School Board nominees vie for at-large position

Published 8:20 am Friday, February 6, 2009

FRANKLIN— Two school board nominees said Tuesday they would make hiring a strong superintendent their top priority if appointed, but they disagreed about the effectiveness of current disciplinary policies in the city schools.

Nominees David Benton and Ellis Crum were interviewed for about an hour each by the City Council. A third nominee, Phyllis Crum, who is the wife of Ellis Crum, withdrew from consideration.

In a statement released on Wednesday about her withdrawal, Phyllis Crum said, “We received wise counsel from leaders in our community that we respect a great deal and followed their advice. I withdrew my name from consideration at great personal sacrifice.

“I support Ellis’ nomination, and I hope they see the quality of the man he is and the expertise he can bring to bear on behalf of our children. His record of service and leadership skills can be of great use to our School Board. The City Council would do well to select him.”

The school board’s at-large seat became vacant last month when the state attorney general determined that Benton’s appointment last spring was invalid because the city failed to formally notify citizens of the meeting as required by the state Freedom of Information Act.

About 40 citizens listened Tuesday as the council asked a wide range of questions to both candidates, including their opinions on school uniforms, Standards of Learning achievement, funding and parental involvement.

When Mayor Jim Councill asked each candidate what his top priorities would be if appointed, both nominees said strong leadership in the superintendent’s seat, which the board is currently working to fill.

“We need a superintendent who has a passion for children and is willing to give a long-term commitment to this community,” said Crum. “We need to provide some stability, so they should be committed for at least five to seven years.”

Said Benton: “We need to hire a superintendent with leadership skills to a degree I could never express to you. Franklin has suffered from a lack of leadership for the past three to four years in that position.”

After being asked by Councilman Barry Cheatham to express their opinions on school discipline, the nominees differed on the subject of in-school suspension practices.

Benton said he believes in the current policy.

“The alternative education program is an active program within the school division. The students (placed in alternative education) are expected to perform just like other students. They aren’t just sitting in the classes doing nothing,” he said.

Crum said he has spent some time in those schools and was displeased with what he observed.

“There was no class work being done,” he said. “I watched the students doodle and play football. In-school suspension needs to have one of the strictest disciplinarians overseeing it. It has to be more of a regimented environment so that it becomes a place these students don’t want to be.”

The other hot topic of discussion for both candidates revolved around the issue of parental involvement. Both candidates acknowledged that parental involvement in the school system is lacking and spoke out about how the issue could be resolved.

“I’m of the belief that the school is there to support me as a parent,” Crum said. “We engage the parent. Parents are not a disruption to the school. We don’t make the parent feel like an outsider when they come to the school. School can be an intimidating place, especially for the parent who may not be as educated or intimidated by education. If we treat parents like partners I think we will have more parents involved.”

Crum also suggested the board could go out in the community and knock on parents’ doors to engage them further.

“We can sit down with the parent and say, ‘Let’s talk about what we can do to help your child do better,’” he said.

Benton suggested that students could encourage parents to become involved.

“I think you reach the parents through their children,” he said. “Parents will come to the school if there’s a reason.”

Benton gave examples of children participating in plays and family reading nights.

“Those are the kinds of things that will get the parents into the schools,” he said. “Once we get the parents there, they realize that ‘gee the school isn’t the bad place I perceived it to be.’”

After the council members completed their questions, Councill said council members would consider the appointment in closed session and likely make a decision at Monday’s council meeting.