After re-evaluation, 43 Austin-East and Fulton high school teachers are asked not to return

Knox County Schools are undergoing a bit of a transitional period at the moment. Actually, "major" might be a more accurate word. There's a new incoming superintendent, Dr. James McIntyre of Boston Public Schools, whose Board of Education-approved $222,800 salary is causing some controversy after several County Commissioners voiced an objection to it last month. The board is trying to push for a $390 million budget for next year, a $33 million increase from last year. And the new $50 million state-of-the-art high school, Hardin Valley Academy, is set to open this fall.

And in the midst of all that, two high schools—Austin-East and Fulton—are undergoing a "reconstitution," wherein all faculty had to reapply for their jobs and be evaluated. The schools are being restructured for failing to meet No Child Left Behind standards for graduation rates. In the 2007-2008 school year, Austin-East's graduation rate was 67.8 percent, and Fulton's was 60.7 percent. NCLB calls for a 90 percent rate.

Among the first names on the chopping block was Austin-East principal Brian Hartsell, who was replaced late last month by former Whittle Springs Middle School principal Benny Perry.

And now, it seems, the rest of the results are in: 27 of the 67 current Fulton teachers who reapplied for their positions were turned down. And 16 of the 68 current Austin-East teachers who applied have been turned down. Interviews are ongoing to fill in the gaps left by the teachers who were asked not to return.

According to KCS spokesman Russ Oaks, there was no district-wide set of criteria for the teachers.

"The principals and their own teams do those interviews and make assessments based on what they think is best for the school," Oaks says. The principals were evaluated by Interim Superintendent Roy Mullins.

Some of those teachers—the ones who've been granted tenure—will be guaranteed positions in KCS for next year. Teachers are eligible for tenure after their third year in the district. Non-tenured teachers, however, may be looking for jobs out of district next year. School officials could not say how many of those teachers were non-tenured by press time.

That's why Aithanasios Bayiates wishes the whole process was a little smoother. Bayiates, president of the Knox County Education Association teacher's union and a teacher at Chilhowee Intermediate School, says that the process was supposed to have been finished by April 11. The announcement for Fulton went out May 2; it was May 13 for Austin-East.

"Now we only have a few days of school left for this year," Bayiates says. "The people who want transfers to other schools have to wait now until off-season."

Bayiates was also concerned by the fact that the union was not consulted before the reapplications began.

"There's no real process for this sort of thing," he says, which can be especially problematic with high schools, he says. There are only 13 high schools in KCS, and many of their teachers are only certified to teach at the secondary level.

Principals from schools around the district were scheduled to meet Wednesday, May 14, with Fulton and Austin-East teachers who wish to re-apply within the district.

Oaks says that Hardin Valley staffing, combined with the two reconstitutions, created a sort of "perfect storm that slowed down the whole thing." He says he hopes the school system will have the process more streamlined in the event of another round of reapplications.

"We learn something new every time we go through one of these reconstitutions," says Oaks. But, he says, most of the staffing for next year is already complete. "We only have about 20 to 30 percent of our re-staffing left to go, so we're on the right track."