published Thursday, June 26th, 2014

Teacher challenges incumbent in Hamilton County's District 3

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is one in a series of stories about contested races in the August general election.

The District 3 race for Hamilton County school board will be a test for both incumbent and challenger, as neither has been elected to public office.

Retired Hamilton County teacher Jim Watson is challenging Greg Martin, who was appointed to the board in March 2012 after Everett Fairchild stepped down.

Since Martin came onto the board, one of the schools in District 3, Ganns Middle Valley Elementary, received County Commission approval for a replacement building. And capital funds flowed into the district with a replacement roof for Loftis Middle School, Martin said. He says his experience and his leadership skills are reasons enough to vote for him.

"I understand that the role of the board is not to micromanage a school or a classroom," Martin said, "but it's to set priorities and policies for the district and work with the superintendent on having a vision going forward."

In the future, he'd like to put more attention on the district's technology plans and on fostering parental involvement.

"I think that is huge," he said. "We need to create policies and procedures that make parental involvement in the public education system an easy thing to do."

Neither Martin nor Watson is running an adversarial campaign, but the challenger said he's hoping to bring a teacher's perspective onto the board.

Watson says he'll translate lessons he learned in the classroom onto the school board.

"My number one priority -- everything is going to come down to this -- is what I call the instructional environment," he said.

Thus, money and priorities need to be put on the classroom, Watson said, not other efforts.

After retiring from Hamilton County Schools in 2002, Watson taught in Dalton Public Schools. He says next year he plans to teach a dual enrollment course at Ivy Academy, a local public charter school.

"I want to be in the classroom and on the school board so that I can give direct input from the classroom to the school board," he said.

The potential for conflicts of interest bars current school employees from serving on the school board, said Hamilton County Election Administrator Kerry Steelman. But Watson's position is a little murky: charter schools receive local funding from the school system, though they operate independently. Still, he said state election administrators advised it potentially would cause a conflict.

"They said, knowing that it was a charter school teacher, that for election purposes he could run," Steelman said. "But if elected, that would be another issue, an issue that would need to be taken up by the school board's attorney."

Martin has $5,090 on hand, according to his April campaign financial disclosure. Watson said he was not collecting campaign funds.

Contact staff writer Kevin Hardy at khardy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249.

about Kevin Hardy...

Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...

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