Home Breaking News Petition campaign results in special Nashville school board meeting

Petition campaign results in special Nashville school board meeting

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By John R. Schirmer

News-Leader staff

Five speakers addressed the Nashville School Board and a crowd of about 150 Thursday night at the Nashville High School cafeteria in a special called board meeting which resulted from a petition campaign.

More than 50 people reportedly signed a petition circulated by Dr. Andi Reeves Green and others asking that the meeting be held. The petition cited issues which Green wanted to address, including the new hybrid calendar to be implemented in 2024-25 and an alleged lack of transparency.

Before the session began, board president Tem Gunter took a vote on allowing Green to speak. “She is not a patron of the district,” and as a result she needed approval to address the board, Gunter said.

Green lives outside the Nashville School District.

The board voted 5-0 to let her speak.

School attorney Sharon Streett of Little Rock presented general guidelines to the speakers before they stepped to the microphone. “You may not violate privacy rights,” she said. “No one may be identified by name. Listeners must not be able to identify a person by what is said. I don’t expect the board to respond” after the presentations.

Streett is one of the state’s best-known school attorneys and has a long relationship with Nashville. She said after the meeting that Nashville was the first district she represented when she began her career as a school lawyer 40 years ago.

Green gave a PowerPoint presentation entitled “Time for a change.”

“To the teachers, it’s not about you or the staff or me. It’s about our school system, our kids,” Green said. “I came back to raise my kids here. I try to give kids the best opportunity to make change in this world.”

Green’s first slide was “Keep your hands off our kids” and dealt with the school’s policy on “inappropriate touching. We need to know things are being handled properly. You need to reword the policy.”

Next on the list was an alleged “failure to uphold educational standards,” Green said. “How many [teachers] are scared for their jobs? They fear for their jobs if they say one bad thing. It’s a hostile work environment.”

According to University of Arkansas-Cossatot placement guidelines, 13 of Nashville’s 139 juniors “met all standards” for taking classes at the college, Green said.

Green’s next point related to a perceived lack of transparency by the district, mostly related to the adoption of the hybrid calendar. In September, Superintendent Doug Graham mentioned the study of a four-day week. By meetings in October, he mentioned looking at something “outside the box,” including the hybrid.

“There were three meetings to talk about school calendars. The public was not notified,” Green said.

(The News-Leader ran six stories on the proposed calendar change, starting in October and continuing into February. Those stories offered detailed accounts, including start dates, school holidays and end-of-school dates. The stories may be found on pages 5A and 6A of today’s print edition. Southwest Arkansas Radio also covered the discussion and adoption of the hybrid calendar.)

Green said teachers were polled about the change. “They were nervous if they voted a certain way. Would they be called out?”

The poll showed 90 percent in favor of the hybrid and 10 percent favoring the traditional calendar.

A district poll was also conducted, Green said. Results showed 56 percent in favor and 44 percent opposed.

The school’s Personnel Policies Committee was mentioned. “Nobody knows who’s on it,” Green said. 

Administration should “keep the board informed on hirings. It looks like things are being handled behind the scenes. It’s all about communication these days. Keep us in the loop,” she said.

Earlier in the year, there was an alleged bomb threat. “We as patrons wonder why we didn’t find out,” Green said. Graham told the board about the incident at the next meeting and accepted responsibility for not reporting it earlier.

Green suggested that the board conduct a survey of students, faculty and staff to determine “how they feel.”

Green’s presentation lasted about 12 minutes. Afterward, Street announced a short break while she met with others who wanted to speak.

The speakers included the following:

D.J. Hibberd. “This is public property and we have the right to speak. I have 10 children who have been in the Nashville district. As a person who has taken an oath to the Constitution, I have a right to speak. Any intimidation and retribution is unlawful. Current machinations will result in a drop in quality. The Nashville School District will answer to us. We are demanding transparency on a scale that will make most of you uncomfortable. We demand an independent review of any of the issues in the petition.”

Nashville Mayor Larry Dunaway – “After hearing [Green] and the gentleman, If any change is needed, so be it. We have to come together as a community and support this district. We can’t tear each other down on Facebook and expect to overcome the hurdles we’ll face in the near future [an apparent reference to the upcoming Husqvarna plant closure and ongoing efforts to find a new industry]. We have to be together. Come see me and let’s talk about it. We can agree to disagree. Come support each other.”

Johnny Wilson, NJHS math teacher, stadium voice of the Scrappers, radio voice of Scrapper baseball – “I have a different angle. In 1958, I came to the Nashville School District from Columbus and graduated in 1964. In 1970, I started working in the district. As of 3 p.m. today, I’m still working here,” he said to applause from the audience. “Our district has always been respected statewide. We’re not perfect … but we try to move forward. We’re on the cutting edge in curriculum, technology, facilities. Friends from other towns tell me they’re losing their school but Nashville still has it going. They ask what we do. I tell them we have tremendous community support. I tell them I work with great teachers. Kids come back and tell me they were ready to go to college. Never once in my time here have I asked for anything that I was denied. None of this happens without good, effective leadership. Our millage is 31 mills. We haven’t had an increase since 1991. Look at our facilities. We built this cafeteria, remodeled the high school, built the Arena, made improvements at the other buildings. I go to a lot of schools. We’re second to none. We have good audits. We have good financial management. I strongly support our administration.” Wilson received a standing ovation from many in the crowd.

Jamie Erby, former Scrapper – “There’s been a lot going on the last few months. Some are on this side; some on that side. I grew up here, graduated here, played sports here. I watched our facilities move up to first class. We’ve had no millage increase since 1991. That speaks volumes. Look at this cafeteria, the Arena, Scrapper Stadium. It doesn’t happen if you have ineffective leadership at the top. It doesn’t happen if the board is a bunch of yes men. Kids get free breakfast and lunch. They don’t pay for school supplies. There’s no new tax on us to make this happen. It’s all about our building administrators, teachers, kids. We need to pull together and stop bickering back and forth. Come together and reason this out. We are at risk of killing something precious. It takes many years to build something, but it can be torn down in seconds.”

Gunter wrapped up the 80-minute meeting. He told about visiting all four campuses and seeing examples of their students’ work. “I challenge everyone to take the time to thank a teacher. They don’t hear that enough, and they deserve to hear it.”

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