More teachers are voicing their concerns about Knox County Schools' leadership in the wake of multiple changes involving evaluations, testing, and standards.
On Sunday, Superintendent Dr. Jim McIntyre drafted a memo to the Board of Education, with proposed short-term solutions. Board members discussed those points during their monthly work session Monday.
Teachers have expanded on their concerns which have been voiced publicly in several Board of Education meetings this fall, and which continued in the public forum section of Wednesday night's regular board meeting.
Karen Latus teaches Spanish in the Knox County district. She is just one of dozens of teachers now speaking out about concerns from the classroom.
""It's been necessary as we get more and more concerned about our students as we figure out how do we get these issues out into the open," she said. "I think the public needs to know what the concerns are."
She adds, "There's just kind of a disenfranchisement, I think, of teachers. And therefore, since we're the ones spending all day with our students, if we're disenfranchised, how do we advocate for our students?"
Dr. McIntyre said he recognizes the tension, and points to numerous, recent changes in Tennessee education.
"I think a lot of that has been driven at the state level, and a lot of it – I think – has been the right changes that are necessary in order to focus on enhancing and improving public education in the state of Tennessee," he said. "But that's hard, it's been difficult, it's been challenging in terms of those transitions."
He adds, "Through all this change, where [teachers] have kept their focus squarely on educating our children effectively, how do we make sure we continue to provide them… with the resources, the support services they need to continue to do their job effectively?"
The first issue Latus lists is the amount of planning time allowed for teachers. She says more time spent in meetings takes away the time reserved for class preparation.
"Teachers work really hard to create good lessons," she said. "So the more we're pulled into meetings, that planning time [is] taken away."
Teachers recently interviewed about evaluations usually start their answer with a clarification. Latus, too, explained they are not afraid of being evaluated and appreciate the opportunity for improvement. However, they take issue with how those evaluations are conducted.
"One of the things that's been set forth by the commissioner and by administrators is that this evaluation system is great because of the feedback. The problem is, I don't think the feedback that a lot of us are getting is actual helpful feedback. For example, if I'm spending my post conferences explaining to someone the basic concepts of what happened in my classroom, that's not feedback for me," she said.
"It's really designed to be a developmental process," Dr. McIntyre said.
"Are there tweaks to be made? Are there adjustments? I think sure, there always are. I think folks at the state level have acknowledged it's not a perfect system but it's much better than what we've had in the past," he said.
Regarding concerns about who observes teachers, and how often they are observed, McIntyre said teacher surveys have varied.
"I've heard different things from different teachers. There's not really a unified consensus perspective from teachers," he said.
Latus believes there is great value in having data to measure student success. However, she and other teachers feel testing has become excessive, and they feel the changes introduced through Common Core may make it worse.
"Right now I think we're so lost in this data forest, we're forgetting what learning is," she said. "Learning is a messy process at times. It should be inspiring; it should be an adventure where kids are trying different things."
The Board debated that topic at a recent meeting, and reviewed the state requirements against district choices.
"A lot of it is the TCAP assessments, the end of course assessments from the state – those are not discretionary, they're required assessments," McIntyre explained.
Through proposed teacher work-groups, he hopes to get teacher input on additional testing where the district has a choice to participate or not.
As teachers learn to adjust to changes, some said their superintendent's amount of classroom teaching experience is too limited to understand their perspective.
Early in his career, Dr. McIntyre taught for one year in an alternative high school in East St. Louis, Illinois. He likens the experience to a "domestic peace corps" assignment. After one year, he returned to his family in Boston and began a career in education administration.
"Yes, I was a teacher for one year. It was an incredibly important and informative experience in my life. It gave me an understanding and an appreciation for the work of educating children in the classroom and the power of educating children in the classroom," he said.
"But my entire career has been dedicated to education," McIntyre adds. "I have been nothing other than an educator my entire career."
He said his role as superintendent is to lead the district in providing good instruction for children.
"That's a skill set that, I think, is a little bit different than a classroom teacher. I think there are some skills that are the same… in terms of leading and managing an organization that is 8,000 employees and a $450 million budget and an organization of our size and complexity."
Teachers have argued their point.
"If you don't have a lot of classroom experience, you're going to have a hard time anticipating classroom concerns," Latus said. "… especially when you're implementing new initiatives and you're not anticipating what concerns might be or what problems might come about. Then you end up doing reactive leadership, instead of proactive leadership."
She and her colleagues would like to see the superintendent visit classrooms more often.
"I think a lot could be gained from that and I think some trust could be rebuilt," she said.
Dr. McIntyre introduced a four-point plan this week that included some short-term solutions to many of the concerns raised in recent weeks.
"I hope teachers will see it as we're listening and there are some short-term action steps here.," he said. "And, that we want to continue to engage teachers in a discussion and dialogue and identify short term and long term actions that are responsive to what we're hearing from our teachers."
After reviewing the memo, Latus told 10News she still has questions, and wanted to know why the memo went to the Board and not teachers.
More than a dozen people spoke at Wednesday night's Board of Education meeting. WBIR will have an update on those responses on Wednesday's 10News Nightbeat at 11:00.