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Knox School Board Creates Panel to Hear Teacher Concerns

Gerald Witt, Knoxville News Sentinel

Public school teachers in Knox County continue to push county school leaders to address their concerns about teacher evaluations, curriculum pressures and other issues. Twenty-six educators, along with students, parents and supporters, articulated those concerns to the Knox County Board of Education at its regular meeting Wednesday night.

Early in the meeting, board chairwoman Lynne Fugate discussed the creation of a panel designed specifically to address teachers' frustrations. Starting Thursday, Fugate said, the board would begin selecting educators to serve on the panel, whose membership will include Fugate and Knox County Superintendent Jim McIntyre. The panel will hear from educators, then report back to the full board of education in January.

Wednesday's meeting was the latest step in a debate between teachers and county school administrators that began when video of teacher Lauren Hopson went viral. Hopson addressed the board on October 2, voicing frustration with the demands set on teachers by education reforms championed by state officials.

“I am tired of the public being convinced that Knox County is moving in the right direction when I see good teachers at my school in tears at some point during the day on a regular basis," Hopson said. "I am tired of having to waste instruction time to give tests every week, whether I need to or not, just to have data.”

A month later, a couple of hundred teachers and supporters crowded into the board of education's meeting room to reinforce Hopson's words. More than 20 teachers spoke to the board directly, echoing her frustrations with teacher evaluations they felt were unreasonable and curriculum changes they felt were not in students' best interest. Hopson also spoke at Wednesday night's meeting.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman and Governor Bill Haslam point to improving student performance as evidence the reforms they support are already working in classrooms across the state. During a November visit to Bearden Elementary, Huffman said the evaluation process has been tweaked in response to teacher feedback.