Most Hamilton County school board members happy with superintendent's first-year performance

Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Dr. Bryan Johnson speaks to the Times Free Press staff on March 15, 2018.
Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Dr. Bryan Johnson speaks to the Times Free Press staff on March 15, 2018.

Most of Hamilton County's school board members are happy with Superintendent Bryan Johnson's performance in his first year, though two board members cite shortcomings, according to evaluations released Friday.

The nine board members each evaluated Johnson in seven categories relating to strategic planning, student achievement, school leadership, operations of the district and his relationship with the board, which will be discussed publicly at the regularly scheduled board meeting on Thursday.

Joe Wingate, of District 7, gave Johnson the highest rating - a 4.5 out of 5.

"I wanted some drastic change in how our school system was run," Wingate said. "I just feel like he's brought that."

District 2 board member Kathy Lennon also stated she was happy with Johnson's first year, which has been filled with big changes including the creation of the Opportunity Zone for 12 of the district's lowest-performing schools, the establishment of a partnership with the state for five of those schools, the creation of a more than $120 million capital plan, and large-scale reorganization of staff at both the central office and schools across the district.

"I'm pleased with the direction that we are going," Lennon said. "I think that he made some bold changes."

Some of her colleagues did not feel similarly though, and Lennon said that surprised her.


Here are some highlights from the Hamilton County school board’s evaluation of Superintendent Bryan Johnson’s first-year performance. Each component was ranked from 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest, and averaged by the 9 school board members’ scores.Strategic Planning:Initiate an external audit of all facilities, identifying plans for capital needs: 2.7 (out of 5)Student Achievement:Identify and implement necessary organization changes that support student achievement: 3.7Staff and Personnel Relationships:Develops an aggressive recruiting plan to attract and retain talented educators to support schools and district work: 3.5School Leadership:Identify/Implement leadership development for school and district leaders: 3.6Post-Secondary Opportunities:Develop a plan to increase career and technical education offerings for students: 4.4Business and Finance:Engage funding body in planning for long-term capital and operation needs: 3.2Board Relationship:Keeps board members informed on issues, needs and operation of the school system: 4.4

Rhonda Thurman, often the voice of opposition on the board's decisions, gave Johnson the lowest rating of any board member, a 2.06. She said she was disappointed in his performance.

"I am just extremely disappointed in the way that things have gone in central office," Thurman, of District 1, said. "We have gotten rid of a lot of people in central office that [have] had any institutional knowledge."

Thurman also said she felt the district has been "sidetracked" by the discussion of equity, which she has spoken against since the creation of the school system's Equity Task Force this spring.

"I am extremely disappointed about this Equity Task Force, we've went off the rails," Thurman said. "We have kids graduating from high school that can't read, that's where we need to get a task force working."

Across the board, Johnson was rated highest in areas relating to post-secondary opportunities for students, earning high marks for developing a plan to increase career and technical education offerings and engaging with business and industry to increase such opportunities - a possible nod to the launch of Future Ready Institutes, one of Johnson's biggest initiatives this year.

The institutes will launch this fall at 13 of the district's traditional high schools and will offer students specific curriculums tailored to industries, thanks in part to partnerships with local businesses and organizations, something Lennon said the district needs to continually do.

Johnson's contract - approved last July - gave a rough outline of the board's annual evaluation of him. It required him to present the board with a strategic plan containing specific goals and objectives each year for consideration and approval, but the board expanded on the process last fall.

Wingate spearheaded the process.

"It was a little different than maybe other evaluations," Wingate said. "We decided that we were going to set some special parameters up for his first year. We wanted him to meet some specific goals in his first year that we thought were going to be foundational for success going forward."

Johnson acknowledged his first year was about preparing for the future.

"This year was about establishing a foundation that will allow us to build toward the vision of success the board has set for Hamilton County Schools," Johnson said in a statement.

"The board and I have embarked together upon an aggressive agenda for the children of the community to make Hamilton County Schools the fastest improving school district in the state. This is a valuable evaluation point that is beneficial to keep us moving forward as we develop long term plans for the future," he added.

Of the board members, Thurman and David Testerman, of District 8, rated Johnson's performance the lowest. Testerman could not be reached for comment.

Wingate, Lennon and outgoing board member Joe Galloway, of District 6, gave him the highest scores. Galloway also could not be reached for comment.

Overall, Johnson earned the lowest scores in regard to capital maintenance and building plans - a 2.7 average out of 5. Several board members mentioned they would like to see multi-year capital maintenance plans, as well as an external audit of all facilities to identify needs.

Last fall, the board approved the capital plan presented by Johnson after the county allocated $100 million in bond funds to school maintenance, but some felt the plan was rushed and could have used more community input.

Many acknowledge the challenges Johnson faced when he stepped into the role.

"Given what Dr. Johnson stepped into, I think he has done a good job, and I think the Board's overall evaluation of him is fair," District 3 board member Joe Smith said in a statement.

Board members received copies of their colleagues' evaluations, as well as an executive summary, Thursday evening. The evaluations were included in a board agenda packet for next week's meeting released Friday afternoon, despite uncertainty from the district that they would be released this week.

Contact staff writer Meghan Mangrum at or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.


Each Hamilton County school board member evaluated Superintendent Bryan Johnson on components in 7 categories. The rating scale was a 1 to 5 scale, with 5 being the highest. The total score from each board member was averaged to produce his 3.68 overall rating. (In order of district)Rhonda Thurman: 2.06Kathy Lennon: 4.44Joe Smith: 3.50Tiffanie Robinson: 4.00Karitsa Mosley-Jones: 3.94Joe Galloway: 4.39Joe Wingate: 4.50David Testerman: 2.78Steve Highlander: 3.50

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