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Knox County 'teacher revolt' talks postponed for one week

Gerald Witt, The Knoxville News-Sentinel • Dec 15, 2015 at 2:14 PM

KNOXVILLE (MCT) – Look for Knox County teachers to speak out on school system policies, Superintendent Jim McIntyre and other issues Monday at Knox County Commission's next meeting, according to Commissioner Tony Norman.

Norman, a retired Knox County Schools teacher himself, had sought discussion during Tuesday's Commission work session to talk about ongoing teacher unhappiness about education reforms and Knox County Schools leadership -- what he termed "teacher revolt" – but he chose to postpone the subject until the body's next formal meeting.

"I want them to experience it live," Norman said of commission hearing from teachers, "not because of what (teachers) say but what they feel."

In October, teacher Lauren Hopson told the county school board she was "tired" of continual testing, new school standards and other concerns. Her comments struck a nerve. A video of her remarks – not her first to the board -- has received more than 100,000 views on YouTube.com.

Teachers showing solidarity and expressing objections to school policies have proliferated at school board meetings, many wearing red.

Educators have not spoken out en masse at a County Commission meeting yet. The elected body's power over school matters is somewhat limited, though.

Commission approves the county's budget and sets the local funding that schools receive under a budget proposed by Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett. But Commission cannot direct how schools operate.

And commissioners do not agree on whether they are the right sounding board for teacher complaints.

Commissioner Sam McKenzie said that a "teacher revolt" item on the work session agenda and a News Sentinel story caught his attention.

"What would you consider a teacher revolt?" he said to Norman.

On Tuesday he asked what issues should come to Commission for discussion and took issue with using the word "revolt."

"I'm sick of the county being in inflammatory headlines," he said, adding that he sympathized with teacher concerns.

McKenzie, also a member of a joint county-school board education committee, said it's too early for Commission to talk about teacher angst.

"It's multipronged," he said. "Common Core, state evaluations, all of these things are layered."

He added that some teacher concerns aren't clear, and he was unsure whether the issues are local, state or national problems to answer.

"And I really don't know what they're angry about," he said. "It's not ready for prime time."

Other commissioners supported having the discussion. Norman said he would like for teachers to attend the meeting, and that Tuesday's work session was too close to Tuesday's school board meeting.

The retired high school teacher said he wants to revisit commission's ability to talk about consent items, a response to a December vote on McIntyre's contract extension by the school board and commission. The extension received no discussion before the county's governing body.

Commissioner Mike Brown has been critical of McIntyre and the schools and supported bringing the discussion to commission.

"A lot of the time we discuss items that, while we might not be able to have control over them, we bring out facts that the public may need to know about," Brown said.

Commissioner Richard Briggs agreed that commission should provide a venue for frustration, even if it has little control over the matter.

"It's important to let them vent and important to let us know," he said.

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