Debate Goes On About Whether To Fund SEAD Coaches For County Schools

  • Friday, March 17, 2023
  • Hannah Campbell

After months of talk about adding social, emotional and academic development (SEAD) coaches to each Hamilton County school, teachers, parents, the school board and the administration can’t agree on the role or effectiveness of SEAD coaches and whether to fund them in the new budget, which is set to be approved in April.

SEAD coach administrators and the coaches themselves are part of the Hamilton County Department of Education’s new strategic plan, Opportunity 2030, which outlines a new, “student-based" staffing model.

Advocates for the new position each presented different definitions of a SEAD coach at the Thursday night board meeting. Teachers want relief from heavy discipline so they can focus on classroom instruction, parents want a counselor for their children who need daily support for anxiety, board member Karitsa Jones wants the tough-love parent she had as a child, and board member Ben Connor wants the friendly, rock-solid swim coach he had as a child.

“This year I’m not enough,” Hixson High School math teacher Susan McCain told the board. Ms. McCain said she has met and exceeded academic standards and benchmarks, but “I am not prepared to help my students in the ways that they need,” she said.

Ms. Jones told the board that students themselves are telling her they need another advocate at school, as part of a recent county-wide study.

“We have to think about what the children are saying they need,” she said.

School board member Rhonda Thurman said SEAD coaches won’t help with discipline.

“What’s the point of getting one more person to do something that isn’t working?” she asked, citing the hiring of more and more assistant principals during her long tenure on the school board, without discipline results, she said.

Behavior that disrupts the class will never go away, said board member Dr. Joe Wingate. “It’s all over the country. It’s just not getting better,” he said. Dr. Wingate wants SEAD coaches to relocate class disruptions as they happen and allow teachers to teach.

Acting school board chairman Joe Smith said that schools “can’t legislate morality,” and repeated that he doesn’t think every school or every student needs a SEAD coach.

Tonya Dodd, chairwoman of the local chapter of Moms for Liberty, said SEAD coaches are Marxist activism posing as academics. The coaches are not required to have licenses or certifications but will serve as unlicensed social workers, unlicensed counselors and unlicensed psychologists, she said.

“It’s not the state’s place to character-develop the child,” said Ms. Dodd, and that “consciousness-raising” is not education.

“We can allow it to drift into our curriculum,” warned school board member Larry Grohn. “I have a lot of issues with this.” Every education system has a moral goal, he said. What is the moral goal of SEAD coaches if they are aligned with “social and emotional learning (SEL)?” he asked.

Superintendent Dr. Justin Robertson asked the members of the board to compare the SEL framework wheel with the portrait of a graduate wheel in Opportunity 2030.

“It’s hard to argue with people’s hierarchy of needs,” he said, and that schools cannot ignore what a child needs to be ready to learn.

“If that’s what the board wants, you’ve got the wrong people doing this work,” he said.

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