EDITOR’S NOTE: During the past three months, The Ardmoreite has conducted a series of interviews to identify some of the issues that exist within Ardmore City Schools. This is the final installment of a week-long series of articles focusing on some of the issues based on interviews with former and current administration, school board members, former teachers and concerned citizens.
Harold Brown, a former Ardmore City Schools teacher, coach and school board member, recalls certain pre-game pep talks for the high school football team. School board president Willie Tiller would address the team and ask them if they were going to man up or man down?
Brown can’t help but wonder if Tiller is willing to answer his own question.
“It’s time for him to man up,” Brown says.
Many concerned citizens want the same thing from other school board members and administrators, while others believe it’s too late.
During the past week, The Ardmoreite has brought several issues to light, which are concerning — but not particularly surprising — for a number of those citizens.
School board meetings have become a calendar event for many who want the best for Ardmore and don’t believe their needs are being met.
“If you do a scale of 1 to 10, it is a 10,” businessman Jack Riley says about frustration with the board. “The community has been involved and followed what is going on for the past three months now. I think the information and the understanding is widespread now. And I think the more we learn, the more widespread the frustration will grow.”
Dissatisfaction with the district came to a head with the resignation and subsequent request to rescind the resignation of former high school principal Kim Holland. The issue has become a rallying point for those concerned about the direction of the schools and current leadership.
“If it weren’t for Kim Holland and the community’s recognition of him as an excellent principal, the very kind of person we want in our high school responsible for the education of 1,000 or more high school students, I think Ardmore would be as apathetic as it was before,” Riley says.
He talks about years past when board members signed up for a five-year term and gained additional terms without drawing an opponent.
“I think that has made the community very apathetic, and I think this issue has galvanized the community to support the schools and be involved,” Riley says.
Although Holland was not re-hired for the position he held for three years, the emotion surrounding the situation continues to swell frustration. Support for Holland within the community made organizers believe there was sufficient cause for the administration and board to understand what the people wanted for the education of Ardmore’s future leaders.
“Ardmore City Schools’ website makes the affirmation that ‘…education of the children is a partnership with the parents, the school and the community, and that everyone in our community has a vested interest in each child’s school success...’.” attorney Glen Burns says. “The website requests that the community join the school by taking an active role. The community attempted to cooperate fully in this request. Over 1,100 community members, students, teacher and two notable support foundations did exactly what the website asks us to do, and were roundly ignored. Not only was the community ignored, it was treated with total disrespect, even as far as placing a security officer between the president of the school board, the superintendent and the community. The school board recognizes no accountability to, or respect for, the community. The school board president and another school board member stated unequivocally that the most qualified applicant would be hired as the principal of Ardmore High School. This was not done.”
Accountability is a continuing issue, particularly in the case of Tiller, who has ignored Ardmoreite requests for statements on the record as well as open record requests. Questions have also been asked about the way the board is conducting itself.
“I am a graduate of Ardmore High School and so is my wife,” Dr. Keith Troop says. “All three of my children went through there as well and have become successful. It is very discouraging to see the level of disarray. I have personally never sat on a school board, but have close contact with people that have. They seem to be amazed at the way the board is conducted. I think it would be prudent if someone would carefully look at how the board is conducted. I think James Clark made reference to it in his Op-Ed the other day in The Ardmoreite. I think it would be prudent based on the information I am hearing to conduct a careful evaluation of those issues that are conducted in the public portion versus the executive session. That is one issue that jumps out.”
Another issue that jumps out is the action of some board members outside meetings and the way staff is being treated within the district. The loss of teachers and site administrators is becoming significant, with 20 positions vacated in the high school alone this year.
“One of the things you learn (as a school board member) is you don’t micromanage,” Brown says. “But he (Tiller) is not following the procedure. You don’t go into a school and tell people what to do.
“I think there are quality teachers in the school system, and we need to do everything we can to keep them, even if it means making changes on the board. Right now, we are at an all-time low in morale. It has never been in this type of condition. I have talked to some teachers, and they are bolting and going somewhere else. They don’t feel appreciated.”
Riley attributes the issue to the executive level of the school system. He is concerned about a lack of respect and loyalty to the teachers and administrators at the school site level.
“As far as the board of education, I think they have been disillusioned as to the reality of the delivery of the education system,” he says. “From whatever source, they believe teachers are fungible and interchangeable, when really the skill level, the experience level of a teacher in the classroom is what makes the difference to the student. Education occurs in the classroom and in the hallways, not in the offices of the administration building.”
Looking down the road, there is more than a passing concern regarding the impact the current challenges facing the school system will have on the community. In order to grow, communities depend on vibrant, stable school systems capable of delivering a quality education. The concern is relevant for all those connected to Ardmore.
“It is heartbreaking to see that not only does this have implications for the school, but for the value of homes and property,” Troop says. “I don’t live in Ardmore anymore, but I have a business here. This building pays a good amount of property tax, and we all have a vested interest.”
Riley also speaks to the concerns of losing Ardmore schools as a viable choice for parents who want the best education for their children. But the turnover of teachers, several of whom have chosen to seek a new start in area schools, speaks volumes.
“It has a very long-range effect generationally,” Troop says. “When people come to Ardmore, they look at the quality of education. You can either make a choice to live in Lone Grove, Plainview, Dickson public schools or Ardmore. If you had a student you want to put in an atmosphere of quality education, people have more than one choice. Parents would look for the kind of opportunity to buy a house in a school district where there is less controversy, less conflict.”
Whether it be a new course of dialogue with the public or other measures, most of the active citizens concerned about the current direction of the school system stand resolved that reform is necessary. One idea would be for the board to, literally, man up.
Riley has suggested the board put their seats on the line in a vote that would determine the level of confidence the community has in them. His suggestion is for board members to resign this winter, leading into the 2015 board election, when Tiller’s seat is up for re-election. Members could re-file for election and allow the public to weigh in on their performance.
“We could find an opponent to run against each of the existing school board members in a short time,” Riley says. “Let’s put it on the ballot and see how the community responds.
“I think there would be a dramatic turnout. I think the vote count would be so much greater than the school bond election. There would be people like myself and my wife working to make sure people know the choices available, and when you look at the platform an existing school board member would have to run on, it would be a dramatic choice.
“Either continue the controversy and conflict using individuals within the administration who are not positive for education or positive in support for the teachers, or make a change. And I think the community would make a change for each of the five school board members.”
While the opportunity for that type of change may not present itself, one thing appears to be certain. The furor over the loss of Holland has only served to energize members of the community. School board members and central office administration have been put on notice that apathy has given way to activism.
“The community was asleep when this school board and administration was formed,” Burns claims. “The community is now wide awake, and we will not sleep again until this board and the administration is reformed.”