There are some new faces — and leadership — on the Rutherford County School Board.
The school board on Thursday, Sept. 3 convened with newly elected members Shelia Bratton and Claire Maxwell, who succeeded former members Jeff Jordan (retired) and Terry Hodge (not re-elected). Incumbents Lisa Moore and Coy Young were re-elected. The seats held by Tammy Sharp, Tiffany Johnson and Jim Estes were not up for re-election this year.
RCS officials said they believe this is the first time that women comprise a majority of the school board.
“I think women always bring a different perspective,” Bratton said in a press release. “It’s not that it's better, just a different perspective. And I think it's going to be very interesting to see if the women will have a different outlook on some of the things. We might not but we could.”
Johnson nominated Young to serve as chairman for the coming year; the vote to approve was unanimous. Estes had served as chairman for the past year.
Young said, “Thank you for having confidence in me to lead this school board.”
Estes nominated Johnson to serve as vice chairwoman; the vote was unanimous.
The board gave plaques to Hodge and Jordan to recognize them.
Later in the meeting, Superintendent Bill Spurlock talked about distance learning issues. He said the digital learning platform called Kiddom has worked well, albeit with a “growth curve, but we are improving.”
RCS implemented blended learning several years ago but did not do it consistently around the district. Blended and distance learning have a lot in common, he said, but had RCS implemented blending more consistently, the district would have been more prepared for now.
The district’s Curriculum & Instruction Department has held distance-learning training sessions for parents.
Dr. James Sullivan, the department’s director, said, “We are not where we want to be. Our job is to provide the best education possible.”
On July 9, the school board decided to go with a traditional opening with online option. On July 28, the board decided to continue with that plan.
The district had expected 19 percent of the student body to choose distance learning, but that became 44.13 percent, Sullivan said. He said that matters because the district’s budget is set far in advance and while it has been buying more mobile devices, it has not planned for the numbers now needed.
At least five citizens spoke during a public comment period.
One speaker, Colleen Melchiorre, said her child has a heart condition and cannot attend school in-person. She said parents had been promised that distance learning would be equivalent to in-person learning, but the year started off with “subpar technology and no uniformity” from one school to another or one classroom to another, and minimal training. RCS should provide one mobile device for each child instead of one per household.
Another speaker, Scott Kozimor, said he is a father of five students who have attended or are still attending district schools and he said RCS has some of the best schools and teachers. He said he had a problem, however, with allegations of a confidentiality letter that parents of distance learners were reportedly required to sign. He asked if the board had approved the letters, and said that as a parent, he wants to know what is going on with his children.
He also said that one of his children is an athlete at Riverdale High School and was being required to wear a mask while working out, including lifting 300-400 pounds. He said it was his understanding that the governor was not mandating mask use in such cases but that TSSAA was. He said he was afraid his son would pass out while wearing a mask.
School board attorney Sara Page said that TSSAA says that weightlifters should not wear masks.
Another speaker, Patty McIntyre, whose grandson is a distance learner at David Youree Elementary School, said he is struggling to work on multiple websites. He has three Zoom classes at different times, and none of the schedules line up, so he is constantly late for classes and in doing homework. His teachers struggle with Kiddom, she said.
“You guys have got to do better for these kids,” she said and added that the school start should have been delayed.
Sullivan said that was the first he had heard of issues at David Youree and he would look into it.