published Monday, July 11th, 2011

Cook: Hairdressing, slavery and how to fix school board seesaw

Enough about hairdressing.

It shouldn’t matter if Rhonda Thurman — District 1 Board of Education member and hairdresser at Allure Beauty Salon — works in a pigpen. Intelligence is not exclusive to those with doctorate degrees, and common sense is as blue collar as it is white. Sometimes more so.

So the issue with the recent school board drama is not whether Thurman’s occupation disqualifies her to speak responsibly on education.

The issue is that those most qualified cannot.

The school board is like a playground seesaw. At one end sit the nine board members. Crowded together on the other end are the 42,000 students and 6,500 teachers and employees of the 78 Hamilton County public schools.

Yet on this crazy seesaw, the nine board members have the most leverage and weight, while the 48,500 are left dangling in the air.

Think I’m exaggerating?

Nine people — six in this case — had enough power to remove from office former superintendent Dr. Jim Scales at the cost of $300,000 at a time when budgets are as thin as sliced cafeteria bread.

Nine people have enough power to frighten at least two teachers I spoke with last week into silence. These veteran, award-winning teachers refused to be quoted in this column, saying they were too afraid Thurman or former school board member and current Hamilton County Commissioner Fred Skillern would find ways to retaliate.

Nine people — needing only a few more days than are given for spring break — altered the job requirements for the single most important position in the school system: the superintendent. And in every alteration, they lowered the bar.

I hope Rick Smith is a shining knight and applaud him for a reduced salary and paying his own benefits, but the horse he rides in on is hobbled.

Nine board members seem to have more power than 48,500 students and teachers.

There are at least three ways to change this.

First, give the student representative who attends each board meeting the right to vote.

Nahomi Ortiz, who graduated from Red Bank High this spring, was elected last

year’s student representative. One of our city’s best and brightest, she attended every school board meeting, yet never was able to vote.

Hamilton County students might wish she had.

“They [board members] forget they are there for the well-being of students,” Ortiz said. “Board members aren’t there for next year’s voters or taxpayers. They are there for students. And that is the one thing they tend to leave out and forget.”

While Ortiz spoke highly of Thurman — calling her research and preparation “outstanding” — she was still stung over the yes-vote to buy out Scales’ contract.

“They constantly argued about the budget,” she said. “They didn’t want to do anything because they did not have enough money.

“And for them to find the means to buy out the superintendent’s contract? That money should be used for something better.”

Everett Fairchild and Thurman disagree with the idea of student representatives voting, while George Ricks and Linda Mosley like it. Joe Galloway was open to further discussion, and as of Friday, every other board member offered no comment.

“You need a high school education to sit on the school board. Why shouldn’t students have a vote?” said Kay Greever, social science teacher at Soddy-Daisy High and Distinguished Teacher of the Year in 2009.

“They read and listen to the news. They know what’s going on, and it affects them.”

Which brings us to the second point: Board members should substitute teach for one day in each school they represent.

Walk a mile in the shoes of the teachers you represent. It will send a practical and symbolic message that is deeply needed right now.

Finally, if we want to restore balance to the system, we must get involved. Quick quiz: What percentage of voters cast ballots in the last school board election? Forty percent?

Maybe thirty?

“Probably wasn’t even 20 percent,” said Charlotte Mullis-Morgan, administrator for the Hamilton County Election Commission.

If we see our kids getting a bad deal, we must get involved. We must get our hands dirty. We must remember: Power concedes nothing without demand.

Frederick Douglass once said that.

He was a former slave.

David Cook can be reached at davidcook@blumail.org.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
rosebud said...

Now there's a solution for what ails us. A student school board member, who sits through one meeting a month, does not attend work sessions, and is familiar with the environment at only one of the county's 75 schools, should be allowed to vote.

That student's vote should have the same weight as board members, many of whom (the best ones) have worked in education all their lives.

This is what one would expect from yet another "instant expert" from the Times Free Press. Better yet, one who teaches at GPS. If only this community would turn over the day-to-day operations of its school system to the Harry Austins, the David Cooks, and the Chamber of Commerce. Let them put their private school experience to work in poor little Hamilton County. Just one catch, boys. The county can't charge its students 22K per year at the door.

But keep throwing your expertise out there. The silent majority just sits back and laughs while the Chattanooga Times lefties keep swingin' and missin'...

July 11, 2011 at 7:11 a.m.
andrewk166 said...

All the comment sections are been over run by angry men who have nothing important to add and are not capable of having a serious discussion. A waste of time and space.

July 11, 2011 at 11:39 a.m.
rosebud said...

Translation of andrewk166: All the comment sections are dominated by people who don't agree with me. A waste of time and space.

July 11, 2011 at 11:45 a.m.
Yano said...

Lib4 -

You're actually holding up Ann Coulter as an example of a victim of anger??? Maybe she was, but still....

July 11, 2011 at 7:20 p.m.
Oz said...

"Enough about hairdressing." Why did you bring it up again?

How many teachers will go on record speaking out against the board at GPS? How many are afraid to speak out against Randy Tucker? How many board members make decisions for GPS?

If you care so much about the Hamilton County Schools? Why are you working at GPS? Too good to work in a Public Schools? Maybe, you don't want to be around the children of hairdressers, plumbers, electricians, fast food employees, etc.

Hamilton County does not have one school that comes close to the GPS facility. Is that the problem? You don't want to work in "pigpen"?

The citizen's of Hamilton County voted in the current School Board. We are happy with the balance. We voted them in. We are getting the change, we voted for.

I agree with you on one issue. Board members should spend a day in the classroom but in every district. That way, they would have first hand knowledge of the whole system. Not just their district.

July 12, 2011 at 8:53 p.m.
mudbug said...
  Most of these comments offer no real suggestions, just derogatory remarks. Some slam David Cook because of where he works? Give me a break. He offers up some suggestions, some of which, with fine tuning might be doable. Where he works is irrelevant. The health and success of our public school system is of paramount importance to everyone in this community, especially the students. I am all for empowering students to have a say in the process.

  As for Ms. Thurman...she is difficult to read. When she is on task as per school finances, I cannot argue with reasonable intent to wisely balance budgets. Her recent remarks seemed to indicate that she has an issue with urban, primarily black schools receiving added monies. According to the HCDE website, 5 of 9 schools in her district receive federal Title 1 money...and some 25 additional suburban schools outside her district receive Title 1 money. These 30 or so schools represent about 37% of all county schools. I cannot say that I understand her 'beef' about the efforts to teach those impoverished children in our urban schools.
July 13, 2011 at 7:21 a.m.
rosebud said...

I'm just wondering: what qualifies one to be a columnist in the TFP? A drivers license? A major credit card? Apparently it matters little if their subject matter is entertaining, informative or relevant.

July 13, 2011 at 10:11 p.m.
Oz said...

This is what you get for the big bucks at GPS? I would rather homeschool.

July 13, 2011 at 11:22 p.m.
Leaf said...

It would actually be helpful to the voters to know which of the schoolboard members are genuine and which ones are in the good-old-boy crony network. I guess the Scales vote would be a good litmus test for that.

July 14, 2011 at 8:57 a.m.
MetroMax said...

Every Superintendent since the beginning of time has had their own good ole boy network.

July 14, 2011 at 9:08 a.m.
fred said...

It's not the "pigpen" it's the cesspool that is accumulating at the TFP. You need to be sued for slander. You are not a writer but a stupid liberal. Scales is the politician in the situation and not a competent Sup. Remember the shady deal on extending his contract? Who led that?

July 15, 2011 at 10:14 a.m.
timbo said...

It's over Cook, there was a vote and you lost. Using voter turn-out is a bad example. Your defeat would be larger since 65% of the electorate are on the right. Liberals have such vivid fantasies.

July 15, 2011 at 3:15 p.m.
chet123 said...

TIMBO...YOU WISHING THAT ITS OVER...HATE TO BREAK YOU HEART...BETTER GET READY FOR ROUND 2....BECAUSE THIS IS THE BEGINNING....NOTICE YOU DONT WANT TO TALK ABOUT THE POLICY CHANGING SCHEME AND THE NEPOTISM INVOLVED TO GET RICK SMITH IN LOL LOL LOL LOL RICK SMITH WILL BE A LAME-DUCK....THE WAY HE WAS RAILROAD IN...HE WILL NEVER BE RESPECTED...YOU WILL FIND OUT...THIS TACTIC MAY WORK IN SODDY OR EASTRIDGE...BUT CHATTANOOGA POLITICIAN WILL COUNTER YOUR ILLEGAL ACTION......SO DONT THINK YOU ARE HOME FREE

July 17, 2011 at 10:36 p.m.
chet123 said...

METROMAX...WHERE ARE YOU GETTING YOUR INFORMATION...FOX NEWS! YOU SAID EVERY SUPERINTENDENT SINCE THE BEGINNING OF TIME(GO AHEAD JUST MAKE UP A LIE)..SEE YOU ARE TRYING TO DIVERT THE REAL ISSUE...THE REAL ISSUE IS THE ILLEGAL PROCEDURE THAT WAS USE...AND THE TACTIC TO PLACE YOUR BUDDY IN A POSITION HE IS NOT QUALIFIED FOR...THE STUDENT OF HAMILTON COUNTY COMES FIRST...NOT YOU GREEDY POWER HUNGER BUDDIES.

YOU WOULD LOVE FOR IT TO BE ABOUT DR.SCALE LOL LOL LOL LOL LOL... TO DIVERT THE ISSUE!...SORRY CHARLIE..PROCEDURE IS THE ISSUE.....CHATTANOOGA IS TOO SMART FOR THAT SILLY TACTIC...ARE YOU NERVOUS??? LOL LOL LOL

July 17, 2011 at 10:51 p.m.
chet123 said...

FRED...DID YOU SAY SLANDER? LOL LOL LOL LOL LOL..THE WAY RHONDA THURMAN SLANDER THE GOOD NAME OF THREE HIGHLY QUALIFIED MEN..LOL LOL LOL...FOLK YOU CANT MAKE THIS STUFF UP....CANT BELEIVE FRED IS TRYING TO DO THE OLD SWITCH-A-ROO.....HE'S THE VICTIM! LOL LOL LOL...GOOD OLE FRED IS TRYING TO SUPPRESS FREE SPEECH.LOL LOL LOL...FREE SPEECH IS ONLY WHEN HE IS TALKING LOL LOL LOL...BOY WHAT THIN SKIN!

July 17, 2011 at 10:57 p.m.
chet123 said...

TO ALL RHONDA THURMAN FOLLOWERS...GET READY FOR PUSH-BACK...LOL LOL..ITS COMING...

July 17, 2011 at 11:02 p.m.
nurseforjustice said...

Chet, I am just wondering? Where did you go to school? Innner-city?

July 22, 2011 at 1:22 p.m.
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