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Special call meeting ends after agenda approval fails

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By Beth Braden

A discussion of the search process for a new director of schools ended before it began at a special called meeting by the board of education last Thursday.

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The meeting, requested by board members Johnny Byrge, Johnny Creekmore, J.L. “Sarge” Collins, Eugene Lawson, Rector Miller and Danny Wilson, was slated to begin at 6 p.m., though the courtroom was overflowing by 5:25.

Teachers, students and other employees came to the defense of director of schools, Donnie Poston. There were five people on the agenda as guests to be recognized. Four of them spoke in favor of Poston.

“I do know, perfect or not, everything Mr. Poston has done, he has had the best interest of our children, our parents, our schools, our teachers, the employees at heart. He’s not mandated. He’s not humiliated, and I appreciate that,” said Sharon Marlow, one of the teachers’ union representatives. “Let us have some peace and let us have school. You can spend months or years and thousand and thousands of taxpayer dollars and you still won’t find anybody that has as much empathy or character as Mr. Poston.”

Sarah O’Rourke, a student from Campbell County High School also addressed the board.

“I’ve been to a lot of school board meetings in my day and if this many students and parents care about what’s going on, then that’s something that the board needs to take into consideration,” she said.

O’Rourke and CCHS student body president, Whitney Sawyer, also presented a petition signed by high school students in favor of Poston.

“We have almost 150 names that was signed in less than an hour of who thought Mr. Poston should still be our director of schools,” O’Rourke said.

“The key lies within the leadership and wisdom to know that Rome wasn’t built in a day,” Sawyer said. “Test scores are important, but they are the products of multiple teaching styles [and] personalities.”

A second school system employee addressed the board. Tom Chadwell has worked with the schools since 2009. In that time he has been impressed with Poston’s leadership.

“I’ve been amazed over Director Poston’s tenure, at the calm and peace he’s brought to the employee core at Campbell County, specifically at the high school level,” he said.

Jim Slusher was the only scheduled speaker who opposed Poston. He cited test scores as one of the reasons the district is in need of a new director.

“Once a student gets caught in a bubble of underachievement, the exit for that student is difficult,” Slusher said.

Slusher also alleged documents regarding a plan to install solar panels at several schools were missing.

As Slusher spoke, audience members began coughing and making noise in unison, drowning out Slusher’s comments.

When it came time to vote for approving the agenda,Miller made the motion, seconded by Creekmore.

“I believe in Donnie Poston,” said Board Chairman Josh Parker. His voice cracked and his eyes filled with tears.  He comment was met with a standing ovation from the audience as well as board members Scott Hill and Mike Orick.

“In my opinion, we have a fine director and he deserves at least one more year,” Parker said.
There would be no more discussion about searching for a new director. When the roll was called, Byrge, Collins, Creekmore, Lawson and Miller voted to approve the agenda. The remaining board members, Parker Hill, Rutherford, Wilson and Orick, voted no.

“Hell no!” Orick answered.

The tie vote meant the motion failed. With no approval for the agenda, the meeting was adjourned, but the crowd did not disperse.

Many audience members stood in line to shake hands with or hug Poston.  Dissenting board members were thanked for their stand.

Byrge, Collins, Creekmore, Lawson and Miller quickly exited the room.

Poston said he was “speechless [and] humbled,” following the meeting.

“[I have a] little fear. Got to live up to their expectations,” he said.

Newest school board member Danny Wilson received 212 phone calls in support of Poston.

“All I have to go by is what I hear from the public,” he said.

Wilson voted with his constituents.

“I represented them tonight,” he said. “I try to be a man of my word.”

The vote was a matter of heart for Parker.

“I’m not ready to say it’s over,” Parker said. ‘I’m not ready to give up on Donnie Poston.”

Miller said he was encouraged by the turnout because it meant the public was involved in “government decision-making.”

“The only thing I was disappointed in was there was a legal vote taken in January [against renewing Poston’s contract],” he said on Monday.  “All we were doing was trying to begin the process. There wasn’t even gonna be a vote. It was just to get some feedback to get the process on a search.”

Miller plans to share his thoughts on why his vote changed between the December and January meetings during February’s regularly scheduled board of education meeting.

“Hopefully on Feb. 12, the voters will be enlightened, at least to a certain degree, at least on my part, the circumstances leading up to my vote,” Miller said.

While Miller questions Poston as the director of schools, he praised Poston’s character.

“To this day I still contend that Mr. Poston is a wonderful man, but you know as board members you have a duty to the public and the educational system to not always vote on friendship,” he said.

Lawson wasn’t surprised by the turnout, but he received no phone calls regarding Poston, he said on Monday.

“I never vote because of pressure. I vote for what I think is the best interest of the Campbell County Schools,” he said.

Test scores concern Lawson.

“Our average on our test scores for the last two or three years has been going down,” he said.

Only 12 of 286 CCHS 2012 graduates were qualified to attend the University of Tennessee, according to Lawson.

“And that concerns me,” he said.

Lawson said his goal is to improve the schools.

“There’s no personal issues. The only interest I have in the entire thing is to improve our school system,” he said. “Just because somebody is popular doesn’t always make them effective. You have to be able to say yes and you have to be able to say no.”

The board of education will meet for its regularly scheduled February meeting at 6 p.m. on Feb. 12 at the Campbell County Courthouse.