Contenders debate for District 2 school board seat

Staff photo by Angela Foster / Jonathan Welch listens during a meeting of the Hamilton County Board of Education

Voters got the chance to hear from candidates vying for the opportunity to represent District 2 on the school board Tuesday night at a debate that fleshed out some differences between the two.

Incumbent Jonathan Welch, a local dentist who has served on the board for four years, most recently as the chairman, is being challenged by Kathy Lennon, the director of Chattanooga Workspace.

photo Kathy Lennon

The first question of the night addressed one of the largest issues hovering over the county - how to move forward in hiring a new superintendent to lead the school system after Rick Smith's resignation.

Welch said he would be looking for community feedback before and after the decision is made, but added he prioritizes someone who could help the system's culture change appropriately.

He said, "We've been so top down in the system for so long we've killed creative development and parents feel like they don't have a voice."

Lennon said she would push for a nationwide search to find someone who is a strong innovator and leader with a diverse background and who is up-to-date on newly developed teaching methodologies.

She said, "I know that's a big plate to fill, but other communities have done it, and I think we can do it, too."

The candidates also touched on the issue of student-based budgeting, a funding model that has been suggested as a possible alternative to the facility-based model Hamilton County currently uses.

Lennon said she wasn't sure what would be best for the school system, but also promised she was more than willing to research any and all options to find the best path forward.

What she was certain of was that, "It is time for a change."

Welch said he would support a student-based model because it would pull some level of control away from the central office and put it into the hands of principals and teachers, not administrators.

He said, "Anything that takes control and puts it closer to the kids, I'm going to be for."

Early voting starts on July 15 and runs through July 30. General voting will take place on Aug. 4.

Contact staff writer Emmett Gienapp at or 423-757-6731.