Though the director of schools evaluation committee continued to work toward a survey to gauge school system employee morale, members on the committee noted they may not have time to complete their work prior to the Dec. 5 meeting of the Cumberland County Board of Education.

“I was hoping to do this before Dec. 5, but that’s not going to happen,” Jim Inman, 1st District representative, said during the Nov. 18 meeting of the panel. “I set my goals too high.”

The panel needs information from the Tennessee School Boards Association on how long it would take to prepare and administer a survey for faculty and staff of the school system, how long it would need to be available for participants and how long it would need to prepare and deliver the results. They also need to clarify the cost for TSBA services. 

But the board voted 5-3 against a survey during its October meeting. The agenda for the Dec. 5 meeting also includes a proposed contract with Director of Schools Janet Graham. It will be the first action item on the agenda.

Stace Karge, 9th District representative, noted the board has until Jan. 31 to take action on Graham’s contract. Failure of the board to act by that date serves as notice the board does not plan to renew her contract. 

“If we postpone until January, that gives us time to do what we need to do,” Karge said.

The contract committee earlier this month approved to forward the proposed contract to the full board. Tony Brock, 5th District representative, asked if board members could remove the contract from the agenda during the “approval of the agenda” that night. 

Inman said, “I had in my mind we could do all of this before then, but I was skipping a step.”

The panel began the meeting by suggesting questions from the annual school-level climate survey teachers use to provide feedback to their principal, but soon moved on to a statewide survey, noting the two covered similar issues and concerns.

“I want to be able to say what impacts me on a day-to-day basis — how I’m treated, if I get the vision, if I feel that it’s fair, but if I also feel that it’s flexible,” Karge said. “Putting myself in an employee perspective, that’s universal: respect, vision, purpose.”

Inman said, “My sole purpose is to give the teachers a voice, to try to find out if there is a morale problem. There may be and there may not be. I don’t know. That’s what I’m trying to find out.”

He said he had fielded numerous calls, emails and text messages from constituents reporting a morale problem within the schools since the announcement the director of schools contract was to be considered at the October meeting of the board. 

“I feel obligated to try to find out whether there is a problem or whether there is not,” Inman said. “That has been my sole purpose on pushing to have a survey.”

He added he could not provide specific morale concerns or complaints because the people who contacted him asked for anonymity because they said they feared professional retaliation.

Rob Safdie, 2nd District representative, noted there are elements of morale that would not fall under the director of schools’ control.

Inman said he wanted to focus only on the director of schools and central office for the survey.

“I am charged with determining whether or not I’m going to vote for a contract,” Inman said. “That’s the information I’m looking for. I’m looking for information to give me information on whether or not I should vote yes or no on a contract. I need input from our faculty and staff.”

Safdie said there are many components to the role of director of schools’ position, including oversight of accounting systems, maintenance and academic initiatives.

The board evaluated Graham’s performance in April, with an overall score of 4.1 on a 5-point scale. A score of 4 signifies “consistently meets expectations,” with scores for board relationship, community relationships, staff and personnel relationships, educational leadership, business and finance and strategic planning skills. 

“So when you say this determines the contract, I’m going, are you ignoring all the other things taking place in the school system to make a definitive statement saying, ‘I will determine my vote on a contract based on a morale study’?” Safdie asked Inman.

Inman said, “That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying it’s going to be part of it. Just part of it.”

Karge said, “I think he wants this one piece of the puzzle, because we already have a director evaluation that has those other components. It was the voice of the faculty he didn’t get.”

She said, moving forward, a morale survey needed to be incorporated in annual evaluations.

Inman said he wanted something simple to measure the atmosphere in the school system, “and it doesn’t have to be in-depth,” he said. 

“I have been told there is a problem,” Inman said. “And if there is, we can fix it. If you don’t know what’s wrong, you cannot fix it.”

The committee developed the following nine questions using the 2019 Tennessee Educator Survey, an annual voluntary survey administered across the state to measure school climate.

The questions ask participants to mark if that strongly disagree, disagree, agree or strongly agree to each statement:

•There is an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect within this school system.

•I am generally satisfied being an employee in this school system.

•I would recommend this school system to parents seeking a place for their child.

•I feel supported by the director of schools.

•Our director of schools encourages suggestions for improvement.

•I feel comfortable raising issues with the director of schools.

•I like the way the director of schools runs this school system.

•The director of schools effectively handles employee discipline.

•The director of schools seeks to understand the needs of faculty and staff.

Safdie said he wanted the board to return to discuss the timeline TSBA needs for the survey and also to allow Graham an opportunity to provide input on the questions.

“It’s important for her to participate in this process,” Safdie said. “It’s never been done before.”

Graham said, “I need some time to think about it. Obviously, I haven’t been asked if I had any suggestions or concerns.

“I do believe how they are worded, you can get whatever information you’re looking for.”

The committee agreed to reconvene Dec. 2 at 4:30 p.m. to hear Graham’s input on the questions and review information from TSBA on cost and time to complete the survey. The panel could then present their information to the board at its meeting the following Thursday. 

Heather Mullinix is editor of the Crossville Chronicle. She covers schools and education in Cumberland County. She may be reached at hmullinix@crossville-chronicle.com.

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