As a 1st District School Board member, I, Faye Green, know that I am not alone when I say that the pending decision regarding Tim Blankenship’s contract has been a topic of major discussion throughout the county for the past five months. For those of you that may not know me personally, I try to be fair to everyone, I work hard to do my best, I try to keep a positive attitude even in the face of adversity, I love people and always try to help in any way I can, and I call it like I see it. My children can tell you that even though I may love you dearly, if I think you are wrong, I have no problem telling you that.
Recently, a comment was made by a Monroe County educator at our February School Board meeting that really upset me and, as a result, has prompted me to write this letter in an attempt to defend myself as a member of the Monroe County School Board. Other people that spoke in support of Mr. Blankenship at that meeting also made statements that I would like to address, and I would also like to give some information about other issues that I feel are important when considering the renewal or termination of Mr. Blankenship’s contract.
The comment that upset me the most was this: “the current attitude (among teachers) isn’t fear of Tim, it’s fear of you (the School Board).”
Immediately, at least three board members (including myself) spoke up and asked WHY she felt that way. At first, she hesitated in trying to validate her statement, but then she replied in this way: “Fear is not always realistic, and it’s not always justified, but right now that’s the attitude.”
She also said that “conversations ... among us (the teachers) are that we fear you because as the people who speak out for Tim, if his contract is not renewed, we may not be looked upon favorably.”
That sounded very familiar to me because I have been told by many Monroe County teachers during my tenure on the School Board that they fear Mr. Blankenship for the very same reason.
But let’s take a look at history here: how many teachers feel that the School Board has done anything to anyone in the Monroe County Department of Education that would warrant fear?
And, on the other hand, how many teachers feel that Mr. Blankenship has done things that have warranted fear?
If the school board has done anything to warrant any type of fear from anyone in our system, I would ask that you call me personally and let me know about it.
I cannot answer for the other eight board members, but I can assure every teacher and administrator in this county that I would never try to influence a new director to do anything at all, especially not anything derogatory towards our students, teachers, and administrators. And unless I don’t know most of the board members as well as I think I do, I’d be willing to bet that the majority of them feel the same way that I do.
It really worried me that anyone would feel that way about me personally or our School Board as a whole. We all pledged when we took the Oath of Office to “faithfully perform the duties of the office as a member of the board of education.”
One of those duties is the responsibility of recruiting the best possible candidate as the director of schools, and once given a contract, determining if his/her contract should be extended or terminated when that contract is about to expire (Policy 5.801 Director of Schools Recruitment and Selection).
I consider this board decision as one of the most important decisions we will make as School Board members.
Five months ago, in October of 2018, the board began discussing our upcoming decision regarding Mr. Blankenship’s contract. Even though the vote did not have to be completed until March 30, 2019, our October agenda had two “last-minute” additions that most of the nine School Board members knew nothing about. That first “last-minute” addition to the agenda was for a 1st District School Board member to ask the board to make the decision on Mr. Blankenship’s contract during our next board meeting in November. That motion was made and seconded by another 1st District School Board member.
I can only speak for myself, but I was totally confused as to why this was being presented to the board with no notice whatsoever and why this decision had to be made so soon.
I was very upset that one of the most important decisions the board would probably make during our four-year tenure had been presented to us so suddenly, without discussion, and asked to be made immediately. Without any discussion after the motion had been seconded by another 1st District member, the board chair asked all in favor to say aye (the two 1st District School Board members who made and seconded the motion answered aye) and all opposed say no (one 2nd District School Board member said no).
I think the other six board members were in shock — none of us seemed to understand why we were being asked to make this vital decision in this questionable manner. The motion was passed by a vote of 2 to 1 approval among three board members.
By this time, I was extremely confused and upset about what had just taken place.
Our next item on the “last-minute” additions to the agenda was the discussion regarding Mr. Blankenship’s annual evaluation.
At this point, I knew I had to speak up. Knowing that the evaluation process takes a minimum of two months to complete, we were being asked to vote on our director’s contract in November and complete his evaluation process sometime after that. As I said that night, that is like hiring someone for a job and then telling them you’ll conduct their interview a month or so later to see if you feel they are actually qualified for the job. It made no sense whatsoever to me.
And by this time, I think the shock of everything that had just happened was beginning to wear off with the rest of the board and they, too, needed more answers about what had just taken place and why we were being asked to do an evaluation after a decision on a contract had already been made.
Eventually, after much discussion, the 1st District School Board member was convinced to amend his motion to vote on Mr. Blankenship’s contract in December.
However, at our next meeting in November, a 2nd District School Board member brought to our attention that the director’s contract had to be the first item on the agenda according to Tennessee Code Annotated. The motion to discuss Mr. Blankenship’s contract was then rescinded, and it was agreed to discuss and vote on Mr. Blankenship’s contract in January instead of December in order to follow board policy.
Since that October meeting, I personally have spent many hours weighing what I felt were Mr. Blankenship’s pros and cons as our director of schools during my 2-and-a-half-year tenure as a board member, talking to teachers and administrators, and listening to many others in the county who also had their own opinions. I have taken this decision very seriously, and I have prayed about it faithfully.
For weeks, I was undecided.
As I was praying, I was asking God to open my eyes and my heart so that there would be no doubt that the vote I was going to cast in January was the one that I totally felt was in the best interests of our students and teachers. I totally understand that none of us can be 100 percent sure that our vote is the right vote. But I asked God to convict me as He had when I decided to run for School Board. I wanted Him to lead me to people and circumstances that would let me know with absolute certainty exactly what I needed to do. He has answered my prayers.
My biggest regret during these last five months has been that the many teachers that FEAR Mr. Blankenship’s actions do not feel that they can tell their side of the story. Ever since “Black Thursday” in April of 2014 when 100-plus teachers were given their “white envelopes” stating they had been transferred or terminated, that fear has evidently run rampant among many teachers who spoke to me.
I was told that Mr. Blankenship did not give them any explanations. Several teachers told me they did try to contact Mr. Blankenship to discuss his reasoning, and their emails requesting an explanation were never answered or even acknowledged. During that time, there was no mention of Race to the Top money running out or the need to eliminate positions due to excessive staff. Even if the money had been tight, there still was no explanation as to why many of those 100-plus teachers were transferred without request or explanation.
Teachers are afraid to question anything because “retaliation” has been used many times on others that were brave enough to ask for explanations. I taught school for 27 years in another county and never one time did I fear for my job.
Never were teachers transferred or terminated without explanation or without request. I loved the three directors that I was privileged to serve under. I knew they had my back and would always support me as long as I was doing my job. I knew they would always be fair. I knew I could go to them with anything and they would listen with a compassionate heart. I never heard an unkind word about any of them from other teachers or administrators and the respect among the teachers and administrators that I knew seemed mutual.
While talking to teachers across our system, I was shocked and disappointed in the number that didn’t feel comfortable talking to me at all because they feared Mr. Blankenship’s reaction. That fact alone told me that their experiences with Mr. Blankenship were not favorable or they would not be afraid to speak up. But I was able to talk to enough teachers to learn that more disapprove than approve of the renewal of Mr. Blankenship’s contract.
That fact has not been the determining factor in my vote on Mr. Blankenship’s contract.
This is not a popularity contest and my vote will never be based on how popular or unpopular Mr. Blankenship is based on the many legitimate, tough decisions he has to make. But the compassion that he displays when making those tough decisions does impact my vote.
It was asked by one of the teachers at the communications meeting on Jan. 25 exactly what the board’s expectations were for a director of schools. Even though there are many expectations listed for all directors in the “New School Board Members Guide” (Tennessee School Boards Association), these are specifically MY expectations: integrity of character, the ability to make firm and definite recommendations after personal examination of situations, the ability to communicate clearly both orally and in writing, the desire and commitment to visit all schools on a regular basis and become an active part of the school’s environments, and the ability to be open-minded and avoid becoming involved in personalities when both sides of an issue should be heard. I also expect to see and feel compassion from his heart any time he makes those tough decisions.
Rumors have been running rampant throughout our county for months regarding (1) why board members are voting for or against Mr. Blankenship’s contract, (2) the names of administrators and teachers that will be transferred as a result of Mr. Blankenship possibly losing his contract, (3) the names of others outside of our system that will be moved in to take administrator positions, one of which was my own son, and (4) promises that have been made to administrators if they convince their teachers to sway the votes of at least one of the five School Board members that have already voted against the renewal of Mr. Blankenship’s contract, just to name a few.
First of all, if anyone in our system is fearing for their jobs as a result of all of the drama that this contract situation has created, please remember that Mr. Blankenship is the only person that can hire and fire.
The School Board does not have that power. I can speak for the School Board when I say that NOTHING has ever been discussed among us at board meetings about any personnel changes, not even who we would like to see in Mr. Blankenship’s job if his contract is not extended. All board meetings are open to the public and even if you cannot attend a meeting, it is online for anyone to watch at a later date.
So, rumors that specific people have been lined up by the board for personnel transfers, changes, or terminations is not only a rumor, but something that is totally against board policy.
Since the November meeting when the board decided that the vote on Mr. Blankenship’s contract would take place on Jan. 10, all kinds of strategies have been put in place in an effort to save his contract.
Even though I have not totally been surprised by this, I have been very disappointed. What has happened to the idea that each board member has the right to make his or her own decisions on Mr. Blankenship’s contract, and whatever that decision may be, it should be respected by the other board members?
I have absolutely no questions, problems, or concerns for the four board members that have already voted in favor of Mr. Blankenship’s contract. I respect each board member’s right to make his or her own decision without question or coercion.
According to School Board policy 1.202 (Duties of Board Members), #5 states “to vote and act impartially for the good of the school system,” and #6 states “to accept the will of the majority vote in all cases and give support to the resulting actions.
Beginning with the Jan. 10 board meeting, the following “stall” tactics and strategies have been implemented by Mr. Blankenship’s supporters in an effort to get an extension on his contract:
Strategy #1 at the Jan. 10 board meeting: The decision to vote on Mr. Blankenship’s contract was also expected to have been COMPLETED at this meeting.
Knowing for three full months that the vote would be cast in January, there was absolutely no reason in my opinion to add student recognitions to the January agenda.
First of all, no students should have been subjected to all of the discussion that took place between the board members about Mr. Blankenship prior to and during the actual votes. Because Mr. Blankenship’s contract was not only the most important item on the January agenda, but also one of the most important decisions the board would be required to make during their four-year tenure as a board member, nothing else should have been on the agenda in January except items that could not be addressed at a later time.
The motion by the board chair to postpone the vote because students needed to be recognized was totally unnecessary since student recognitions should never have been on the agenda in the first place, in my opinion.
However, her motion was seconded and approved by a majority vote of the board, much to my disappointment.
Strategy #2, also at the Jan. 10 board meeting: The meeting began with the board chair reading to the board (for the second time) and the audience all the reasons she believes Mr. Blankenship’s contract should be renewed. Then when two votes (for a 4-year and a 3-year contract) had been cast and both were NOT in favor of Mr. Blankenship’s contract extension by a vote of 5-4, the board chair tabled (postponed) the vote. The board chair not only made the motion to table the vote to allow time for student recognitions, but she also tabled the vote for two months instead of one.
The two-month delay was more upsetting to me than her motion to table the vote at all. When I texted her to ask about this the next day, she gave me two items that required our attention in February: the discussion of (1) how we would choose our architects for our existing building projects and (2) how we would approve our E-Plan which had to be done before March. I responded back to her that neither of these things would require that much time, and that NOTHING should be more important to us right now than the decision on our director’s contract. I never did receive another reply from her.
Strategy #3, an e-mail from a Madisonville Intermediate teacher to all board members asking for a communication meeting at Madisonville Intermediate on Jan. 24: First of all, had the January vote not been postponed, there would not have been an opportunity for anyone to request a meeting with the board.
Everyone in the county had ample opportunity between the Oct. 11 meeting and the Jan. 10 meeting to address their concerns regarding Mr. Blankenship’s contract to the board.
If they were so concerned about how the board was going to vote, their concerns should have been addressed long before the Jan. 10 meeting.
At no time were any of the teachers that are not in favor of Mr. Blankenship’s contract given the privilege of any type of representation because of the hesitation to speak against Mr. Blankenship for the reasons I’ve already mentioned.
The postponement of the vote gave an unfair advantage to those in favor of Mr. Blankenship’s contract, in my opinion.
However, even though I did not agree that the communication meeting between MIS teachers and the board should have been requested at all considering that half of the votes had already been cast, I still would have attended if I had not already made plans to travel to Middle Tennessee to move my mother into an assisted living facility.
Six board members did attend the meeting, but only two of the five that had previously voted against Mr. Blankenship’s contract extension were in attendance, along with the four that had voted in favor of his contract.
The other two board members that were not in attendance also had legitimate reasons for their absence.
Approximately 35 teachers were in attendance. The meeting was publicized in the newspapers and teachers across the county were invited to attend. With approximately 350 teachers in our system, only about 10 percent of our teachers were represented at this meeting.
Aside from that, Mr. Blankenship had been principal at MIS before he became assistant director under Mr. (Mike) Lowry. Several of the MIS teachers requesting the communications meeting were on his staff when he was principal there.
Others were personal friends of his. I’m glad to hear that Mr. Blankenship made a positive influence on his staff at MIS, and I’m glad several of his friends are willing to speak on his behalf.
However, my biggest regret is that those teachers who have lived through the “questionable” transfers and dismissals that occurred several years ago have never had a voice, not now that his contract is being decided and not before, when they felt they had been treated unjustly.
Strategy #4 at a Feb. 13 faculty meeting at Sweetwater High School: Recently, I was informed that a 1st District School Board member had been allowed to speak to the SHS faculty concerning Tim Blankenship’s contract.
This meeting took place at the end of a faculty meeting and the administration left the board member alone with the faculty. The board member then told the faculty that he was there to discuss Mr. Blankenship’s contract and if anyone wanted to leave, they were welcome to. No one left.
According to what several teachers told me later, most teachers would never leave a meeting about Mr. Blankenship knowing that the principal and the assistant principal might be right outside the door taking names.
Knowing that all of the SHS administration is in support of Mr. Blankenship’s contract extension, teachers not only did not want to disappoint their principal, but they didn’t want to take a chance that their leaving the meeting might possibly get back to Mr. Blankenship.
I consider this to be a form of intimidation.
I would have been glad to speak to the faculty regarding my position on Mr. Blankenship’s contract also, but I was not even informed of the meeting. Is it ethical to use a faculty meeting as a forum to encourage teachers to contact board members that had not previously voted in favor of Mr. Blankenship’s contract extension? Is it ethical to use a faculty meeting for any board member to lobby for support for their personal vote on a current director’s contract?
When did School Board members become lobbyists?
I have no problem with anyone contacting me about any board-related topic, but I do not think it is ethical to address the entire faculty as a “captive audience” unless they were given a choice in advance as to whether or not they wanted to attend. I would also like to point out that only one of the SHS teachers contacted me at all after that meeting. I quickly sent my response back and tried to explain my rationale for my vote against Mr. Blankenship’s contract extension.
I have talked personally with several teachers at SHS since that faculty meeting. Other people have contacted me about conversations they have had with other SHS faculty members about this meeting. Once again, rumors have been running rampant about what was said.
Having not been there, I do not know exactly what was said. However, there is one rumor that I absolutely want to STOP because it slanders my name and reputation as a board member: NEVER at any time before or during my two and a half years on the School Board have I had any “personal agenda” to get rid of Mr. Blankenship or the principal at SHS. I have proof on my phone of several text messages that I have sent to the SHS principal reassuring him many times about my support of his job performance. “I am your biggest cheerleader”, “as long as you continue to do the good job that you have been doing, I can promise you that I will go down fighting for you and everyone else in this system”, and “I hope you know me well enough to know that I trust you 100 percent, I respect and admire you as a person and a principal, and I know you will always do what you think is best for the students at SHS.”
I have never had ANY PERSONAL AGENDAS for running for School Board. As a former teacher, I have a natural love and concern for education. I wanted to try to make a positive difference on the school board for the sake of all students, teachers, and administrators in our school system. All of these rumors endeavoring to slander my name as a board member sound very similar to other untruthful rumors I’ve heard about others. All of this sounds like strategies to SCARE people about their job security. Once again, it seems to me that FEAR is being used as a form of intimidation, a concern I’ve heard from many teachers throughout the county during my tenure as a school board member.
Strategy #5 at the Feb. 14 board meeting: Seven people were on the agenda to address the board in support of Mr. Blankenship’s contract extension. Six were teachers and one was a relative of the board chairman. Before the meeting started, the board chair announced that because of the number of speakers, all would have to be limited to 5 minutes each. However, none of the speakers were limited to 5 minutes, even when the timer went off repeatedly.
According to Monroe County Board of Education policy #1.404 (Appeals to and Appearances Before the Board) “delegations must select only one individual to speak on their behalf unless otherwise determined by the board”. The board was never given the opportunity to decide if we wanted to hear multiple people speak on Tim’s behalf or not.
Then, the policy goes on to say that “Remarks will be limited to five (5) minutes unless time is extended by a majority vote of the board.” Time after time the timer sounded and there was never a mention by the board chair that the board needed to vote on whether or not to extend the time beyond the 5-minute limit. Because of this intentional disregard for board policy, our meeting lasted about 2 and a half hours.
When a board chair totally disregards board policy to give those supporting her decisions an unfair advantage, I feel that is totally unethical.
Another comment that bothered me that was made by one of the seven speakers at the February meeting was about Mr. Blankenship’s evaluation scores. It was suggested that a score of 3 out of 4 among teachers is considered good, yet the board does not think that a 3.41 out of 5 for Mr. Blankenship is good enough. Regardless of what teachers feel about a 3 out of 4 on their evaluation, a 3.41 on a scale of 5 is mathematically a 68. In no shape, form, or fashion, is that a commendable score for a director of schools.
Complaints were made by one of the board members at the January meeting that Mr. Blankenship’s evaluation instrument had been changed this year and he was only given a short notice about the changes. Mr. Blankenship’s approval is not necessary for his evaluation instrument. The Evaluation Committee determines the instrument and the board approves it. How fair Mr. Blankenship felt the instrument was is definitely not his decision to make.
The past two years the school board has felt that Mr. Blankenship’s evaluation should be completed by the board after all employees within the school system had been given an opportunity to answer survey questions about him. Who better to give opinions of Mr. Blankenship’s job performance than the people he works with every single day?
For the first time ever, the Monroe County Report Card was also used as 20 percent of his evaluation score this year. Other counties throughout the state count the school Report Card much higher than 20 percent. In comparing Mr. Blankenship’s evaluation scores for the past four years, they have gone down slightly each year. Regardless of how the numerical score is interpreted, a School Board should never view an “average” or “below average” score as acceptable on any director of school’s evaluation, nor should the director of schools view those kinds of scores as acceptable from his schools.
Another huge area of concern for me has been the Tennessee State Department of Education annual grade given to each school district in the State of Tennessee. This report is measured on a scale of 1 to 4, with 4 being the highest (Exemplary) and 1 being the lowest (In Need of Improvement). This report is often referred to as District Accountability. The TN Department of Education has provided data about schools and districts on its state Report Card for many years.
Now, a new federal law requires states to provide more information about schools’ performance. Besides measuring growth (TVAAS) and Achievement (whether students are testing at grade level or above), the new law incorporates English learner assessment data, chronic absenteeism, Ready Graduate/graduation rates (for high schools), science data, and the requirement of a 95 percent ACT or SAT participation rate (for high schools). The data also includes students with disabilities, economically disadvantaged students, African American, Hispanic, and Native American students. The additional categories for the report card is an attempt to reflect that “all students matter” in public education.
Taking all the above factors into scoring a district’s Report Card, Monroe County School District received a level 1—IN NEED OF IMPROVEMENT. Even with all the state changes to standards and reporting, there were only 26 out of 137 school districts across the state of Tennessee that received a level 1 grade. Quantitatively speaking, this rating puts us in the lowest 18 percent of schools in Tennessee. (All of this information is available for anyone to see on the Tennessee Department of Education website).
We have been told by Central Office staff that we are a “level 5” district, which is only one section of the state Report Card that measures growth (TVAAS) and only evaluates one half of each district’s Report Card criteria. I didn’t learn until a few months ago on a chance encounter with another director of schools that all school districts are also evaluated on Achievement (the amount of learning that has actually taken place) and the other factors mentioned above as the final criteria for the state Report Card evaluation score.
In other words, Monroe County has been celebrating our TVAAS score of 5 and has not even mentioned our Achievement score of 1, which is just as important, if not more important, than Growth. To give an example, a fifth grader might be reading on a second-grade level and during the year makes improvement on his reading to maybe a third-grade level (which is good), but only achievement actually measures what a student has learned.
Again, growth and achievement scores can be seen on the state website for all of the 12 schools in the Monroe County district. As a School Board member, I know that it is just as important to address our weaknesses as it is to celebrate our strengths. I cannot bury my head in the sand and pretend that Achievement is not as important as Growth.
I have stated these concerns about extending Mr. Blankenship’s contract at both the December and the January meetings. Even though I have many concerns, the two that convict me the most are the “fear factor” I have found among our teachers throughout the county and the lack of transparency that I have discovered in Mr. Blankenship’s leadership. These concerns are county wide.
I realize that I am a 1st District board member and I should be focusing on 1st District needs more than county-wide concerns, and I have tried to do that, too. Specifically, I have spent many hours with several SHS staff members and administration trying to solve several incidents that have affected SHS negatively during my two and a half years as a board member. No one at SHS was responsible for any of these unfortunate incidents, but Mr. Blankenship’s involvement in handling these incidents was very unsatisfactory.
Three main incidents that I felt were important enough to investigate myself involved (1) lost state test scores of approximately 100 honor students that never were graded by the state, thus causing SHS’s state Report Card to be inaccurate, (2) an early graduation situation in which local policy was not available and state guidelines were not followed, and (3) a two-way tie for valedictorian that ended up punishing one of the students for making too many A’s. In checking with other schools in our district about this last incident, it was discovered that this same situation had occurred numerous times in the past throughout the county, it had been reported to the Central Office, and nothing had ever been done to correct the problem. Instead of taking the actions that could have stopped this problem from happening over and over again, nothing was ever done by Central Office to correct this problem and many deserving seniors were robbed of an honor they had worked their entire high school career to attain.
When I refer to Central Office, I am not pointing my finger at any of Mr. Blankenship’s Central Office staff who I know work extremely hard to make him look good. I am referring to Mr. Blankenship himself because ultimately, he is responsible for any incidents that are reported to Central Office and never corrected.
A couple of days after my election in 2016, Mr. Blankenship called to meet with me in his office. During my campaign, I had heard many comments about Tim Blankenship. Having never met him, I was looking forward to not only meeting him, but getting the opportunity to express my reasons for running for School Board and my hopes and desires for our school system.
Our meeting was very cordial but I did express my concerns about what I’d been told and I was honest with him about how the negative comments had made me feel. I told Mr. Blankenship he did not have to comment at all about my apprehensions, and, as far as I was concerned, we were starting our professional relationship off together with a clean slate. I also told him that as long as he did what I felt was best for our students and our teachers, we would get along just fine.
Just a few weeks ago while listening to the sermon at my church, this comment was made by the pastor and it immediately made an impression on me. “When we are prepared, God shows up”. I thought about all that has transpired during my two and a half-year tenure on the School Board. I thought about all that has happened, both good and bad, and all that I have done to try and make as many positive changes as possible for our teachers and students. I thought about all that I’ve been involved with while contemplating Mr. Blankenship’s contract and all the time I’ve spent evaluating my decision on whether or not to extend his contract. I thought about all my prayers asking for God’s guidance and support while considering everything I had learned and experienced while serving as a School Board member.
Then, I realized that I am as prepared as I possibly can be. God has shown up for me. He has sent people to me with words of encouragement and thanks for the stand I have taken for them. He has helped me reach out to lots of teachers across our county and talk to them about their satisfaction or dissatisfaction with Mr. Blankenship’s job performance. He has reminded me of all of my experiences since I’ve been on the School Board and He has helped me weigh the pros and cons to arrive at the decision I have made. I feel so blessed to serve a God who always shows up for me.
I hope that I have shared my heart in such a way through this letter that people that do not know me personally can see the depths of my conviction and the sincerity of my efforts. I hope I have presented the facts in such a way that anyone reading this letter can feel comfortable contacting me about anything in relation to Monroe County Schools.
My door is always open and I am never more than a phone call or e-mail away (423-337-1214, firstname.lastname@example.org).
I am not perfect and never expect anyone else to be perfect, but I can promise you that you will always get honesty, dependability, transparency, a good work ethic, and a loving heart from me. I’ve always taken important decisions in my life very seriously and I can promise you that my decision about Mr. Blankenship’s contract is one of the most important decisions I’ve ever had to make.
(Editor’s note: The Advocate & Democrat normally limits the word length of article submissions and letters to the editor but made an exception in this case due to the critical subject matter for education.)