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Questions left unanswered by school board, policy committee

Bill Baxter is a former member of the Jackson-Madison County School Board whose children have gone through the educational system.

He said he thought that gave him a unique perspective when he appeared before the JMCSS Board’s policy committee on Jan. 25 to ask a series of questions on behalf of concerned citizens.

“I talked with [JMCSS Superintendent Marlon King] over a year ago after some of us formed a committee wanting to find out how we can help this board,” Baxter said. “And one of the main things the committee I’m a part of wants to do is to ask questions to see where things are at with the school system and then find out what we can do to help.”

The committee Baxter is a member of is the education committee with We the People of West Tennessee.

Baxter and the rest of the committee put together a list of four questions they wanted the Board to answer, and he said he’s tried multiple times to be able to appear before the Board.

But doing so has been difficult. He said he tried to get on the agenda for the Board meetings in December and January but was unable to.

During the meeting, JMCSS Attorney Dale Thomas officially read two ways a person can get an audience with the Board in a meeting. One way is to get approval by the executive committee, which is a two-person committee comprised of King and Board Chairman James “Pete” Johnson.

The other way is to sign up before the meeting each month to speak during the public comments portion of the meeting, but doing that comes with the prerequisite that the topic of discussion must be attached to an item on the meeting agenda.

Since the questions have nothing to do with any meeting agenda items, that left Baxter with one option. When he e-mailed King and Johnson, he said he got a response suggesting he bring the questions before the policy committee first so they can discuss his questions and whether or not to bring them before the Board.

He read his questions to the committee last week.

The first one asked about policies enacted in the last 3-5 years that address reading and math proficiency and how much students have improved in both areas. The second question essentially asked about the JMCSS methodology for discipline in the classroom. The third question had two parts. The first was about the ability of teachers to see a needed adjustment in teaching method in class and their ability to adjust. The second part asked about the fact that apparently some teachers who see a need to adjust don’t speak up because of a fear of retaliation from the administration, and if the Board addresses a possible hostile work environment that would facilitate those teachers’ views. The final question asked about teacher retention and mentioning that the problems with retention from the district office aren’t the same reasons given from administrators in the schools.

Debbie Gaugh, who is on the policy committee, asked Baxter if his questions had been answered. He said no.

“I’ve heard some of the same things that you’ve mentioned from people, but our first line in hearing about a lot of concerns with the district is coming from parents,” Gaugh said. “If parents will be more proactive in letting us know about concerns they have as they talk with their children about what’s going on in the classroom, we can have a better understanding of what they’re dealing with.”

After a discussion that lasted a few minutes with the committee that included Thomas’ clarification of how a person can address the Board, Committee Chair Janice Hampton at first asked the other members – Gaugh and Ken Newman – if they thought Baxter’s questions should be brought before the full Board. After Thomas said the matter should really be put forth as a motion, Hampton made the motion. Neither Newman nor Gaugh seconded the motion, and it died at that point. Brandon Shields, brandon@jacksonpost.news

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