Roy Exum: Discipline Out Of Control

Monday, September 30, 2019 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

One week ago, when the report that six teachers at Tyner had abruptly quit during as many weeks in a new year, it triggered what would be an avalanche of dissatisfaction and despair within the Hamilton County Department of Education. Other teachers quickly revealed a blatant lack of discipline and a glaring disregard by leadership is rampant in the 43,000-student public education district. Almost overlooked was a brief news item in Chattanoogan.com last Monday that Dr. Rodney Knox, a highly-respected educator and principal at the county’s Washington Alternative School, had also abruptly quit. 

A spokesman for the county’s Department of Education was quick to say Dr.

Knox “did not resign … He retired.” But over the weekend another longtime teacher in the beleaguered system – in a scathing account of the HCDE – asserted the 30-year-veteran who had done an admirable job as principal of the special school for the most disruptive students for the past 11 years, left almost immediately when he got “no support” from School Superintendent Bryan Johnson. The heavy criticism, as you will see in the letter that follows, includes Johnson’s now-questionable staff and – in essence – the nine-member School Board that is said to have allowed unquestionable pandemonium to occur as the superintendent is beginning his third year.

This letter, written by a teacher who has taught in the county system for over 20 years, is followed by the excerpts of several emails from teachers and staff at other schools:

* * *

DR. KNOX LEFT ‘BECAUSE THERE WAS NO SUPPORT’

The pressure on teachers is immeasurable this year.  Our new Code of Acceptable Behavior calls for multiple other steps before suspension and even then it is 1-2 days.  If a student is cursing, shoving others, tearing up restrooms (which are gross at best), calling girls (excuse this language from me) f***ing b****h a****, hoes, or telling kids I f***ed your mother last night, overall disruptive behavior -- our administrators lack the authority to do what is really needed -- suspension is not used except on extremes.  By the time any serious consequences begin, the students know they are in charge. Disrespect of adults is rampant. Meeting with parents is not much better if you are lucky enough to find a working number or any real information in Powerschool (our online program with student information and grades).  

Parents don't want to be bothered, which is one reason the students are bad.  Those kids who have parents, grandmothers, anyone who plays an active role in their education, are the ones who suffer.  What they have to put up with is ridiculous. I have had parents come in and felt fearful of them when talking.  Their child told them "what really happened" and they aren't taking my "bull****".  They threaten to go to central office - who cares?  No one will do anything there either.

Things are out of control in many schools.  Check the powerschool account of a student who  misbehaves and you find them failing most or all of their classes - why?  Not because they can't do the work - but how would we know?  There are students who have had 20-30 assignments first quarter and they have done two.  They spend their day bullying other students or possibly adults.  The behavior is supported by the COAB restrictions.  

We have principals in place who do not have the experience needed to deal with what happens, assistant principals have no leader to follow in many schools.  It is not their fault, I fault the higher ups who hide behind the magical curtain in Oz.  They seem so powerful, but then when something happens, the weak appear.  We recently lost a 30-year veteran administrator, Dr. Knox, who had one of the toughest jobs in the district as the head of the county alternative school.  

It doesn't matter what anyone says, (Dr. Knox) left because there was no support.  

Student placement there is breaking all kinds of "laws".  There is no regard for disabilities among students, their rights are not protected, all in the name of our new discipline council headed by Bradley Jackson.  Students who do get suspended go before the group, and administrators are not always supported for their actions but there are some who are placed at the alternative school.  When Dr. Knox needed support, it was not there.  Why stay in a district that hangs you?

Bradley Jackson was a weak assistant principal at Ooltewah HS and I think before that at East Hamilton. I attended a school board meeting, which I often do, but was there to see his presentation on both the COAB and another time for athletics.  Both were terrible, made little sense, and no matter what the questions were, he answered, ‘Yes, I was looking into that.’ Looking into what? Does he even know?  To think that he has any power in our district shows us all that no one is aware of what he does.  

Check out the backgrounds of some of the new district level people - Nakia Towns Edwards was not even granted an interview when she applied for our superintendent's position along with Johnson...now he hired her as his CEO - can anyone explain why?  Another principal was demoted in her previous district due to test irregularities. She had originally come here to interview for an Ex Ed position and her interview was so bad she was not considered … but suddenly she was good enough. 

John Tharp was released from his position in Wisconsin after several closed door meetings with the board, another new administrator was given the option to resign in his former district rather than face termination, and too many have questionable resumes that are ignored.  Excellent people were forced out to make way.  How the school board can never question Johnson for hires, new positions, anything is beyond me.  He does what he wants all in the name of being the fastest improving district.

Dr. Johnson may be a wonderful family man, but as you said, Roy, TVAAS means nothing.  Schools are made out to believe they are failures due to scores.  Results are jumping up and down the scale year to year.  There should be trends in growth.  Not random jumps or fails.  As a teacher, I know that data can be whatever you choose.  It is all in how you present it.  Johnson's team is masterful in their work of smoking mirrors. It doesn't make any sense that a district with so much turmoil can rise from 72nd to 2nd in one year - it defies all odds.  

I think something is amiss in the data world. 

 Yes, I know this comes from the state, but our local benchmarks are supposed to give us an idea as to how students will do on the "real" test, TN-Ready in the spring.  The district was very concerned at the lack of progress on the quarterly tests - how then suddenly do we have record numbers of schools achieve a level 5? Move up the ladder from 72nd place to 2nd, again in ONE YEAR?  If HCDE were on Wall Street, I'd want to buy stock.

Teachers can't have raises, but millions are spent to provide Chrome books for students (which are abused, used to visit inappropriate sites, damaged beyond repair, lost accessories which parents refuse to replace, email throughout class instead of working), suddenly Sale Creek gets a football field with all the bells and whistles (although it is well deserved), new tracks going in at schools, new stadium for Howard.  

But no way to provide a raise for teachers even though mandated by the state?  We appreciate the bonuses - but what does it mean?  Let teachers teach.  Provide us with the means by which to do that.  Protect us and all students from the actions of a few who will see nothing in life other than crime.  Stop "meeting us to death to go over everything we need to do" - instead give us the time to do what we need.  Support us as we deal with the increasing negative learning environment.

The district could save a lot of money if conditions were made tolerable.  Does anyone have any idea how many teachers are seeking professional therapists, anti-anxiety meds, or other types of stress relief?  It is no joke.  Teachers are frustrated, some are depressed, angry, but most of all looking for ways to exit as soon as possible.  We are criticized on a daily basis by the public, at times our leaders, and almost daily by students and parents.  It is a dangerous toxic career now.  I for one, like so many others, am counting down the days to the time I can leave.

This has been a poorly written and probably at some points, unprofessional, email caused by my frustration and fast typing,  but the most important things are:

* -- Discipline is out of control.

* -- Administrators' hands are tied on serious consequences

* -- District level experts aren't helping consistently

* -- We beg for money, we don't get it, but rampant spending begins

* -- Lack of experience in administrators hurts those they attempt unsuccessfully to lead

* -- TVAAS is an inconsistent, inaccurate method of assessing growth

* -- Site based administrators and faculties need support and TIME to do what is needed

* -- We are on the cusp of major teacher shortages because NO ONE will do (teach) long term with the current state

* -- HCDE is a step on the experience list for Johnson's resume - he will leave, no doubt.  He is waiting on the best situation for his rising star.

* -- Build a bigger ark, we will need it, because unless there is change, we are at the beginning of the end. 

Oh, and while you are at it, watch the rapid growth in enrollment of charter and private schools.

* * *

‘DO NOT APPLY TO ANY HCDE SCHOOLS NEXT YEAR’

From one anonymous teacher to another, thank you for sharing your experience at Tyner. The same can be said for my experience at Dalewood two years ago. I asked the administrator if I could meet with him and the dean of students on classroom and schoolwide student management. I met and listened to them explain to me that I need to form positive relationships with the students. After listening to this for about 10 minutes I told them I have no problem with the majority of students – it was the small percentage that are chronically disruptive that aren’t dealt with effectively that I had a problem with. Long story short, I was asked by central office not to apply to any schools in HCDE for the next year. I wasn’t given a reason why. I had a formal complaint prepared but the union rep and I had a heart to heart conversation that convinced me the negative ramifications wouldn’t be worth going through with it so the complaint was dropped. I feel your pain and frustration. Keep up the good fight.

* * *

‘THERE HAVE BEEN QUITE A FEW TEACHERS THAT HAVE QUIT’

I ran into a parent from Middle Valley Elementary at the County Fair today. She asked if I knew her son’s teacher quit after just two weeks. I did know that he and his wife (she was at North Hamilton) both quit and went back to Mt. Juliet. They thought our planning and expectations were absurd. Plus, he had the same student that I wrote to you about with severe behavior issues. He had to hit the emergency button several times to call for help. He saw no end in sight. (That child has no business in a regular Ed classroom)

Middle Valley Elementary has lost 35+ teachers in the three years that I had been there. We were all so excited to come and open that new school and many that left were questioned by Central Office.

 The administration does not know how to run a building that size. I am surprised that so many teachers leaving does not bring more attention. Many moved to schools within our county but several went to other counties. There have been quite a few teachers that have quit since the school year started. Real reasons for teachers leaving the profession should be a topic of conversation.

* * *

‘I QUIT BRAINERD HIGH AFTER ONLY A WEEK OR SO’

Tyner is not the only school with the issues you recently wrote about. I quit Brainerd High School only a week or so into this school year. This would have been my second year teaching at Brainerd. There are many other first- and second-year teachers that want to quit but feel stuck. They are fresh out of college, under contract and afraid to lose their certification if they quit. 

I was hired to teach a very unique subject under the Future Ready Institutes initiative. The program is not the proper fit for Brained, but I was told “that’s where they put it so we have to deal with it.” Many of the students in my classes didn’t want to be in the program but they are forced into taking the class. Seniors are placed into these electives so they can get the “easy” grade and be pulled to complete core classes that the student has failed in previous years. 

The make-up work for these classes is computer-based learning and the students are usually done in a week. My question is why do we allow students who failed previous classes the opportunity to complete a semester-long class in a week on the computer? What message does this send to the other students? Is it that administration is simply trying to increase the number of graduates to make their schools look better?

royexum@aol.com

Dr. Rodney Knox
Dr. Rodney Knox

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