Give Answers At
BY O.J. EARLY
Greeneville educators, administrators and elected officials got the chance to raise questions and voice concerns Friday morning with two local legislators, taking aim at some of the major issues facing the Greeneville City School System.
State Rep. David Hawk, R-5th, of Greeneville, and state Sen. Steve Southerland, R-1st, of Morristown, joined more than 20 of Greeneville's leaders at the annual Greeneville City Schools Legislative Breakfast.
Participants discussed a wide variety of education-related issues, including school safety.
Some of the concerns at this year's session mirrored those of previous years, notably a request from Greeneville Director of Schools Dr. Linda Stroud to "remove the barriers" related to some of the state and federal education requirements stemming from the Common Core program.
SCHOOL SAFETY ISSUE
Even so, a chief point of concern this year, Hawk, Southerland and other leaders said Friday, is school safety -- a topic that is gripping the nation in the aftermath of the deadly school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
"We are going to work with you guys to make sure that our kids are safe," Hawk told those present. "That is going to be one of our priorities as we move forward."
Hawk commended the recent action by the Town of Greeneville and the Greeneville City School System to post a police officer at each of the system's schools for the full school day.
"I want to applaud Dr. Stroud and the Town of Greeneville for making the investment to put security guards at each school," Hawk said.
"I think that is a very good step. That may be the model or a model for the rest of the state to follow in the days to come."
In response to a question from Greeneville Mayor W.T. Daniels, Hawk and Southerland said they do not yet know if state funds will be available to help pay for the officers being placed at the city schools.
Southerland added: "On the school safety [issue], I feel like it's best to let the superintendent of the school decide what's best for their school system."
VARIOUS ISSUES DISCUSSED
According to Stroud, many of the state and federal requirements stemming from Common Core -- a statewide set of standards that measures the success of schools through the meeting of various benchmarks by students -- slow the potential success of some school systems by forcing students to meet the same requirements.
"Remove barriers," Stroud said to the two lawmakers. "Those who meet the standard, let us out of the bureaucracy. If we slip below the standard, put us back in your box."
"Trying to fit every child, every school district, every community into the same box and the same set of rules doesn't work," the director said.
School Board member Jerry Anderson urged Hawk and Southerland to be cautious of voting for bills that produce "unfunded mandates," specifically in relation to statewide mandates that deal with technology.
"There are a lot of things that you guys don't realize that turn out to be unfunded mandates," Anderson said.
According to Anderson, the City School System has had the vision to invest in technology, which has placed the system ahead of many other school systems. Reward the City School System for its vision, Anderson said; don't punish it.
Beverly Miller, assistant director of schools for administration, and other members of the city school system's central office team noted the cutting of statewide funds that help propel many educational programs.
Some of these programs, they said, help the very students that might not meet some of the requirements set forth by Common Core.
MILLER CITES SAFETY
Miller also said that many doors in the school system need to be retrofitted -- a measure that would increase safety. She noted that the cost to retrofit one door would likely be about $250.
"You mention that $500 million rainy day fund, I think that is very admirable," Miller said. "But I also think it could be great assistance ... to take some of those funds to help us retrofit our buildings to be safer."
For a number of issues, Hawk urged those present to communicate with other school board associations and directors of schools, as well as various other organizations.
"It's all about getting the word to the right people," Hawk said. "We can all come together much easier, especially on those funding issues."
Near the close of the session, School Board member Dr. Mark Patterson asked for specifics from the two legislators.
"I can't help but feel like this [legislative breakfast] is an 'OK, let's go allow the school system to do their ventilation, express their frustration, and we'll go on our way,'" Patterson said.
"What I want to know [is], what specifically can you take from what you are hearing here and do about it in Nashville? What can you do about these complaints as individuals? Who can you approach?" Patterson asked.
He continued: "I want to see my representatives doing something about the issues that we have at hand -- not talking about how great our school system is and what a great job we are doing," he said.
"There are issues that are binding the school system, that are hobbling this system."
Hawk explained that both he and Southerland welcome anyone's bringing to their attention specific legislation that he or Southerland can carry to Nashville. Both legislators are willing, he said.
"This isn't just a venting process," Hawk said. "We come here to listen and to learn. What we've heard so far -- there is nothing that a few million dollars can't solve."
Hawk added: "Thankfully, we've got some seniority to where we can go down and we've got a pretty strong voice," Hawk said.
Both he and Southerland have been state legislators since 2002.
Southerland echoed Hawk's remarks many of the issues discussed.
"We can't absorb all of it," he said. "But we came here to listen to our constituents to see what the problems are."