Gov. Bill Haslam and Dr. Jim McIntyre at UT in 2012. Haslam toured the Leadership Academy on a visit to campus. (Photo courtesy of tntoday.utk.edu)

Knox County Schools Superintendent Bob Thomas has crafted a plan to save $900,000 annually by revamping the system’s partnership with the Leadership Academy at the University of Tennessee.

Thomas asked for a chance to revise the program in the face of school board opposition and likely termination. The University of Tennessee Center for Educational Leadership was launched in 2010 with strong support from then-Superintendent Dr. Jim McIntyre and soon-to-be Gov. Bill Haslam.

McIntyre became director of the UT program when he left Knox County Schools. His salary is paid by UT, and the college gives free tuition to the 10-12 student participants selected annually.

Thomas’ plan will be discussed at the school board’s Dec. 4 workshop and Dec. 6 meeting.

Basically, he saved the money by requiring that Leadership Academy fellows already be employed as assistant principals or administrative assistants. He also would eliminate the $5,000 stipend now paid to mentoring principals.

In fiscal year 2018, Knox County Schools will spend $846,374 for salaries, benefits and taxes for the Leadership Academy fellows, along with $58,370 for a stipend, benefits and taxes to mentoring principals and $5,000 for textbooks and materials. Thomas would retain only the $5,000 for books in FY 19.

Board member Jennifer Owen has led efforts to upend Knox County Schools’ pact, supported by Susan Horn, Tony Norman and Mike McMillan. Board members Gloria Deathridge, who says it has aided minority candidates for leadership roles, and Lynne Fugate, who took personal privilege to defer discussion from November to December, have been positive.

Board chair Patti Bounds, vice chair Amber Rountree and member Terry Hill have been less vocal, although Rountree did suggest that the $80,000 salary for fellows is attractive to a teacher earning substantially less. Reporter Betty Bean predicted a close vote in a Nov. 1 analysis.

A study by KCS staff showed mixed results. It revealed that test scores (“student outcomes” in the vernacular) often drop when a school gets a new principal, but the drop was less when that new principal was a graduate of the Leadership Academy.

Only 41.3 percent of new principal openings since 2011-2012 were filled by Leadership Academy alumni, according to the study – an average of 4.4 LA grads placed per year.

Under the Thomas redesign, LA grads would agree to accept assignment to high-needs schools. They would repay a prorated portion of costs to KCS and UT if they left the system before completing four years.

Lingering issues:

  • Who is funding this program at UT, and what is their motivation? The state already sets educational standards for principals, and teachers typically attend college at night and during summers on their own dime to attain certification. It seems unfair to pay the way for a chosen few.
  • Principals can’t like this redesign. In addition to chopping their own stipend, the Thomas plan takes away a four-days-a-week extra administrator from 10-12 schools, while requiring 10-12 schools to give up an existing administrator for one day a week to attend classes.
  • What’s the incentive for an already-certified and working assistant principal to attend this program? It’s extra whipped cream and a cherry on her ice cream sundae, but probably not worth the time and trouble.
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Written by Sandra Clark

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