Interim board members uncertain of plans

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Both of the new school board members are ready and willing to get to work for the benefit of Marshall County's students and teachers, but both claim to be undecided about whether to run for election to the positions they now occupy.

The County commission appointed Barbara Kennedy and Harvey Jones Jr. in November, to replace Todd Tietgens, who resigned, and Mark Wilkerson, who took a job out of state.

Kennedy already knows what the job entails: she served on the school board from 1998 to 2002, and was chairman for two years.

Jones decided he wanted to be on the school board almost two years ago: he lost by just eight votes when he ran against Wilkerson for election to the board in August 2008.

Both new board members have close ties to Marshall County schools.

Jones and his wife both graduated from Forrest High School, and so did their two children. Their daughter has been a teacher for 11 years, and two of their grandchildren are students at Chapel Hill Elementary. Jones served as vice president of the Marshall County Girls Little League Softball for two years.

Kennedy, originally from California, graduated with highest honors from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville in 1986. Two years later she married Marshall County native Dave Kennedy, and they started a family. The Kennedys' children are now at Oak Grove, Lewisburg Middle School, and Marshall County High School, and the oldest is a sophomore at Columbia State.

Kennedy wants to use her time on the school board to help both the County's children and the County's businesses.

"As a parent, I want to do all I can to ensure that they get the best education possible," Kennedy wrote in her letter to the County commissioners, continuing, "We own a business in Lewisburg. Most of our job applicants come from within the County and it is important that they have a quality education and develop a strong work ethic."

Jones has worked at Southeastern Technology in Murfreesboro for 43 years, the last 24 in management, so he is also familiar with what Middle Tennessee industry needs.

"If you don't have education, it's tough to make it our there," Jones said in an interview before the December board meeting. "I want to give every child in the County the best opportunity possible to get the education they need for life," he added.

"We all want our community to prosper," wrote Kennedy. "The value we place on education is what will draw people to - and keep people in - Marshall County."

Kennedy and Jones could hardly be joining the school board at a more difficult time. A new director will have to be selected, and the budget, already cut to the bare minimum, may have to be reduced even further. Complaints against the Board of Education by employees that former director Stan Curtis chose not to rehire are still pending, and the NAACP is pressing for the employment of more minority staff. The schools' maintenance department is about to complete a two-month trial of looking after the County buildings in addition to the schools, and it's still unknown whether this will prove to be a good or bad arrangement.

On the bright side, Marshall County is going to have distance learning at every school; it has a functioning alternative school for the first time; the whole system has achieved accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools; and a three-year grant is funding "21st Century Community Learning Centers" at three schools with the highest rates of diversity and economic need, so that students can continue learning outside of school hours.