Greeson: Hamilton County Needs New Principles for Principal Promotions

By Jay Greeson, Chattanooga Times Free Press, May 26, 2016

The Hamilton County Department of Education will announce a wave of repositioning moves on Friday.

It’s a normal procedure that happens at the end of each school year.

Promotions, transfers, and the juggling of the lives of almost all of the men and women we depend on to educate our children will be affected, either directly or indirectly.

The movement takes on an extra measure of meaning this year, considering the educational chess pieces are being shifted by interim Superintendent Dr. Kirk Kelly.

The reorganization also will answer the elephant-sized question in the room about what the leadership team at Ooltewah High School will look like, and where the current members of the hierarchy there will land, especially assistant principal Jesse Nayadley and principal Jim Jarvis, after the horrifying events in a Gatlinburg rental cabin that became national news. As for Kelly, he is making strong and wide-sweeping moves that have the appearance of someone expecting to have the reins way longer than on an interim basis.

Earlier this week, he shuffled two of the most respected high school principals to county-wide leadership positions. The Howard School Principal Zac Brown and Red Bank High Principal Justin Robertson — each of whom, by all accounts, has done a fabulous job in difficult circumstances — have been promoted.

Along with Kelly’s decision to move former Normal Park Museum Magnet Principal Jill Levine into a place on his leadership team, it’s hard to argue with the accomplishments of those three. Or to disagree with the merits each brings and their deservedness of promotion.

By design, it certainly is understandable.

What I have issue with is the archaic structure of how this is viewed.

Yes, in theory, the experience and success of high-achieving principals could be amazingly beneficial for the next generation of leadership.

While Robertson is the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, and that could allow him to share his successes, Levine and Brown are in positions that, at least in title, appear to be focused on other endeavors. Levine is now the chief academic officer and serves a variety of roles, and Brown is the new superintendent of operations.

We need our best people in the most critical positions, and make no mistake: Robertson, Brown and Levine are among our best and brightest. They deserve the accolades and the advancement they have received.

But are the top positions in our structure really at desks at Bonny Oaks? Heck, if some of these promotions were made to the principal training process, well, that would make a ton of sense.

We need our best people in the most critical positions, and make no mistake: Robertson, Brown and Levine are among our best and brightest. They deserve the accolades and the advancement they have received.

But are the top positions in our structure really at desks at Bonny Oaks? Heck, if some of these promotions were made to the principal training process, well, that would make a ton of sense.

We are quite aware that the way we have been doing things has not worked, so let’s look at different and aggressive moves.

Let’s be the first school district around these parts that does not promote to the county office. Rather, let’s reward the groundbreakers and overachievers in the classroom.

Let’s promote — and reward — those having a day-to-day effect on the lives of our students.

Let’s make sure the best in our system are leading schools and answering hands-on problems rather than dealing with budget meetings and looking over textbook order forms.

This is not meant as a slight at Kelly or anyone making these decisions. This is questioning the decision-making process that not only has become inverted for Hamilton County Schools, but it has become a cracked business model across most of the industrial facets of our country.

The playbook has been to do well, move up, get rewarded and find a cushy landing spot. And that’s OK for most walks of industry. There is real value in real-life experience, and that should be rewarded.

But in something as paramount as our fractured school system, we need our expert educators educating.

One of the brilliant strokes of Chattanooga 2.0 is the way the plan details and stresses the need for good teacher retainment. Of course, that makes perfect sense at its core, but it’s very difficult to attain when the bigger dollars are tagged with advancement.

That advancement all-too-often means taking the best away from the kids that need them the most, especially when it comes to principals.

Again, no one can blame Robertson, Brown or Levine for wanting more money or a better title, or even Kelly for wanting to have those sharp people around him.

But let’s reward our principals and in-school people enough — and flip the pay scale to the point that we are valuing the hands-on experts educating our kids, first and foremost.