published Friday, May 18th, 2012

Booze and consequences

A cruise to the Bahamas has left Signal Mountain Middle/High School's sterling reputation with a hangover, and it has left parents and others in the community with as many questions as answers.

The Tennessee State Board of Education has recommended that the licenses of five staff members at the school be suspended for a year after they allegedly drank alcohol on the five-day cruise in March. Those five and two more, who all were chaperones on the senior trip, were suspended without pay in April after a central office investigation.

Additionally, 16 students were disciplined for drinking while their ship was docked in the Bahamas.

In fairness, it should be pointed out that the chaperones are not accused of drinking in the presence of students.

Nevertheless, questions linger. Rising seniors at the school may be wondering whether future trips of this nature will be banned or sharply curtailed. And what are we to make of the fact that the investigation began after two counselors were found with alcohol at the school?

Barring a successful appeal of the state board's decision, at least five of the staff members involved won't be able to work at the school next year. That is potentially a traumatic loss of what school board member Chip Baker calls "very strong staff members." He may well be correct in his assessment of their abilities. They may do a superb job. But given the circumstances, it is hard to fault the state board for the action it has taken, which it says is along the lines of measures it has taken after similar incidents.

Adding to the school's challenges, Principal Tom McCullough has announced that he is retiring. That announcement came just one day after the state board notified the school of its action against the staff members.

McCullough suggests the timing is coincidental, but he did note that "anytime a school principal has to deal with issues like this, it can cause a lot of stress."

And how.

There are, of course, sound reasons for the ban on staff using or possessing alcohol either on campus or at school-related events off campus.

"I think it's important for district directors to train their staff on what is expected of them," Dannell Walker, general counsel for the state Board of Education, told the Times Free Press. "They're in charge of supervising students, and if they're not sober, it brings a whole other realm of liability on the district."

There has not been an indication that staff members actually became inebriated on the trip. But guarding against that troubling possibility is one of the sensible justifications for the ban on drinking by staff during school-related activities.

Signal Mountain Middle/High School is among the best public schools in the county. It has a good academic reputation and a great many dedicated staff members and students.

These recent incidents and the consequences that flowed from them have caused the community some pain. We hope and fully expect, however, that the school will be back on track in no time, and that the fallout from the cruise will serve as a warning to all schools in the area that alcohol and school functions do not mix.

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librul said...

Take them on a cruise through the Tennessee River Gorge and TEACH them something. The mere idea that high school students are now expecting to "party hearty" on spring break cruises abroad gives a strong clue to why American academic performnce is slipping. Along with religious zealots attacking the teaching of science, underfunding leading to draconian cuts in music, art and culture programs, the strong foundation needed for higher learning and success in a competitive global business arena cannot be built. Oh, and the cops could teach the little darlings why there are speed limits and traffic laws since they demonstrate every day upon leaving school that they do not believe they have any responsibility to obey them.

May 18, 2012 at 7:02 a.m.
bandmom said...

As a parent with students at Signal Mountain I offer no excuse for the actions of staff members. They are good people who made a terrible error in judgment and it is only appropriate that there be some form of punishment. I also believe underage drinking is an issue that needs attention, but I would stop short of saying that Signal Mountain has a larger problem in that area than any other high school. It seems any negative event st Signal Mountain finds its way into this paper and usually on the front page, but there are many wonderful things that never get publicized. For example, the community of Signal Mountain and many members at Signal Mtn. Presbyterian Church have come together through a learning center funded by the Mountain Education Foundation and volunteer tutors from the church to assist No Child Left Behind students with an after school tutoring program. They paid for transportation so those students who were struggling academically could stay after school for free tutoring and still have a free ride home. The fine young man who was the center of all the football controversy over his eligibility was assisted all year so that despite his learning difficulties he was able to pass all tests necessary and complete all credits necessary to graduate from Signal Mountain and be able to accept the scholarship he earned to a junior college in California. Signal students this year were offered over 9 million dollars in scholarships due to their academic performance and besides athletics they have one of the fastest growing and best bands in the county, a fine theatre department and other great programs too numerous to name. Dr. Tom McCullough is a fine man who has had to deal with difficult situations in a very public manner. There are issues at Signal to be sure as there are in every public school in this county. I would be interested to see what would happen if every other school had all their issues turned into front page stories. I am grateful for Dr. McCullough's leadership and still proud to be part of the SMMHS family.

May 18, 2012 at 10:01 a.m.
Walden said...

good commentary bandmom. As a resident of Walden's Ridge, I have watched the progress of this school from a close distance. I have thus far been unimpressed with what I have seen, but I know better days are to come for this school. Perhaps my expecatations, along with those of the broader community, were set too high at the outset. We must remember that this school is still subject to oversight from a government bureaucracy. I think the most troubling thing I have observed is the way that the football coach seemed to roll over the principal. I don't know McCullough that well (I have met with him once). He seems like a nice guy, but also seems kind of watered down. This school needs a tough love kind of principal. For now, I shall continue squirreling away my pennies to pay for private education for my children.

May 18, 2012 at 10:54 a.m.
LaughingBoy said...

The fine young man could have had the same assistance at Lakeview Fort Oglethorpe High School but their football team was 0-10 the previous season. Chip Baker either lied or was simply ignorant stating the fine young man would have been forced to attend Brainerd; he could have gone to Ooltewah, an excellent school. If those involved in this situation would have been honest from the get go about the reasons the fine young man ended up at Signal Mountain things would have gone much better.

May 18, 2012 at 11:36 a.m.
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