By Steve Hunley
Senator Lamar Alexander has held just about every place of distinction a person could be honored with in a lifetime; at one time or another he has been governor of Tennessee; Secretary of Education during the administration of President Ronald Reagan, as well as President of the University of Tennessee. Alexander has been elected to represent Tennessee in the United States Senate three times, most recently last year.
With the Republican sweep in last year’s election, Alexander is now Chairman of the Senate’s Education Committee. Senator Alexander announced his priority is to return more control of education to the states. Certainly, I would agree with this, however there are areas where federal oversight is needed.
There are 141 school districts in Tennessee, so needless to day, I was surprised, no, stunned, when Alexander invited Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre to Washington to testify before Alexander’s committee. Of course McIntyre made the most of the opportunity and a story was quickly published in the News Sentinel touting McIntyre’s appearance. The local TV stations also dutifully reported on McIntyre’s testimony as well.
In my opinion, McIntyre is one of the most unpopular superintendents in the state with teachers, parents and taxpayers alike.
With 141 superintendents/directors across the state, there were at least 140 others to choose from with more or at the very least, the same level of experience, as well as actual classroom teaching experience, who would be more qualified to testify before the Senate Education Committee.
McIntyre was never superintendent of anything before being selected to lead our school system in a 5 – 4 vote by the Board of Education. McIntyre has less classroom teaching experience than the average intern. Considering that four members of the Board— Mike McMillan, Terry Hill, Patti Lou Bounds and Amber Rountree — all have extensive classroom experience, they would be better qualified to testify before a Congressional committee. In fact, the first three— McMillan, Hill, and Bounds – – – all spent their entire adult lives as educators, a qualification never to be matched by McIntyre.
To be blunt about it, Lamar Alexander has forgotten more about education than Jim McIntyre ever knew in the first place. Just what McIntyre could tell Senator Alexander about education is beyond me. In fact, I believe McIntyre going to Washington was more about propping up McIntyre’s image locally than it was to help public education in America.
McIntyre was a bean counter for the Boston public schools when he was recruited by the Chamber crowd to Knoxville to serve as superintendent. He certainly has the look and personality of a bean counter and has singularly distinguished himself as the pluperfect bureaucrat. Nothing seems to excite McIntyre more than data, although when the data doesn’t reflect well on his accomplishments, one of the school spokespersons is usually trotted out to question the methodology, process or something to deflect blame from McIntyre.
Perhaps one of Alexander’s staff members should have shown the senator a survey conducted by McIntyre, in which 70% of Knox County teachers agreed with the statement “Knox County is no longer a good place to work or learn.” Yet this is the superintendent selected to come to Washington and testify.
The preparation rate in Knox County, meaning the number of students ready to either join the work force or further their education after high school, is abysmal at only 23% county-wide. Despite McIntyre’s perky and constant exclamation that there is “some extraordinary learning going on” in our schools, the preparation rates don’t reflect it. From the latest numbers, the highest preparation rate is at Farragut High School at 42% and the lowest at Austin-East with only 3%. Some of the figures from other high schools would shock you.
However, McIntyre does excel at “school speak,” apparently a language preferred by a certain kind of educator that obfuscates the issues. McIntyre doesn’t have talks like the rest of us mere mortals; he has “dialogues” and “great conversations.” His own dialogues tend to be one-sided and with a personality like a mortician, he’s done little to move education forward in Knox County.
Supported completely by the News Sentinel and the Chamber of Commerce crowd, McIntyre has managed to thoroughly alienate Mayor Tim Burchett and much of the County Commission. That wouldn’t be important were it not for the fact that Burchett recommends the budget, which is then adopted or rejected by the County Commission. The Commission is the funding body for the school system, which basically gets a blank check and may spend it however they like after receiving it.
Another McIntyre failure is his remarkable inability to get new funding. And when he does, he has shown his ability to be wasteful. An embarrassing example was the useless “study” conducted by the Parthenon Group which cost $360,000 of your hard-earned tax dollars.
Perception becomes reality, especially when the news is filtered. The Sentinel recently commended McIntyre for being forthcoming about how he spent the $3 million extra money provided by Mayor Burchett for the third grade reading program, yet they failed to tell readers McIntyre was awfully slow to be forthcoming and even they had to prod him to provide the requested information regarding program results.
Of all the superintendents in the State of Tennessee, McIntyre is the one invited by Alexander’s staff to testify? Somebody needs to get out more.
McIntyre supporters have tried relentlessly to “humanize” the superintendent who has evidently finally figured out constantly fussing with the mayor is not in his own best interest. At a recent appearance at Mooreland Heights Elementary School, everybody in the room almost passed out when McIntyre proclaimed he loved Burchett like a brother. If that’s true, they love one another like Cain and Abel.
As to which is which, we won’t know until one of them is missing and I am still trying to figure out why Lamar Alexander invited Jim McIntyre to Washington.