Hamilton County school board talks about rezoning, superintendent evaluation

Hamilton County school board talks about rezoning, superintendent evaluation

September 20th, 2017 by Rosana Hughes in Local Regional News

New schools superintendent Bryan Johnson moves to his seat before a Hamilton County Board of Education meeting on Thursday, July 20, 2017, in Chattanooga, Tenn. The board discussed a school Partnership Zone proposal would create an independent mini-district within Hamilton County as an alternative to complete state takeover of five low-performing schools.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

The Hamilton County school board on Tuesday discussed rezoning and potential evaluation tools for new superintendent Bryan Johnson.

During a work session, the board met with Regional Planning Agency Executive Director John Bridger, who detailed areas experiencing the highest growth rates.

Bridger said the Ooltewah-Ringgold Road and East Brainerd Road area going toward Apison is seeing the most growth, with about 900 lots "already in the pipeline." He said subdivisions are being planned for the area north of Ooltewah High School, and there is continued growth in the Stone Wall Farms area in Hixson.

As these new developments bring in more families with more children, it will impact school zoning.

"We're already going to have to do some rezoning; we already know that," said school board member Rhonda Thurman. "... We're going to have to look at [growth rates] and see where we're going to have to build a school."

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School board Chairman Steve Highlander said school rezoning will be part of future discussions, but he didn't know how far in the future those conversations will take place.

Highlander said the planning agency was brought in based on common interests from the county commission, Hamilton County Department of Education and the school board to pinpoint which areas have the greatest needs.

"We want to be farsighted, not nearsighted" he said, seconding Thurman's statement that new schools should go where the most growth is recorded.

"We're trying to use the money wisely," Highlander said in reference to the $100 million allocated for school repairs by the Hamilton County Commission.

After the work session, the school board immediately moved on to discuss how to evaluate Johnson.

Johnson's contract, approved in July, gives a rough outline of the board's annual evaluation of him. It requires him to present the board with a strategic plan containing specific goals and objectives each year for consideration and approval.

School board member Joe Wingate is spearheading the task of developing an evaluation tool for Johnson. During the meeting, Wingate presented nearly a dozen documents to the board as ideas to use in creating the tool. The documents were examples of other districts' evaluation tools for their leaders. He asked the board to read over those documents before next Thursday's meeting.

"Let's cull some of that and let's get to what you think is relevant and what you think has value," Wingate said.

Highlander suggested a one-year temporary evaluation tool be implemented while the district's strategic plan is developed further with the new superintendent's input.

"We did a strategic plan last year, but we didn't have our superintendent's input on it," he said. "We had our interim Dr. [Kirk] Kelly — and I appreciate his input — but we need Dr. Johnson's [input] on it."

Johnson said it's critical for the board's members to be thoughtful about what is needed to set them on a path that sets everyone up for success.

"It's tough to pick a specific target that you want me to address when we have funding issues, partnership issues, just school issues in general," he said. "So what are the foundational things that are critical to you all as a board that you'd have me work through as a superintendent?"

School board member Joe Smith brought up Johnson's record for turning schools' performance around, and Highlander said he thinks Johnson has a better handle on how to handle the priority schools than the state does.

"How laser-focused do we need to get?" Smith asked in reference to the issues Johnson brought up, adding that he doesn't think Johnson can be expected to fix them all.

Thurman said she has "a whole lot more faith" in Johnson than other organizations advocating for school welfare.

"You have done it, they have not," she said. "You're accountable to us. They're accountable to no one. I want to hear your plan, what you've done that you know works."

Contact staff writer Rosana Hughes at rhughes@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6327. Follow her on Twitter @HughesRosana.