Virus hinders 2020 county school progress

Thursday, January 7, 2021
David Brown

Bedford County Board of Education members, with a full slate of agenda items coming into the new year, said recently that they’re hopeful of making greater strides into the remainder of the school year.

Board chair Diane Neeley said Tuesday of course COVID-19 continues to dominate discussions at school board meetings. “It seems Covid-19 and school is the biggest challenge continuing into 2021. As we move forward CDC guidelines will continue to be followed.”

She said along with those Centers for Disease Control guidelines, the school system continues to offer in person and virtual education which gives parents an option for their children. Karen Scoggins, interim superintendent, will continue to watch the data being tracked of cases and quarantines, which in turn will allow her to make decisions on any necessary school closures, Neeley said.

DIANE NEELEY

“It is truly a day-by-day event that can change at any time. I have said it earlier in the year and will say it again...these are difficult times and there is no one size fits all answer for every student, their family nor our faculty and staff.  I would ask that our community continue to work with our system and extend grace to everyone involved.”       

Long-time local educator Scoggins moved into the superintendent’s chair this month upon the retirement of Don Embry. The board had a goal of hiring the new chief executive officer of schools by winter end and has lately been hashing out its criteria for the position.

Neeley said Tennessee School Board Association, which is assisting Bedford County in the hiring, has set a deadline of Friday for applications. “The last report I had from TSBA indicated there are currently 9 applicants but that could change by the deadline. Once the window closes to accept applications, the committee formed by TSBA will review each applicant’s packet, match their skill set and accomplishments with our qualification list and make those available to the board at our January 19th meeting for consideration.  The board will then begin the process of interviews and moving toward appointing a superintendent.”

A long overdue project still waiting in the wings, Neeley said, is still the highly anticipated Community High School addition-one which was initially planned as part of the last building program about a decade ago. School board members have said in various meetings that funding was to blame for the delay.

“Currently our attorney, Chuck Cagle, is still reviewing and meeting with the county attorney on some concerns the board has. To date we have not heard back.”

While she believes her first year as board chair has not been that bad, Neeley said it would have been nice to have worked with superintendent Embry just a little longer. Hiring the new superintendent, she said, is absolutely the most important task that is before the school board.

“There are many things to be considered and there will be nine different opinions on how to move forward but hopefully we will make a decision that enhances our system.  No matter who is chosen I will work them. My only goal is for our system to be the best it can be.”

Those same sentiments filter apparently across the table to Neeley’s fellow BCBE members. David Brown, who has served on the board several years, commented on the full plate of budget and policy items facing the school board in 2021.

“It does not take too much thought to figure out the most pressing matter before the board right now is the selection of the next director of schools. I think we have made good progress and am thankful for the leadership of board members who have been down this road, but COVID and the Christmas season has slowed things down. This is the most important decision we make. We have good leadership in place right now that is keeping things going as smoothly as they can under the circumstances.”

Brown said secondly, the issues of COVID-19 are still upon the school system. He said if all goes as predicted, the next couple of months could be “the worse ones ahead” for BCBE. 

“Education has taken a hit by COVID. Every aspect of education has been made difficult.  The demands placed on our educators have been excessive. When all the dust settles, I cannot help but think our children are going to be behind because teaching best occurs in the classroom and we have been forced to change the way we do education.”

Brown, who represents the Cascade schools district, said virtual education does not replace the presence of a teacher and children-all who need interaction with one another.  He advised there’s a need to be able to play on the playground, participate in sports, play their instruments and “just be kids.”

“You never realize how important things are until they are taken away,” said Brown, who works in local church ministry. “I also believe our teacher shortage will be worsened.  I worked in the medical field for many years before entering the ministry.  We were always short staffed and asked to pull another shift or another Saturday, but our teachers are being pulled in so many directions I cannot help but think many of our seasoned teachers are thinking about retirement. I think I would be if I were in their shoes. The ones we need the most in getting things back to normal, hopefully, next year, may not be with us. That concerns me.  The most helpful people in my life have been teachers.  I am hopeful the governors study session on education comes to some concrete things that will help educators.”

Brown said on the table before BCBE must continue to be the expansion of school facilities. He said many Bedford County schools are currently at student capacity.

“Community High School is bursting at the seams. Our building campaigns have halted because more pressing matters are on us. COVID will pass and a new director of schools will be chosen. I hope things return to normal by spring 2021, and we can move forward in this area.”

While he admits that money is not the solution for every problem, Brown believes the county needs to make education more “lucratively attractive.” That encompasses, he said, more state funding.

“Hopefully, Gov. Lee’s study session will address this, but local funding is just as important. We do not pay educators enough for what we ask of them. We have too many counties within reasonable driving distance that pay more.  I know we cannot keep up with some of these counties, but let’s not move in the wrong direction.”