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Parents express concerns as school board tension shows no signs of slowing down

FOX 17 News

Parents and former school board members say they are fed up with fighting between school board members during school board meetings. At a recent school board meeting, there was a heated exchange between newly elected board member Fran Bush, board chair Dr. Sharon Gentry and school director Dr Shawn Joseph. It’s become a frequent exchange in board members.

“School board members have three responsibilities: hire and evaluate the director of schools, budget and policy - that’s it. From what I saw from the recent school board meeting, I think we’ve sort of lost that direction. We’ve lost that understanding of where the focus needs to be,” said Cheryl Mayes, former school board chair.

The school’s transition team was presenting to the board when Bush asked what literacy support is in place for students after budget shortfalls forced the end to a reading support program. Gentry suggested she wait for a more detailed report to be sent to her. Bush pushed back. Joseph then intervened. An exchange between the three continued.

“You’re not going to always agree, but that level of exchange should not be conducted on the board floor, live video stream. The public is watching."

They’re also watching online and on social media where board members Christiane Buggs and former board vice chair Jill Speering got into an exchange regarding the reading program.

“As you might say, the train has left its rails,” said Barry Barlow, president of the MNPS parent advisory council.

He says the in-fighting is a serious distraction from the ones who matter most.

“Kids are suffering and that’s my concern. That you do all this arguing. What about the child? The child is the one we need to be worried about,” said Barlow.

FOX 17 News reached out to Joseph, Gentry and Bush for a statement. Dawn Rutledge, MNPS spokesperson referred us back to the school board for comment. Gentry and Bush’ statements are below.

Board Member Fran Bush:

"The Board has some serious issues that are problematic and a number of board members refuse to address the seriousness of potential risks that will plague our students learning abilities and growth, and we are at a high risk losing more and more certified and highly-trained teachers. The voters spoke loud and clear in the Southeast Quadrant the fastest growing area in Davidson and the voters spoke loud and elected me to ask the tough questions and get things right for our entire district."

Board Chair Dr. Sharon Gentry:

"The role of the board is quite simple:

1. We hire and monitor the director of schools.

2. We work with administration to prepare and present budget requests to the mayor and council.

3. We ensure we have policies that support the success of the district.

We do not make decisions regarding personnel, we do not recommend programs. We are a governing body, not an administrative one. Until THE BOARD returns to its primary responsibilities, THE BOARD will be the greatest hindrance to the continued success of the district.

It is unfortunate that these limitations seem to frustrate some of us on the Board; we seem to want a broader, deeper, more tactical reach into district operations - to the extent that we will violate many of our own policies, as well as the contract we have with our ONE EMPLOYEE.

But there is plenty of work that we can engage in that is within our purview. In addition to those listed above, we should be advocates for the work of the district. Our current behavior makes it difficult to sit across from our respective Metro Council representatives and the Mayor and push for the additional funding needed to pay our teachers; recruit additional, qualified and impactful leaders; reduce class size; reduce the ratio of psychologists to students, as well as the ratio of nurses to schools. It makes difficult to get partnerships with local business, companies, and organizations to get the resources to expand initiatives that have been proven to be successful at helping us to deliver on our three leading KPIs - improve literacy, increase attendance, reduce expulsions; initiatives such as those outlined in our Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) Model and other Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) programs.

The board worked with administration to review and approve the report that came from the Transition Team - it included 121 items. The current administration and staff have managed to address 90 of them; there are 31 items left that need this Board's support and attention. We also have a strategic plan that the Board approved that clearly outlines the priorities of the district and the areas that the Board should be focused on.

What is also unfortunate is that I do not get a call from media when we get glowing reports from our reward schools; when we hear progress reports from our Schools of Innovation; when Student Ambassadors present to the board on the positive experiences they are having in our high schools through The Academies. The calls only come when the actions and commentary from a few board members create opportunity to further an air of distraction, detraction, and disrespect.

When Dr. Joseph and his administration (and huge shout out to Ms. Christianne Buggs for her leadership from a Board perspective) worked with NOAH, the Public Defenders Office, Juvenile Courts, The Oasis Center, and others, to take a stance on the disparities in suspensions and expulsions in the district, and modified administrative policies, it barely registered with the media.

I look forward to the day when this city, this IT CITY rallies around public education to promote the good so we can honestly say 'the children are well.'"

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