John­son gets mostly pos­i­tive marks

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - FRONT PAGE - BY MEGHAN MAN­GRUM STAFF WRITER

Most of Hamilton County’s school board mem­bers are happy with Su­per­in­ten­dent Bryan John­son’s per­for­mance in his first year, though two board mem­bers cite short­com­ings, ac­cord­ing to eval­u­a­tions re­leased Fri­day. Read each school board mem­ber’s eval­u­a­tion and John­son’s self-eval­u­a­tion at times­freep­ress.com.

The nine board mem­bers each eval­u­ated John­son in seven cat­e­gories re­lat­ing to strate­gic plan­ning, stu­dent achieve­ment, school lead­er­ship, op­er­a­tions of the dis­trict and his re­la­tion­ship with the

board, which will be dis­cussed pub­licly at the reg­u­larly sched­uled board meet­ing on Thurs­day.

Joe Win­gate, of Dis­trict 7, gave John­son the high­est rat­ing — a 4.5 out of 5.

“I wanted some dras­tic change in how our school sys­tem was run,” Win­gate said. “I just feel like he’s brought that.”

Dis­trict 2 board mem­ber Kathy Len­non also stated she was happy with John­son’s first year, which has been filled with big changes in­clud­ing the

cre­ation of the Op­por­tu­nity Zone for 12 of the dis­trict’s low­est-per­form­ing schools, the es­tab­lish­ment of a part­ner­ship with the state for five of those schools, the cre­ation of a more than $120 mil­lion cap­i­tal plan, and large-scale re­or­ga­ni­za­tion of staff at both the cen­tral of­fice and schools across the dis­trict.

“I’m pleased with the di­rec­tion that we are go­ing,” Len­non said. “I think that he made some bold changes.”

Some of her col­leagues did not feel sim­i­larly though, and Len­non said that sur­prised her.

Rhonda Thur­man, of­ten the voice of op­po­si­tion on the board’s de­ci­sions, gave John­son the low­est rat­ing of any board mem­ber, a 2.06. She said she was dis­ap­pointed in his per­for­mance.

“I am just ex­tremely dis­ap­pointed in the way that things have gone in cen­tral of­fice,” Thur­man, of Dis­trict 1, said. “We have got­ten rid of a lot of peo­ple in cen­tral of­fice that [have] had any in­sti­tu­tional knowl­edge.”

Thur­man also said she felt the dis­trict has been “side­tracked” by the dis­cus­sion of eq­uity, which she has spo­ken against since the cre­ation of the school sys­tem’s Eq­uity Task Force this spring.

“I am ex­tremely dis­ap­pointed about this Eq­uity Task Force, we’ve went off the rails,” Thur­man said. “We have kids grad­u­at­ing from high school that can’t read, that’s where we need to get a task force work­ing.”

Across the board, John­son was rated high­est in ar­eas re­lat­ing to post­sec­ondary op­por­tu­ni­ties for stu­dents, earn­ing high marks for de­vel­op­ing a plan to in­crease ca­reer and tech­ni­cal ed­u­ca­tion of­fer­ings and en­gag­ing with busi­ness and in­dus­try to in­crease such op­por­tu­ni­ties — a pos­si­ble nod to the launch of Fu­ture Ready In­sti­tutes, one of John­son’s big­gest ini­tia­tives this year.

The in­sti­tutes will launch this fall at 13 of the dis­trict’s tra­di­tional high schools and will of­fer stu­dents spe­cific cur­ric­ula tai­lored to in­dus­tries, thanks in part to part­ner­ships with lo­cal busi­nesses and or­ga­ni­za­tions, some­thing Len­non said the dis­trict needs to con­tin­u­ally do.

John­son’s con­tract — ap­proved last July — gave a rough out­line of the board’s an­nual eval­u­a­tion of him. It re­quired him to present the board with a strate­gic plan con­tain­ing spe­cific goals and ob­jec­tives each year for con­sid­er­a­tion and ap­proval, but the board ex­panded on the process last fall.

Win­gate spear­headed the process.

“It was a lit­tle dif­fer­ent than maybe other eval­u­a­tions,” Win­gate said. “We de­cided that we were go­ing to set some spe­cial pa­ram­e­ters up for his first year. We wanted him to meet some spe­cific goals in his first year that we thought were go­ing to be foun­da­tional for suc­cess go­ing for­ward.”

John­son ac­knowl­edged his first year was about pre­par­ing for the fu­ture.

“This year was about es­tab­lish­ing a foun­da­tion

“Given what Dr. John­son stepped into, I think he has done a good job, and I think the Board’s over­all eval­u­a­tion of him is fair.”

– DIS­TRICT 3 BOARD MEM­BER JOE SMITH

“I am ex­tremely dis­ap­pointed about this Eq­uity Task Force ... “We have kids grad­u­at­ing from high school that can’t read, that’s where we need to get a task force work­ing.”

– DIS­TRICT 1 BOARD MEM­BER RHONDA THUR­MAN

that will al­low us to build to­ward the vi­sion of suc­cess the board has set for Hamilton County Schools,” John­son said in a state­ment.

“The board and I have em­barked to­gether upon an ag­gres­sive agenda for the chil­dren of the com­mu­nity to make Hamilton County Schools the fastest im­prov­ing school dis­trict in the state. This is a valu­able eval­u­a­tion point that is ben­e­fi­cial to keep us mov­ing for­ward as we de­velop long term plans for the fu­ture,” he added.

Of the board mem­bers, Thur­man and David Tester­man, of Dis­trict 8, rated John­son’s per­for­mance the low­est. Tester­man could not be reached for com­ment.

Win­gate, Len­non and out­go­ing board mem­ber Joe Gal­loway, of Dis­trict 6, gave him the high­est scores. Gal­loway also could not be reached for com­ment.

Over­all, John­son earned the low­est scores in re­gard to cap­i­tal main­te­nance and build­ing plans — a 2.7 av­er­age out of 5. Sev­eral board mem­bers men­tioned they would like to see mul­ti­year cap­i­tal main­te­nance plans, as well as an ex­ter­nal au­dit of all fa­cil­i­ties to iden­tify needs.

Last fall, the board ap­proved the cap­i­tal plan pre­sented by John­son af­ter the county al­lo­cated $100 mil­lion in bond funds to school main­te­nance, but some felt the plan was rushed and could have used more com­mu­nity in­put.

Many ac­knowl­edge the chal­lenges John­son faced when he stepped into the role.

“Given what Dr. John­son stepped into, I think he has done a good job, and I think the Board’s over­all eval­u­a­tion of him is fair,” Dis­trict 3 board mem­ber Joe Smith said in a state­ment.

Board mem­bers re­ceived copies of their col­leagues’ eval­u­a­tions, as well as an ex­ec­u­tive sum­mary, Thurs­day evening. The eval­u­a­tions were in­cluded in a board agenda packet for next week’s meet­ing on Fri­day af­ter­noon, de­spite un­cer­tainty from the dis­trict that they would be re­leased this week.

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