Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Board work session transcript

The Rutherford County School Board met Tuesday, Aug. 11, at 5 p.m. for its regular work session meeting to discuss items on the agenda for its regular meeting set for 5 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 13. The majority of the time was spent discussing the admissions policy for Central Academic Middle School. Below is the transcript of that discussion. Members of the public were not allowed to speak at the work session, but may speak for a maximum of three minutes at Thursday's meeting. My next blog post will be my interpretation of this work session.

Transcript:
Rutherford County School Board Work Session

Aug. 11, 2009

5 p.m.

Speakers:

Dr. Mark Byrnes, Rutherford County School Board Chairman

Mr. Wayne R. Blair, School Board member

Mr. Grant Kelley, School Board member

Mr. Terry Hodge, School Board member

Mr. Harry Gill, Superintendent of Rutherford County Schools

Mr. Rick Wise, School Board member

Mr. Dorris Jernigan Sr., School Board member

Mr. Donald Jernigan, School Board member

Mr. Jeff Reed, School Board attorney

Byrnes: If you want to speak on Thursday night, you are certainly free to do that. I've talked to different people on different sides of this debate. I am pretty certain we know what the issues are and the sides are, so I'm not sure it's going to be incredibly useful for 25 people to get up and say anything. But you have that right and you can certainly do that, but you need to keep your discussions to three minutes if you do that.

We welcome your presence here, but this is not a rally. Do not cheer, boo or hiss. That is not welcome here.

There's been a lot of communication about this issue and we're all for the public being involved, but what I'm hearing second hand is that some miscommunication has taken place. First on the city-county issue and how McFadden's admission policy figures into this debate. In this issue I don't see how it's particularly relevant. Our GIS person plugged the McFadden enrollment numbers into his database and found 206 city students and 195 outside the city. When you consider Murfreesboro residents only make up 40 percent of the population, then they are overrepresented, so this argument doesn't work.

Another miscommunication is that the committee who did this was comprised of McFadden parents. They were employees who just happened to be McFadden parents. Could we have done a better job with that committee, probably. But it wasn't unfairly loaded with McFadden parents.

The proposed grandfather clause is the middle school only. No proposal before the board that said the proposal would grandfather the kids through high school. Doesn't say that now. Never has. I will close with this comment: We've heard a lot of arguments, and 90 percent of them say we need to do what the fair thing is. The problem is all sides have a different idea of what fairness is. Screaming that is not much of an argument. I think most board members recognize there is some reasonable case to be made on both sides, and our job Thursday night will be to decide what is most fair. I understand it's a passionate issue. You're talking about your kids. We're all parents up here, we fully understand the passions involved. I think we need a little less passion and a little more rationality on this.

Full disclosure I am a McFadden parent, and I will not vote on Thursday, but I will not give up my right to say what I think.

GILL: There weren't any backroom politics. No deals were struck with anybody. I think the policy is fair, but if you are a parent at Discovery, you probably don't. It's a fair recommendation from my perspective, so I'm going to propose to the board to approve the policy as it was presented to the board.

BYRNES: Slightly edited. New version is on the Web site.

DORRIS JERNIGAN: This only applies to the kids in sixth, seventh and eight at McFadden, right?

GILL: No, every child at McFadden.

HODGE: Are we discriminating?

REED: The question has come up if you establish a grandfather clause is that discriminatory. You have to identify a class. Under this policy, there's no evidence of that in this case. Not race, gender or anything. This is just the board setting its own admissions policy in terms of this school. Under state law, local school boards are given broad policy to determine the admission criteria of the new magnet school. It's not like you are trying to do any profiling. No discrimination based upon this policy.

DORRIS JERNIGAN: I received an e-mail that talked about a contract. I'm not sure there was a contract. There's been discussion about there being a contract with McFadden parents about that school. A contract can be written, implied, or verbal, by someone who has the authority to make that agreement. In my seven years on the board we've never made such an agreement with a McFadden parent their child could go all the way through the eighth grade. We have moved kids from one school to another school, which we are going to do next fall, so I just have a problem thinking there's been a contract.

REED: There's been no contract. Zone lines can be changed at any time, admission standards can be changed at any time. That's all at the discretion of the board. There's been no written contact with parents of McFadden School and you can't guarantee zone lines with admission to certain schools.

GILL: We tested out, and we're here eight years or nice years, and we think it's a fair thing to do to move all the McFadden kids over to the new magnet school. I think we kind of addressed that. We wanted this magnet school to be a school that challenged kids. We want this to be recognized as a high achievement school.

BYRNES: I haven't heard anyone argue there's a legal contract, but there is a commitment. One of the reason government is not trusted is they keep going back on their commitment.

WISE: When Discovery School moved, didn't they move those kids from one school to the other? Isn't that the same issue? I'm not taking a stand one way or the other, I'm just making a statement on that issue.

DORRIS JERNIGAN: The word contract keeps coming up, and we don't have a contract. My daughter told me we were set on zone lines, and I told her don't count on it. The way things are in the community change is going to happen. Change is going to have to happen.

HODGE: I've struggled with this from the get-go. It's not moving from one school to the other. I know people think this is unfair. Time will tell when they get there. If they don't pass, they'll have to go someplace else. In my opinion sixth, seventh and eighth grade ought to be able to go, but K-5, I don't know.

BLAIR: It came down to two questions for me: Do we move sixth, seventh and eighth, just move them over. and the other question was do we work out a compromise that students who come into this highly academic program be challenged and have a chance to be successful. I think we have a responsibility to these McFadden students and parents. I think your staff put together as fair a compromise as you could, and I'm going to support it.

DONALD JERNIGAN: When did we set upon the sixth through 12?

GILL: It's been a year and half that we've been trying to have this magnet school concept approved. It was about 18 months ago that we settled in on a grade structure.

DONALD JERNIGAN: That's a date that students at that particular time are there. But after that, people knew what was going on. The sibling rule, you say we dropped that, or it changed. Would you please explain that change to me, Mr. Gill?

GILL: As it is, kids who are in K-8 right now would be grandfathered into the school. We recommended we drop that altogether. Total drop.

DONALD JERNIGAN: I have two grandchildren at McFadden. One is an eighth grader this year and one a first grader. I thought about this a lot from that standpoint. From first grade to the sixth grade there might be some changes there. Grandfathering him in? I don't know. Giving him an opportunity, yes. Grandfathering? I'm not so sure.

I would hate to see a child who's been in McFadden all these years, K-8 situation, if they are a rising sixth grader, and then to say or seventh grade, look, you can't go to the new school, because of whatever, you're down the list. Your scores are good, but you're down the list, in a middle school somewhere else in the county. I think we can be prudent with that child, but the kids who are in K-5 or K-6 schools in the county or in the city, they know they are going to change, they've known that all the time. I think we have to, in my mind, we have to protect these kids that fall in that category.

There will be a lot of interest in this school. But just because there's a lot of interest doesn't mean a lot commitment. But when it comes to those who express interest and those who are committed. That number will dwindle.

GILL: When we started a discussion of a magnet school, we wanted a school with an accelerated curriculum. There are people in McFadden and Discovery School who scored in the 50th or 60th percentile. We talking about a significant disparity in how they are scoring. We're not going to win this in whatever direction we go. If kids have to go to Rockvale, or whatever, these are great schools, and it's not like they're going to be left out of a good education. I think we start discriminating when we say you don't have to meet the minimum standards to get in.

DONALD JERNIGAN: The seventh grade is going to be the one who loses out here. If you don't give them some flexibility, you are sending them out and you are automatically categorizing them. They didn't make it. The only reason they didn't go is they didn't make it. You are throwing the red flag up on them. For that middle school group, it's a difficult time, and we're saying you've got a seventh grader, and going to be an eighth grader next year, to say she had to go to Christiana Middle School, she went to McFadden all those years but couldn't make the grade for Central, I just have a hard time with that.

Byrnes: Gosh, you say going to McFadden all these years, then have to go to a different school in eighth and then a differnet one in 9th, walking a fine line here. There are those at McFadden who aregue that any sort of qualification is inappropriate because it's not required now. We really need to think about that.

Blair: I'm sympathetic and I've struggled with it and I continue to support the director's recommendation because I want to make certain the kids are equipped and ready for that sort of challenge. That challenge is coming. The academic curriculum.

Wise: If you do this all the wya down to K you are going to be dealing with this for a long time. For the 6, 7 and 8, I can understan d, but if you do it all the way down to K, it's going to keep coming back "we did it for this one, we did it for this one." I'm leary of that.

DONALD JERNIGAN: That's why I started it out about the date.

BYRNE: We need to look back before Thursday to see when that was set.

DORRIS JERNIGAN: I sat down this morning, and made some notes, and these are my thoughts. We need to get it right. It will change even in the second year. This is a one step, two step, three step process. These kids will come from the city, the county, private schools and maybe even home schools. And where will home schools come up with these grades that we are dictating to be these requirements. Transfers? How can you have a transfer? There are county children who are going to schools outside this county who may decide to transfer back when this school goes into effect. I don't want to rule out kids from Eagleville, Smyrna or LaVergne. I am worried we are underestimating people. If I see it as a battle between McFadden and Discovery, I'm not going to get in that mess. I want as many to step forward and make application to attend the Magnet School. I have a concern about the sixth grade student in the Murfreesboro School System. If they wait to apply to come to the Magnet School in seventh grade, are they at risk? Yes, we'll have 25 more in the seventh grade than in the sixth grade, but I have a concern for the child who will be a sixth grader next year. They are already having a number of sixth graders coming out of the City schools to go into the County system. They are losing money. Dollars the state provides that goes to the county system. I understand dollars drive our concern.

Do we only accept just the top scorers? We have a baseline here, but does that limit diversity? Free and reduced lunch students. Are we going to say because you don't meet the top scores, you don't come to this school? We need diversity in this program. I don't want to limit it only to the top, top scores.

I think we delay the vote to survey all the schools, city and county, to determine the interest. we can't assure the sixth grader out of the city system there will be magnet seat when they reach the seventh grade.

Finally, sports, we have in place a program in the county, if your school does not offer this sports program you can do sports at another school. Can magnet school kids go to their zoned school and participate in sports?

GILL: We will offer all sports but wresting and football. But we've got those bases covered.

DONALD JERNIGAN: We've talked about a lot of things, but until we take a vote and a commitment, that's what it is, talk.

DORRIS JERNIGAN: It's easy to express an interest, it's more difficult to make a commitment. I think if you take a survey, you throw out a third of them, because they will never follow through.

BYRNE: None of this is final until we vote it that way Thursday night.

2 comments:

  1. The only way to make this fair is to have 6th grade, 7th grade and 8th grade test. Once you have tested in the 6th grade you don't have to test anymore you can continue at the middle school, but the only fair way to do this is to have all students tested. No grandfathering into the program. We want this to be an academically elite school and the only way to do this is to have everyone test. The way it stands now someone at McFadden can have a lower score and get into the middle school verses a student at another school with a higher test score and grade average.

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Thanks for reading -- and for the feedback!