Roy Exum: Shoulda Woulda Coulda

Monday, January 8, 2018 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Within 30 minutes after I got home from Thursday night’s terribly-embarrassing meeting between earnest Signal Mountain officials and a puzzled group from the Hamilton County Department of Education, I was so disappointed and empty that I sent a concerned email to both Town Mayor Chris Howley and Superintendent Bryan Johnson about what was “supposed” to have happened and did not. The meeting was to bring closure to Signal Mountain’s inquiry to begin its own school district. It was to begin a healing, a step in the right direction. It was the right thing to do.  But, once again, the town meeting turned into a flop of such proportion the entire Signal Mountain community can only look at Hamilton County school leaders and blink in disbelief.

What actually occurred was about as exciting as watching the consolation finals of a 12-and-under badminton tournament. Clint Cooper better described it in a Times Free Press editorial: Two groups “talked around each other like they were boys and girls at a middle school dance.” It was yet another total and senseless farce. From where I sit and what I know, the Hamilton County Department of Education not only “doesn’t get it,” but hasn’t changed from its incompetent and arrogant stance that makes grown men and women over the county’s entire 576 square miles want to weep.

Here is what was widely anticipated -- this is the exact email I sent not an hour on Thursday night after I was so dumbfounded by a stage full of adults who collectively came across as a blithering cluster of cast-off clowns.

* * *


(You have somebody planted in the Nolan office and exactly at 4:30, that person rings the school bells throughout the school. It’s exciting. Sets the stage …  )

Howley welcomes, then presents the opening prayer (which was in itself dazzling and further set a perfect moment.) We salute the flag, “Please be seated ….)

At that point, Howley and Dr. Johnson walk together to STAND at the microphone …

“I am Chris Howley, your Mayor on Signal Mountain, and tonight Bryan Johnson and I are quite privileged to offer the Signal Mountain Town Council a joint proposal that will reflect every minute and every day of a dedicated effort to better the life of every child on Signal Mountain.

“A month or so ago Dr. Johnson, knowing our concerns to improve education, and I met at the Mayfly Coffee Shop to get to know one another. We agreed we would meet for one hour … we talked for two. We immediately recognized we are of an alike mind and, while I don’t intend to cast aspirations on any Hamilton County Department of Education employees who have gone before, I have firm reason to believe Bryan has the same exact people on his heart that I do …. our children.

“While this is not yet boiler-plate, we two men – in casual but earnest conversation and mutual intent -- would ask our town council to consider a possible alternative to our viability study. I would now ask Dr. Johnson to offer its highlights ….”

“Thanks Chris … this is the second time I have appeared before the citizens of Signal Mountain and I am deeply grateful to the Mayor for this new opportunity because I have never been as positive and as excited….

“The proposal we bring has these highlights:

* – Signal Mountain will stay in our HCDE family. The viability study presents some very obvious ways we can improve our relationship with the SM schools because we passionately agreed each student is our mutual and overriding goal.

* -- This time next year no student will be required in class at 7:20 a.m. We acknowledge that is ridiculous. We will have new starting times and they will be reasonable. (Heavy applause)

* -- A committee of three mountain residents – each a current or retired educator – will assist HCDE in determining those times to coincide with athletics and extra-mural activities and then continue to offer suggestions and requests that will be viable to the success of our children, teachers, and parents.

* -- This committee, appointed to two-year terms on even years by the town council, will meet monthly with HCDE officials – including the elected school board official – and make public recommendations (available to the media) in an effort to overcome a lack of communication by both parties.

* -- Signal Mountain’s schools will become a cluster of high performance schools within the HCDE that have like concerns and problems. We will have four or five other clusters for like schools, and dedicated staff to identify and meet each cluster’s needs. Signal Mountain, by studying an alternative course, has alerted us that their parents are not happy. When we learned SM was considering its own district, we were not happy either.

“Mayor Howley and I believe this is the first step towards a new happiness we can share together. We can achieve anything working together … “

Chris takes the mic: “We would be happy to open the mic and the floor to questions. Luckily, we have the Signal Mountain Town Council, the Hamilton County School Board, and the leadership of the Department of Education here with us tonight. We will happily take any questions from the floor but what we would really like to do is offer you a one-on-one experience with any person you see before you. Any town council member, any one of the school board, or any of the staff would truly enjoy answering any question or concern you may have – and especially any ideas -- right now. Each is wearing a visible name tag and each will take notes of your concerns so they can be addressed within two weeks. Please provide each with a daytime telephone number and you will receive a personal phone call within 14 days.

“On behalf of Dr. Johnson, the Signal Mountain Town Council, the school board, and every Hamilton County official thank you for coming tonight and please take advantage of your voice being heard right now. Dr. Johnson and I don’t want one person to leave with any possible question or concern unanswered…

“Let’s take this big step forward …. This is a giant step for the children of our Signal Mountain extended community.”

* * *

Are you kidding me? There would have been a standing ovation. All of the doubt, the concern, and the worry would be no more. There would have been instant relief. But, no, it didn’t happen and let me give you my version of why “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry."  

Everyone “in the know” (except the HCDE, we would later learn) was assured peace would prevail amid great joy but over the weekend – this after the calamity – it was learned that the tentative agreement – so anticipated by the Signal Mountain parents who beg a return to normalcy – was inexplicably withdrawn by Johnson just hours before the public meeting would take place. He did so with several of his lieutenants in the same room, it was confirmed, the lot of them all wearing the same grim faces. According to sources, Signal Mountain’s Howley and Town Manager Boyd Veal were totally taken aback, literally stunned, and to this very minute are said to remain so.

The immediate problem was the public meeting had already been called so when the unknowing crowd gathered at Nolan School, there was, quite candidly, nothing for either side to say. And, brother, it evermore showed. It was totally embarrassing. The whole matter could have, and should have, been put to bed but now it remains open-ended with – get this -- each side planning to meet just among themselves. Or, as Times Free Press editor Pam Sohn opined: “Translation -- more talk about talking.”

Howley has steadfastly refused to comment or answer any questions since the rebuff, other than to say he wants to keep trying to find a solution. Johnson could not be reached due to the fact the Central Office has been closed for the holidays until today. So it was Nick Saban, the football coach at the University of Alabama, who may have offered the best insight into such a senseless quagmire. Just minutes before his Tide defeated defending NCAA champ Clemson in last Monday’s Sugar Bowl, Nick observed, “Arrogance creates a blatant disregard for doing things right.”

That’s right. Arrogance. At one point – quite strangely – Johnson said, “Don’t allow personal agendas to allow something special to erode.”

What’s that about? I can guarantee everybody on “the Signal Mountain side,” if you will, is totally eager and forthcoming. Howley and Johnson are believed to have had several “wonderful” meetings and if there is any “personal agenda,” look no further than the caustic school board representative for Signal Mountain, Kathy Lennon. According to numerous sources, Signal Mountain leaders have found that Lennon’s behavior, actions, and deportment towards the very community she swore to serve as an elected official have been “horrendous.” It is even said that most Town Council officials now refuse to meet with her, and that the town’s viability committee loathes her for her “personal agenda.”

So help me, Lennon’s agenda is the only one any can identify and, when she offered ideas like an “advisory committee” on Thursday night, she was reading directly from Signal Mountain’s proposal to HCDE, according to multiple sources. Unbelievably, she publicly proclaimed on Thursday that no one from Signal Mountain has asked HCDE for anything since she has been the school board representative.

Excuse the fog, but what in the name of dear God does this woman dare believe brought all of these people out on a frigid night? It’s a fact Signal Mountain requests have been ignored for years by the ever-arrogant HCDE – school officials have even admitted it -- and that’s precisely why there has been a viability study for as long as Lennon has been the school board representative. “Houston, we have a problem.”

At that, Johnson had the pre-planned audacity to instruct anyone with concerns to call, email or text Kathy Lennon. Oh my mercy! I promise, you can’t make such foolishness up.

Had what was “supposed to have happened,” Bryan Johnson would have achieved his greatest moment in the brief months he has been the head of HCDE. He could have ended the discord, stopped the angst, righted the ship. But because Bryan Johnson refused to do so, the fledgling Superintendent’s honeymoon ended when he cloaked himself with the skin of a Judas goat. He and the school board – all with absolutely nothing to say as a gymnasium full of insulted people can attest -- have sent yet another haughty message to Signal Mountain that, among other things, school will continue to start for elementary children at 7:20 a.m.

Don’t like it? Call, email, or text Kathy.

Or, you can watch a 10-under badminton tournament and amazingly achieve a better result – in badminton somebody actually wins.

* * *

“Arrogance creates a blatant disregard for doing things right.” – Nick Saban


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