Hamilton County school board members pleased with Superintendent Bryan Johnson's year two performance also cite common shortcomings

Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter/ Superintendent Bryan Johnson speaks during a press conference unveiling the Hamilton County Schools' TNReady test score results and TVAAS scores at the Tennessee Aquarium on Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019 in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter/ Superintendent Bryan Johnson speaks during a press conference unveiling the Hamilton County Schools' TNReady test score results and TVAAS scores at the Tennessee Aquarium on Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Hamilton County Schools board members remain happy with Superintendent Bryan Johnson's performance in his second year at the helm of the district, according to evaluations released Friday.

All but one of the nine board members rated Johnson higher than they did after his first year, with a few citing common shortcomings.

Though he still received high marks on the 1 to 5 scale, with 5 being the highest, board members suggested Johnson could do more work around developing a comprehensive building plan for the district, strengthening relationships with Hamilton County commissioners, and developing behavior management training for educators.

"Dr. Johnson's steadfast faith in the abilities of our students and teachers paired with bold organizational changes delivered outstanding academic improvements in our district over the last year," wrote board member Jenny Hill, of District 6.

The nine board members each evaluated Johnson in categories including strategic planning, staff and personnel relationships, school leadership, post-secondary opportunities, business and finance, and board relationship. Those areas will be discussed publicly at a regularly scheduled board meeting on Thursday.

Board chairman Joe Wingate and members Joe Smith and Tiffanie Robinson collectively gave Johnson the highest rating - a 4.68 out of 5.


*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 4.24 overall rating.Rhonda Thurman: 3.16Kathy Lennon: 4.58Joe Smith: 4.68Tiffanie Robinson: 4.68Karitsa Mosley-Jones: 4.63Jenny Hill: 4.37Joe Wingate: 4.68Tucker McClendon: 3.95Steve Highlander: 3.42

But many of them still cited areas that could be strengthened in the coming year.

Robinson called the preliminary facilities audit and recommendations from the private firm MGT Consulting Group "still in it's infancy."

Hill noted what Johnson will need to do as the district moves toward its goal of developing a comprehensive 7- to 10-year plan.

"As the plan moves forward, Dr. Johnson will need to be certain to include significant community input" from the school, neighborhood and community, as well as experts in finance and real estate, Hill said.


— Monday, Sept. 16 at 5 p.m.: Agenda session— Tuesday, Sept. 17 at 5 p.m.: State Partnership Network public meeting— Thursday, Sept. 19 at 4:30 p.m.: Work session with MGT Consulting Group— Thursday, Sept. 19 at 5 p.m.: Executive session with board attorney— Thursday, Sept. 19 at 5:30 p.m.: Regular monthly school board meeting

Former chairman Steve Highlander, of District 9, said more transparency is needed throughout the capital budgeting process. Highlander also rated Johnson lower than he had in 2018 - a 3.42 out of 5.

Board member Rhonda Thurman, of District 1, again ranked Johnson the lowest, but still said he met expectations in his role. Thurman, often the minority voice of opposition on the board, scored Johnson the lowest when it came to the facilities audit process, the district's recruitment and retention processes and Johnson's relationship with the district's funding body.

"You may have increased your relationship with the mayor, but not the funding body," Thurman said. "The long-term building and operational needs [proposed] were so out of reach, I am not sure the funding body took it seriously."

With this year's evaluation also comes new metrics based on student academic achievement across the district. Wingate created the addition to the evaluation tool and the board officially adopted the new measures that take into account student achievement, after it adopted Johnson's five-year strategic plan in September 2018.

The measures, which are only scored as a pass or fail, include 38% of third graders being on track in reading, a 24% pass rate for Algebra I students, 47% of students completing one or more post-secondary opportunities (such as AP courses or earning a credential), an average ACT composite score of 20.2 and an 86% graduation rate for the district.

Three of the measures have not been returned from the state yet, but the number of third graders on track in reading increased in 2019 and the pass rate for Algebra I students increased to 26.9%.

Johnson will receive a one-time $15,000 bonus this year thanks to the district's Level 5 TVAAS growth scores, and he has already publicly announced that he will donate that bonus toward student scholarships established in his late mother's name.

Johnson's self-evaluation, which was made public last year, was not included alongside board members' evaluation forms in Friday's agenda packet ahead of this week's meetings. It is unclear why that was not also released.

Johnson was picked as the district's next superintendent in a 5-4 vote in June 2017. He is halfway through a four-year contract that the board approved in July 2017 after weeks of negotiations. In addition to adding possible bonuses, Johnson's contract also allows for a buyout.

The superintendent and his board members will have plenty of opportunities to talk about Johnson's performance this week.

The board will meet Monday at 5 p.m. for an agenda session and then on Thursday for its monthly board meeting. Before that 5:30 p.m. meeting, the board is slated to meet with its attorneys in an executive, closed session and with representatives from MGT Consulting to discuss updates on the facilities audit and capital plan.

On Tuesday, Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn will be in town to meet with Johnson, members of his staff and the advisory board for the State Partnership Network, which oversees the collaborative effort to improve five of the district's historically failing schools that were threatened with state takeover in 2018.

Contact Meghan Mangrum at mmangrum@timesfreepress.com or 423-757- 6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.

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