School Board Appreciation Week: Elizabethton Board shares accomplishments, priorities for future

Published 8:58 am Friday, January 29, 2016

Contributed Photo  Board members Tyler Fleming, Chair Rita Booher, Grover May, Susan Peters and Phil Isaacs

Contributed Photo
Board members Tyler Fleming, Chair Rita Booher, Grover May, Susan Peters and Phil Isaacs

School board members serve administrators, school staff, students and the community by volunteering their time to ensure that effective policies are in place and upheld in their school systems. They are tasked with the duties of making informed decisions for the school system as well as voicing concerns to the state legislature.
Governor Bill Haslam established the week of January 24-30 as the state’s School Board Appreciation Week, and Mayor Curt Alexander along with the City Council recognized the Elizabethton City School Board at January’s meeting for its outstanding contributions to education in Elizabethton.
Dr. Corey Gardenhour, director of city schools, said he believes the Elizabethton School Board is the best in the state.
“They question what we do, offer input and work with the community, our teachers and City Council,” said Gardenhour. “Their focus is on children, and we’re blessed to have the people in these roles that we have. I think that we have a bright future ahead for Elizabethton City Schools with this particular board.”
Board members are elected every four years on staggered terms and must meet training requirements by the Tennessee School Boards Association. The board supervises one employee: the director of schools.
Currently, the five representatives on the board include Chair Rita Booher with members Phil Isaacs, Grover May, Tyler Fleming and Susan Peters.
Booher, Isaacs and May will be up for re-election in November.
Booher has been on the board for 10 years and served as chair for four. Both Isaacs and May have been on the board for three years, and Peters and Fleming for one.
Both Peters and Fleming have lengthy and decorated backgrounds in education.
Fleming served as the School Administrator in Kingsport City Schools for over 20 years in middle and high school as well as at Central Office. Prior to this, he was the director of bands at Dobyns-Bennett High School, Unicoi County High and Sevier County High. Following his retirement, he served as the administrative director of a private school for three years.
Peters taught for over 32 years and won several Teacher of the Year awards, including one statewide award in Science.
The other three members’ involvement in Elizabethton City Schools began with their children, or in May’s case, as a student himself.
May said that as a physician, he sees firsthand the effects of education on society and believes education is critical for making strides in medicine and in life.
“Public education is the great equalizer that allows our citizens to pursue the American dream,” May said. “An informed populace will make better decisions as a democratic body and improve our collective lives as a community. The war on poverty and its effects (hunger, disease, crime, etc.) can most effectively be battled by making certain our citizens are given the tools to succeed in today’s world.”
These are the fundamental reasons he developed interest in serving on the school board in Elizabethton where he and his children have attended.
Booher began working with the schools in parent/teacher organizations when her oldest daughter attended East Side. She served as president at East Side and three times at T.A. Dugger until both of her daughters went on to high school. She said she spent significant time organizing fundraisers for her daughters’ schools, including the locally-lauded Bean Supper.
Isaacs’ two daughters also graduated from Elizabethton High School after 12 years in city schools. He was also involved with parent/teacher organizations when they were in elementary, and continued involvement through participation in athletic booster clubs at the middle and high school levels.
Together, these five members share a long list of accomplishments in facilities improvements, personnel decisions, legislation and its effect on education.
Among facilities upgrade and additions approved by the board are the Citizens Bank Stadium, music facility and classroom additions at Elizabethton High School, as well as the softball complex and upgrades in elementary schools.
“We put a lot of thought and time into those, but it’s all worth it in the end because it’s something our community is proud of and something our children will use for years to come,” said Isaacs.
Additionally, the board transitioned to a new director of schools who has facilitated the hiring of a new assistant director of schools, principals, teachers and other personnel. Peters said she has witnessed much more harmony, consensus and cooperation between the board and administration than in previous years.
Student enrollment, ACT scores, TCAP scores and graduation rates have all increased.
“We are all dedicated to providing the best possible education to the students, using the taxpayers’ dollars wisely, working closely with the City Council and being as open and available as possible to the parents and community,” said Peters.
In recent years, major legislation has been signed and dissolved by the Tennessee General Assembly regarding curriculum and testing requirements as well as teacher evaluation.
These include the implementation of TN Ready and Common CORE, as well as the recent passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act.
“Tennessee is making huge strides, but the growing pains have been difficult,” said Booher. “I have enormous admiration for our teachers, administration, students and parents working through these new changes.”
Board members are in agreement on a number of goals for the future direction of academics, facilities and proposed legislation.
All five are excited to see the facilities’ needs met, particularly the eight-classroom addition proposed for T.A. Dugger, as well as dropping the ceilings and technological upgrades at the elementary schools.
“All of these schools need additions due to ever-increasing enrollment numbers, especially at T.A. Dugger,” said Peters.
Concerning legislation, a number of topics are up for discussion, some of which ECS board members approve, and others which they do not. In January’s meeting, they passed a resolution voicing concerns that the voucher program which is being considered by the state legislature would take money away from public schools. Additionally, Isaacs said he believes bringing charter schools into the system would not be a good decision.
Another issue that most mentioned was the anticipated decrease in programs which place a strong emphasis on testing despite deficiencies in technology and funding.
“I support the direction of the U.S. Department of Education in reducing programs such as ‘No Child Left Behind’ and ‘Race to the Top,’ thus redirecting educational decisions and prioritization of curriculum to the State and local levels,” said Fleming, adding the board has emphasized its concern to the state regarding hasty implementation of new programs. “I support these entities in continuing goals of improving high school graduation rates and redefining measurements of student achievement… We continue to face challenging issues in education including unfunded mandates and implementing legislation without the much-needed input of educators.”
Peters said she hopes the board can be a voice for teachers, and multiple members said they aspire to have better communication between parents, teachers, the community and lawmakers to promote greater success.
In order to retain “outstanding employees,” Fleming said he would like to see the system address salaries so that they may be competitive with other local school systems.
Though they have not participated in the Tennessee School Board Association’s Boardsmanship process, Booher said she hopes they will do so in the future.
Additionally, May said he wants the board to consider adding community service as a graduation requirement.
All of these and more will be considered in the coming months, as board members continue their service to the school system and community.

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