David Cook: Do you know who your principal is?

David Cook: Do you know who your principal is?

July 1st, 2012 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse /Times Free Press.

Sorry, kids. Hate to bring this up, it being summer and all.

But at some point before August, you're going to need to answer one kinda-big question:

Do you know who your principal is?

Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith has reassigned about 75 principals and assistant principals, at last count, in one of the biggest shake-ups in recent years. He's made more moves than J.R. Martinez. Than Kasparov. Than Two Men and a Truck.

1. How many schools will have new principals?

a. 0

b. 1

c. 4 minus 1

d. At least 25

2. How many schools will have new assistant principals?

a. 1

b. 1 and 3/4

c. Cinco de Mayo

d. At least 50

In both questions, the answer is "D,'' as in "Does anyone know why this is happening?"

Every middle school has at least one new administrator. The same is true for 13 out of 19 high schools and 25 of 43 elementary schools. Fifteen schools have both -- new principals and new assistant principals.

To use some teenage lingo: WTF? (Where They From? Who's This Fella?)

Soddy Elementary has had three principals in three years, according to news reports. Wolftever Creek has a new principal -- its third in three years, as well -- and a new assistant principal.

The principals at three schools set to receive state Innovation Zone funding were moved. Each was demoted to assistant principal. Brainerd High's Charles Joynes was told he was going to Chattanooga Middle/High, then retransferred to Ooltewah as assistant principal.

"Mr. Joynes is an excellent principal,'' said Isaiah Hayes, who graduated this spring after four years at Brainerd with a scholarship to Cumberland College. I called him several weeks ago at his job in the meat department at a local grocery store.

"We were upset. We didn't understand the reasoning. He's done such a great job,'' he said.

Joynes was replaced by Uras Agee, a University of Tennessee at Chattanooga graduate who's been a principal in suburban Atlanta. According to documents obtained from the DeKalb County School District, Agee -- who had been investigated at least twice by the school system's internal affairs unit and suspended for a physical altercation with a student -- was set to be demoted for the 2012-13 school year.

The year before, Agee received a "Letter of Reprimand" from the DeKalb superintendent after an investigation into unprofessional conduct.

"This is your final warning that any similar incidents will result in your demotion and or your termination,'' the letter reads.

Did Smith know about this before he hired Agee?

But this column is not about Agee. It's about the decision-making at central office, which seems as random as Powerball to folks on the outside. More announcements are made over McDonald's menu changes than this.

Maybe it's time for an essay question:


Why did Smith make so many moves?

How political is this? How involved is the Hamilton County Commission (we're looking at you, Fred Skillern) in such decision-making?

How influential are test scores, which remain embargoed by the state like a box of Cuban cigars? Smith can't release these scores until the fall, but how much did they affect these decisions?

In his defense, Smith may be making some of the most visionary decisions ever, based on data and an understanding that some folks fit in some places better than others.

Let's hope that is the right answer.

Kids? You still there? Kids?