HUNT COLUMN: Why are THEY here?

Published 10:30 am Wednesday, October 26, 2022

By Cathy Hunt
Chairwoman, Troup County School Board

Back when I was still teaching, if one or more school board members walked in the front door on any given day, a sighting report spread through the school like lightning, usually accompanied by the question, “What are THEY doing here?” The news was usually received with a certain amount of trepidation and lots of speculation. I’m not really sure why our minds jumped to something being wrong. 

The same reaction may still be the norm today; I don’t know, but I hope not.  My wish is that the board be seen as collegial, not adversarial or threatening in any way. I guess there’s always been a perception that employees should keep a low profile and not come to the board’s attention, because “they” could have your job or make things difficult for you.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Board members cannot micromanage personnel issues or any operational matters. We avoid going around the superintendent to deal directly with any other employee. He is the one in charge of big picture, day to day functions. This is protocol for school boards everywhere. We go to him with concerns and questions, and he handles things from there and reports back to us. He of course does brief us on special situations; we receive an “incident report” email just about every day if something out of the ordinary has happened on any campus. We advise him as necessary.

But back to those school visits. A cherished practice for us is to visit every school and special program in the system each year. We usually do this on Wednesdays between September and May. There are more than twenty campuses in our system, so it takes many weeks to accomplish this goal. Most board members have full-time jobs, so trying to make more than one official visit in a week could become burdensome.

Of course, the pandemic brought our visits to a screeching halt in March of 2020, but we are thrilled to be back in business this year. We have our seventh visit this week, and it feels good to be making those personal connections again. A typical visit involves walking the building with an administrator and visiting a few classrooms and seeing what’s new since the previous year. Then, we usually sit around a conference table with members of the administration and have an informal conversation about their achievements, problems, needs, or anything else they may have on their minds. 

On many occasions these “chats” can go on for a couple of hours. This is mainly because leaders are excited about what’s happening in their schools and want us to know. (I’m sure I personally prolong the gabbing because of my love of talking all things education!) We get to stop by quite an assortment of classes, including core academics, AP and IB, music, art, computer graphics, cosmetology, green power, audio-visual, auto tech, credit recovery, health care and foreign language, to name a few. Students in the TCSS have so many opportunities to find something just right for them. It’s also quite stirring to hear staff members say, “We have great kids” and “our teachers are so dedicated” and “Guess what honor we received this week?” 

School board members have no desire to surprise or intimidate our employees. We really just want to be informed and engaged. We love to get invitations to special events; otherwise, we are not likely to show up out of the blue. Our hope is to be just another branch of the team, performing our duties, supporting students and staff, celebrating when celebrations are called for, and helping to solve problems that arise. Our goal is a shift from “Why are they here?” to “I’m so glad board members stopped by today!”