Four of the eight candidates for the Grainger County director of schools had their interviews on Monday night at the central office.
Of the eight candidates, seven currently serve in the Grainger County School System.
All candidates touted their qualifications and answered questions from school board members. The winning candidate will replace Edwin Jarnagin, who is retiring as director after 10 years. Jarnagin will assist Dr. James Atkins in the Technology Department beginning in January, 2020.
Grainger High Principal Mark Briscoe was the first candidate to be interviewed. He called himself, “honest, straight-forward who will stand up for Grainger County students.”
“You’ve got to make the school system a place the students and teachers want to be,” Briscoe said. “I chose to be here.”
Briscoe expressed a concern about taking too much instructional time away from teachers.
“We took too many instructional days from our teachers last year due to testing,” Briscoe said. “We are trying to limit the amount of testing in our building.
Briscoe also noted that he believes that principals need to be able to put the pieces together, in essence, to be able to hire teachers.
“If you show people respect, you’ll get it back in return,” Briscoe said.
Grainger County Attendance/Discipline Supervisor Kip Combs strives for consistency in his current position and will continue to do so if he is selected director.
“I’m honest, fair and consistent,” Combs said. “If I tell you an answer on Monday, it will be the same on Friday. We’ve got to try to meet the basic needs of our students first. I want to be director because I want to make a difference.”
If a teacher is not performing up to par, Combs favors chances for him/her to get back on track.
“If a mistake is made, everyone deserves a chance to correct themselves,” Combs said.
Combs placed an emphasis on everybody being somebody in the system.
“My goal is to welcome every student with open arms and to educate that student,” Combs said. “I hope that student is excited when they graduate. I want students to give back after they graduate. A small rural school system can impact the world and make a difference.”
School Safety Coordinator Daniel Bishop wants a safe learning environment for students.
“I think my vision is different for students than for the system,” Bishop said. “We need to make sure everything we’re doing is lined up and we’ve got to have a system for a safe learning environment.”
Bishop expressed concern about the system losing teachers to surrounding counties due to salaries.
“We’re losing teachers to surrounding counties,” he said. “You need to reward teachers who work hard. We must provide an opportunity for those teachers to be rewarded for their work.
Bishop favors expansion of vocational offerings, just as Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee does.
“Vocational education is a pathway for many students to be successful,” Bishop said. “A four-year college is not for everybody.”
Bishop promised that the county would get one who is invested in the system if he is chosen director.
“I don’t know if I’m the best, but you’ll get someone who works hard and is invested in the county with my daughter (starting school in the next few years),” Bishop said.
Federal Programs Coordinator Staci Gray, the only female candidate for director, wants to make Grainger County Schools No. 1 in the state.
“I want our students to represent Grainger County and represent it well,” Gray said.
As a special education teacher, Gray has been to all of the county schools and knows how all operates.
Gray is supervisor over the federal Title I, II, III, IV and V programs.
She participates in a Title III consortium with Monroe County, Sweetwater, Union County and Grainger County, where she sets the budget.
“The state department had asked me to do that and to keep up with the funds coming in from those counties,” Gray said.
She also helps with textbook and school calendar committees and voluntary pre-K programs. Gray is also the parent involvement liaison, as well as supervisor over school nurses and school counselors.
“Teachers are pulled here, pulled there,” she said. “I really think that teachers need more time to be able to teach the students.”
Gray has dreamed about the possibility of becoming director.
“I want to make a difference in students’ lives and I would be a good choice for that,” Gray said. “I really think that the students and teachers deserve someone who will fight for their rights. Teachers are the ones providing the instruction to the students, so you need to make them happy as well.”
All of the candidates favored equal offering of classes for Washburn High School with Grainger High School. All also remarked how the Washburn community supports their school and is a very tight-knit community.
The other four candidates will be interviewed tonight at the Board of Education meeting room at the Central Office. CTE and Special Education Supervisor Lisa Setsor will begin the interviews at 6 p.m., followed by Rutledge Elementary Principal Tim Collins at 6:30 p.m., Walters State Community College Dean for Technical Education Tommy Sewell at 7:15 p.m. and Technology/Testing Supervisor Dr. James Atkins at 7:45 p.m.
A special called meeting of the BOE will be held at 8:30 p.m. after the second round of interviews to narrow the field for the director of schools position.