School's director evaluation committee meets

Author: Mary E. Hind  News Herald

The Loudon County School Board's committee to head up the evaluation of county school's Director Wayne Honeycutt, met Tuesday morning to discuss the evaluations from board members and how to proceed with a recommendation to the full board on whether or not to renew Honeycutt's contract.  

The director was hired in 2008 and the board decided to forego an evaluation last year. Committee Chairman Gary Ubben distributed the evaluation forms the board used and their respective answers along with a spread sheet reflecting the questions and asked how much diversity there is in the board's answers to those questions.

The top areas of concern expressed by board members were low scores on questions including "provides clear, concise presentation and explanations of the budget and the budget process." 

The budget process as been described as chaotic in recent years due to conflicts with the county commission, internal conflicts on the board and shrinking funds from the county, the state and the federal government. 

Other top areas of concern noted by the board included how Honeycutt informs the public of the system's missions and goals; how he keeps the board informed on issues; how he accesses the needs of parents and community members and keeps them involved in the decision making process; how he professionally advises the board on issues and issuing recommendations and provides the board with "a realistic set of clear and measurable annual objectives." 

The board expressed high agreement on what they feel Honeycutt is doing right including assuring a balanced program of professional development to enhance the curriculum; communicating with the school building committees and staying informed of progress of the building projects; maintaining a professional working relationship with the school board; demonstrating understanding of state and federal laws and Department of Education regulations; and, there was the most agreement that Honeycutt maintains "high standards of ethics, honesty and integrity." 

Ubben told the committee that a recommendation to the full board would be needed before Dec. 31, 2010 on whether or not to retain Honeycutt as director of the county schools. If such a recommendation is not made, it would be the equivalent of giving him six months notice his position would not be renewed. The board could also vote to extend Honeycutt's contract but Ubben said his instincts, and comments he has heard from other board members, lead him to believe "several would not vote for an extension." 

Committee member Bobby Johnson, Jr. said the first order of business was to distribute the results of the evaluations to the board and let them discuss issues with Honeycutt himself."He can't fix what he doesn't know is wrong," Johnson said of Honeycutt. Ubben noted that many of the problems could be a case of the board members not making their expectations clear given the changing makeup of the board and the budget struggles that have dominated the school system since Honeycutt came on board. He also noted it could be a case of the board members "taking our frustration out on Mr. Honeycutt."

Johnson said some board members have said they want Honeycutt to be more vocal about the building program and other issues. They want you to look like you've got the bull by the horns," he told Honeycutt. 

Addressing some of the comments made during the meeting, Honeycutt said that when he was interviewed for the position two of his three top goals were to improve student achievement and the third was to get the building program under way.

Given the situation between the board and the county commission when he took over, Honeycutt said "I think we've made progress there, budget and relationship, wise." He also noted the numerous changes in personnel in the Central Office and among school principals. 

Johnson said one issue voiced by board members is the feeling they get during school board meetings when they ask an administrator to clarify a point or answer a question about school programs. He said the staff sometimes makes it seem "we don't have the right to ask anything" and he noted many board members take exception when school administrators "roll their eyes" at questions asked by board members during board meetings. Johnson acknowledged the eye rolling had been done at meetings before Honeycutt took the job. 

Ubben said "it (the school system) is an exceedingly difficult organization to manage" given the diverse personalities on the school board, the constant conflict with the county commission, maintenance issues in the schools and the controversial building program. He also noted the board sometimes gets so caught up in the little things on a meeting agenda, they don't have time for the big issues.  He said the director should provide vision for the system and exert more leadership over the various personalities on the board. 

Honeycutt said that he spends a lot of time balancing the two opposing positions on the building program and their sometimes extreme views while keeping the agreed upon Phase I intact. "It's a very, very delicate balance and it would take very little to blow that concept apart," Honeycutt said. Ubben again acknowledged that some answers on the evaluation  "may reflect some of our own frustrations."

Board member Lisa Russell said she was disappointed Honeycutt had not taken the lead when the media was descending on Greenback School to cover the school's closure over gas leaks.

Honeycutt said that while he wasn't at every appearance of a TV camera, his staff did not address the media without clearing any statements with him first. Ubben said this was part of the problem and that Honeycutt needs to be more visible to the media as the "outside face" of the system. 

Johnson agreed citing the Director of Lenoir City Schools Wayne Miller as an example of how to represent the system. Ubben said he felt the items added or taken off the meeting agendas are an example of Honeycutt's lack of leadership and control of the board. "You've lost control of the board in many ways," Ubben told Honeycutt. 

The committee agreed it would take some time for the full board to see the results of the evaluation, which they will be given Thursday night at the board's workshop meeting. Honeycutt will be able to meet with individual board members before coming up with a list of concrete goals and his plans to address them. The committee agreed to meet April 27 at 9:30 a.m. in the LCTC Building in Lenoir City to go over the final recommendations to the full board.