mountain will bring their children back from private education.

Again, it’s a win-win situation when you talk about it.



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