Residents have until noon Friday to provide input on what criteria should be emphasized in the screening and selection process for the next director of Rutherford County Schools.
Officials with the Tennessee School Boards Association met with residents Wednesday at the Rutherford County Board of Education to discuss issues and ideas about the position, including what type of person would be best suited for the role.
Fewer than 50 residents attended the community forum.
While several praised the school system, many of those who did participate said the new director must be more accessible and willing to cooperate with parents and teachers.
“We need someone to encourage much more participation,” said Geoffrey Herring, who serves as an adjunct professor in the economics and finance department in the Jennings A. Jones College of Business at Middle Tennessee State University.
Herring said he would like candidates to address how to “implement an open door policy that would promote active parental involvement” during the interview process.
Others said administrators and staff should be available during normal business hours, noting that many working parents are unable to call or stop by their child’s school before everyone leaves at 3 p.m.
“Often times, the only parental involvement that is really pushed is fundraising,” said Sara Mitchell, whose children attend Oakland High School and Central Magnet School. “There are other ways parents, especially for those who work outside of the home, could be included.”
Mitchell said she would like the new director to recognize how important it is to visit schools on a regular basis.
“We need someone who is willing to get out of the office, visit a classroom, meet with teachers and students,” Mitchell said, adding there should be more forums held with the community, so that the new director can maintain an open dialogue with parents and residents.
Because of educational requirements set forth by the state and federal government, schools have become too focused on meeting standards, she said.
“Education is more than just test scores,” Mitchell said.
She said the Rutherford County school system needs a director who understands that creating a culture of safety and respect is equally important.
“The problems at Campus School and La Vergne High School are symptoms of a systemic disease because administrators are not expected to treat parents, teachers and students with the respect they deserve,” Mitchell said. “There is no direction from the top.”
The new director must be able to impartially manage administrators and be willing to reassess and reevaluate, if needed, teachers and staff at local schools, said Leah Lyons, who attended the forum with her husband, Marcus, and three children.
“Some of our schools are not desirable,” Lyons said, adding although she is glad her children attend Central Magnet School, instead of the schools in La Vergne, others are not so fortunate.
“Any parent should be proud to send their child to any school in the county,” she said.
Harry Gill, who has served for nearly nine years as director of Rutherford County Schools, submitted his letter of resignation in December 2011, just before he was to be evaluated.
However, he did not give a reason for his resignation.
Officials said they would like to fill the position as soon as possible, so that a new director can take over by July 1, the day after Gill formerly steps down.
For residents who were unable to attend the forum but would like to provide input, Rutherford County Schools has posted an online survey that will be available for submission until the deadline.