KNOXVILLE - Thursday night marked the first of two public forums for community members to share their opinions on Knox County Schools' search for a new superintendent.
The meetings come after then-superintendent Jim McIntyre announced his resignation in January and stepped down in June.
Buzz Thomas, of Great Schools Partnership, then took over as interim superintendent.
Some three dozen people gathered Thursday in Central High School's auditorium, where Thomas, a number of Knox County Board of Education members and other district leaders heard from community stakeholders, who included parents and educators.
David McCroskey attended the meeting. He's the grandparent and guardian of three Knox County Schools students. He said while he didn't dislike the former superintendent, he felt McIntyre was overly focused on the financial side of the job.
“I personally feel that we need someone who is an educator and is willing to sit down and talk to people and understand the needs of our children, as opposed to worrying about the financial side of it," he said.
Kathleen Robinson, a former KCS teacher and parent, hopes teachers and parents have a large say in who becomes the next superintendent.
“I feel like the last search, we really didn’t have that opportunity. I was a classroom teacher at that time and I feel like teachers really didn’t have a say," she said.
She hopes the next superintendent will focus on empowering both students and teachers.
“I would like a superintendent who has my child’s best interest at heart," she said.
“We have a lot of disenfranchised teachers, I feel, due to the fact that they don’t feel trusted.”
Board member Terry Hill attended the forum as well. She was disappointed with the turnout but impressed with those who did attend.
“I thought it was a wonderful forum we had tonight. I wish we would’ve had a few more people. But the folks that were there had really concrete suggestions, were very thought out, very purposeful," she said.
Prior to the meeting, WBIR 10News spoke with a number of district leaders on the importance of these public input sessions.
"It's an important job we have to do, so I think the more feedback we have, the better," new BOE member Susan Horn told 10News.
She said she heard from a lot of parents and educators while campaigning for her seat.
"People are looking for a great leader, who has a huge, great vision for our schools, who can communicate with people and who has classroom experience and administrative experience," Horn said.
Board members voted earlier this month to defer appointing a chairperson until next month. That's an important decision, as the chair will appoint members to the superintendent search committee.
"I'm confident that whoever that chair ends up being, that we'll be in good hands," Horn said.
BOE member Patti Bounds told 10News she thinks these meetings are highly important for both board members and the public.
"I hope there is a good turn out. Since I could have the distinction of being the tie breaking vote for chairman they are of the utmost importance to me," she said. "The chairman has the control over who is appointed to the superintendent search committee. I will be listening to the discussion of what the stakeholders want and give it careful consideration in my vote for the BOE chairman.”
"Picking a superintendent is the most important thing a school board does," Thomas told 10News before the meeting. "We're building the best schools in the South in Knoxville. I keep saying that over and over again, but it’s true, and we’re making great progress on that goal, but we will only reach that goal if we have the best superintendent.”
Before the board can pick a superintendent, Thomas said, members first must decide their process for doing so.
"How they're going to proceed, what the time table is and whether or they're going to seek any assistance," Thomas explained. "There are firms and organizations that can be brought in to help a school board search, if they want to use that, and I'm going to leave that up to them."
He said board members will decide on those matters at a board retreat Oct. 21 and 22.
Lauren Hopson, president of the Knox County Education Association teachers union, said she would like to see a superintendent with substantial classroom teaching experience.
"I think they also have to have a bigger vision for our school system, rather than just how to increase test scores," Hopson said.
Co-president and teacher Dave Gorman said his group would like to see a leader who encourages teachers.
"We want to collaborate and work together, but we also need a superintendent who gives us some room and allows us to teach the way that we've been trained to teach and the way that we know what works," Gorman said.
A second public input meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Tues., Sept. 20 at Bearden Middle School.
(© 2016 WBIR)