The decision by Superintendent of Schools Jim McIntyre to announce his plans to leave office July 8, 2016, contingent upon being given a year of salary, was not necessarily the selfless act some would have us believe. The plain fact of the matter is McIntyre was about to lose control of the Board of Education. Perhaps it was a slip of the tongue, but during McIntyre’s press conference, the superintendent made mention of having been proud to have served as the Board’s “leader.” In fact, the superintendent is the only employee of the Board, yet McIntyre saw himself as the leader of the Board. For much of his reign, it was also true. McIntyre’s assertion that local politics is “dysfunctional” and he wanted to remove himself as an obstacle to the success of the school system is only partially true. The truth is the toxic political atmosphere was largely because of Jim McIntyre’s own arrogance in having his way.
Jim McIntyre never really had strong support from the public; he did have the all out support of Knoxville’s trifecta: the business elite, the establishment and the News-Sentinel. With a demeanor like a mortician or an accountant, McIntyre simply never projected any personal warmth and the public sensed it. Eventually the powers that be recognized it as well and tried every way possible. It didn’t work. And truth be told, much of the dysfunctional politics McIntyre lamented was of his own making. McIntyre was dictatorial, insisted upon micromanaging the school system and it went to his head, as when he appeared in Mayor Tim Burchett’s office demanding to know why the mayor had not consulted him about a pay raise for county employees. It wasn’t just a lapse of judgment, it was well beyond foolish.
The establishment seems never to have considered an appointed superintendent, especially one who has never lived in this community, comes to town with the support of a majority of the Board of Education, but no broad support from the voting public. If that individual is unable to connect with the public, those Board members who appear to be rubber stamps for that particular superintendent’s policies are going to start losing elections, which is precisely what happened to McIntyre.
McIntyre’s grip on the Board of Education was complete until the election of Mike McMillan, who was regularly harassed, dismissed, marginalized, ostracized and demeaned by McIntyre’s majority on the board. For years, local media paid little attention to the school system, aside from The Focus. Eventually, folks began paying attention to the school system and McIntyre’s majority on the board began to dwindle, so much so Mike McMillan became chairman. Of course the establishment caterwauled that the world would end should McMillan be elected chairman, insisting McIntyre would leave. McMillan was elected chair and McIntyre stayed on. And, as it turns out, other school systems aren’t beating down his doors to run their bureaucracy either.
McIntyre’s refusal to frequently adhere to budget limitations didn’t endear him to the Knox County Commission, who has the responsibility for raising the necessary taxes for the school system to spend. As a pluperfect bureaucrat, Jim McIntyre excelled. As a leader, McIntyre simply never enjoyed the broad public support he needed.
Without that same support, all the Chambers, all the daily newspapers, and elitists combined cannot force higher taxes down the throats of the working people.
One of three finalists to become superintendent of Knox County schools, Jim McIntyre had an impressive resume in government bureaucracy; yet he did not have the classroom experience or the people skills of the other two candidates and in the end, that caused a backlash from the voting public and McIntyre’s support on the board dwindled from eight out of nine members, to a mere four or less.
Without question, Jim McIntyre works hard and has some admirable qualities and talents, but he was never the dynamo in the community the establishment hoped he would be. McIntyre’s lack of understanding and people skills undermined his relations with the funding body and the mayor. McIntyre’s needless harassment of incoming Board member Amber Rountree was yet another example of terrible judgment that did nothing to improve his relations with the full board.
Perhaps the most important quality a school superintendent should have, especially one who is appointed, is the ability to connect with average people on a human level. McIntyre excelled at the “education speak” employed by education professionals all across the country, but rarely seemed able to answer a simple question in language that made him seem human to Knox Countians.
McIntyre promoted himself as an educational visionary, but a myriad of costly programs placed before the Board of Education, usually with little supporting documentation, accomplished little. Bragging about a 90% graduation rate fails to answer the question: have children really learned that much, or are teachers discouraged to give the actual grade the child earned? Certainly, the graduation rate doesn’t account for the appalling preparation rates in Knox County. If a school system has failed to prepared our children to go on and further their educations or get a job, that same system has failed completely irrespective of what the graduation rate might be.
A little more seasoning might have better prepared Jim McIntyre, as well as a dollop of humility. Yet in the end, McIntyre saw the handwriting on the wall and his exit was graceful. Jim McIntyre ought to be commended to reaching the decision he did, irrespective of the reasons why.