NORTON — On a 3-2 vote, the city school board has reversed a policy the previous board had enacted to not allow administrators to also be head coaches.
Controversy over the policy drew a packed house when it was first proposed last year, became a campaign issue after it became effective in July 2018 and wound up influencing a change of power on the school board in November elections.
Now in a majority, proponents of retiring the policy said at the board meeting June 10 it wasn't necessary and could potentially limit the small division in making the best use of its resources and attracting the best candidates.
Without it, asked one of the original supporters of the policy, what's to keep someone in administration from forcing someone in one of those roles to take a position they do not want?
The other no vote said the need to restrict coaching duties of administrators was not a new proposal, then challenged the board's process for the reversal and the new majority's transparency in decision-making.
The original decision affected only one person at the time — then-Burton High School Principal Aaron Williams. Williams had to choose between his administrative post and coaching what would be his son's last year of high school basketball. He chose coaching and teaching and was reassigned to a math position at the elementary school. He left Norton and is now teaching and coaching in Abingdon.
Standing firm against retiring the policy were Sherry Adams and Mark Leonard, who were the top board officers when the policy was adopted in February 2018, with support from Superintendent Gina Wohlford. They insisted then and now that the two jobs require too much on their own to be executed at peak performance by one person. Most recently, Wohlford said the board would need to hire additional staff to assist in the event an administrator also was permitted to hold a head coaching position.
Member Carol Caruso insisted the policy simply isn't necessary. Caruso said the board already has authority over such decisions through approving or not approving the recommendations that come to it.
Wes Campbell agreed, saying that's why he asked the policy be put on the board agenda. He also said the policy potentially limits candidates who could be good coaches in the community, noting the job "takes a lot of dedication and a lot of time."
Adams said the dual roles take individuals away from what should be full-time endeavors. If there's no intention to do anything to violate the policy, then leave it as it is, she said.
Leonard said he had not changed his view and cited the breadth of a principal's responsibilities, including safety, transportation, scheduling, technology, data, managing personnel and students, cultivating leadership and more. He said the board has experienced a lack of focus in these areas in the past when one person was doing both jobs. During that time, he said, there were numerous incidents that caused concern over health and safety and when student health and safety were put at risk.
The decision to choose one position or another has been discussed for years, Leonard said, by previous superintendents and by previous boards, with repeated recommendations that didn't support doing both simultaneously.
He said it is a policy that serves the betterment of all students, not just a few.
Leonard said the policy appearing on the agenda took him by complete surprise. Based on a conversation he had had with a board member, he was under the impression the board would be taking up in closed session discussion of potential basketball coach candidates. He was asked his opinion about the administration and coaching policy, he said, and advised he stood by his original position in favor of it.
He wasn't happy with the process and the board leadership, and said so in closing remarks.
Leonard said he finds it difficult to watch the school system go down the road it is.
"The new majority ran on a platform of transparency, ethics, and being above-board in doing what is right for the student population of Norton City Schools," Leonard said. "Since taking over this board I have not seen it. In fact, I think I've seen the opposite."
The new leadership has no training and had not attended any school board meetings prior to being elected or appointed, he noted, adding, "They have made decisions that will cost the school system greatly down the road and fail to see the long-term effect it will have."
Leonard asked: "Are they acting on the long-term stability of Norton City Schools or are there other plans? As a board member, I do not know, mainly because I have not been included in conversations or discussions about collaborating with the city or even knowledge of meetings until after meetings have taken place."
Decisions are being made either by the superintendent independently, he said, or at the direction of the majority without discussion or prior knowledge of this board as a whole.
"I find out about decisions from family and friends before being told by the school system," he continued. "This is just wrong and not a way to conduct school business."
In closing remarks, Caruso and Campbell both noted that it can be difficult to come forward and address the board and expressed appreciation to all those who did. What packed the house that night — so much so they had to move the meeting to the high school auditorium — was not the administration and coaching policy but the status of the contract of veteran head football coach Jim Adams
Campbell said he appreciated their heartfelt remarks, noting they allow the board to see a whole side and maybe even a different side of a story.
"I think we all have to be really mindful that we need to be respectful of everyone both in and out of the community and the school system," Campbell said, "remembering that we're all here to make sure that Norton city goes in the right direction for the kids and the community as a whole. I hope we can all continue to do that to the best of our ability."