By Collin Brooks
The Washington County Board of Education again saw parents take a majority of the meeting to address the board. This time it was in support of two Gray teachers that have been removed from the school.
Music teacher Stacia Howard was informed that she won’t have her contract renewed, while basketball coach Jennifer Taylor will be moved to another school in the district. Washington County Director of Schools Kimber Halliburton said she could not comment on where Taylor would be placed or any personnel matters in the system.
Howard, whose group performed a Shrek Jr. musical for the board of education a little over a year ago, was informed with a one-line letter that she would not have her contract renewed this year, after being employed at the school for five years.
“I am perplexed as to why, on the last day of my tenured year, I received a one sentence letter informing me that my contract was not renewed,” said Howard, who noted that her position must be filled as music is federally mandated. “All of my evaluation scores have been excellent,” she said. “I have maintained a teacher effect score of four, each year, and I have never been reprimanded at Gray or any other place in my 19-year teaching career.”
Amanda Bellamy spoke highly of Howard and she said that when her daughter, Kendall, found out that Howard wouldn’t be returning, she called her in tears.
“Three or four days earlier, she had just said to me that she considers Ms. Howard to be her school mom, she loves her that much,” Bellamy said.
Bellamy addressed Halliburton directly in saying that she hopes she will reconsider the non-renewal of Howard.
“You’re taking away a teacher that loves her students and has brought a lot of confidence to them and has encouraged them,” she told the director.
Bellamy’s daughter, Kendall, echoed those sentiments in front of the board. She also started a petition online to try and reinstate Howard. Kendall said that Howard believed in her and gave her a chance, she then went on to list 30 reasons why the “Drama Llama” class loves their “momma”.
Halliburton was unable to comment on any of the personnel decisions, after the News & Neighbor requested, but did say that she was 100 percent supportive of her principals and their decisions.
Principals are responsible for all contract renewals, while the director controls transfers. The BOE has no say in those matters.
In Taylor’s defense, the first person to address the board was Ben Trout, a vice-president at Bristol Motor Speedway and Dragway, but more importantly a parent of a student athlete at Gray Elementary. He was flanked by a handful of former and current Gray Elementary School basketball players, all standing in support of their coach.
“For 12 years, Coach Jennifer Taylor has poured her heart and soul into making our kids better,” Trout said. “She teaches, she coaches, she participates and she does it with a passion. And that is missing so much in our world of education.
“She does it with a passion that is so seldom seen in today’s world and it’s a passion that is needed in our society.”
Trout said he knows that Taylor has the “it” factor and that she has made an impact.
“Right now we have a person at Gray School that has made a tremendous impact and for a reason that has never been explained, is being removed from an institution,” Trout said. “She is an institution of-in-all herself. For all practical purposes, Gray School has it’s own Pat Head Summitt. Right there in the walls of Gray School and yet, she is being removed.”
Trout said that at Bristol Motor Speedway, when they make a change, they have a plan. He requested that plan from Halliburton, but was not given an answer.
Washington County BOE member Mary Beth Dellinger commented during the roundtable discussion that she was troubled by what was brought to the board’s attention.
“I’m not very happy about some of our employees getting non-renewals and I would like to look at other ways to solve the budget problems,” Dellinger said. “I do appreciate all the people that came today…I know this has been a very challenging year for this community and this school and I would like to apologize.”
At the end of the meeting, Washington County Education Association representative LaDawn Hudgins said that she realized there were many difficult decisions that the school board had to make this year and that they would like to thank the BOE for getting through this hard year.
But she said that the WCEA has also seen an increase in reprimands and has seen teaching positions and teacher assistants lose their jobs.
“We are in the process of building a new school, yet still, we are informed that the school populous is on the decline,” Hudgins said. “And we just wonder, if it’s possible, maybe, that finances could have been used in maybe a better way.”
She said there is no doubt that Boones Creek needs a new facility, but the WCEA still feels like the school buildings “are being built on the backs of teachers.”
Hudgins said that the WCEA realizes the tremendous role that technology plays in the 21st century classroom and that they are helpful for the teachers.
“But we, the WCEA, also agree with the parents of Washington County, that there should be more emphasis placed on hands in the classroom. To assist on increasing the students academic potential.”
She closed by saying that the WCEA is looking forward to improving the relationship with the school board for the betterment of the county.