By David Carroll

CHATTANOOGA (WRCB)-- A request to hire a retired educator as a mentor for 3 Hamilton County middle school principals turned into a debate on whether certain schools are "out of control."

The School Board was asked to approve a $350 daily contract for Reuben Justice, who retired as principal at Orchard Knob Middle School in 2006.  Superintendent Dr. Jim Scales called Justice a positive influence for young principals (LeAndrea Ware at East Lake, Dr. Rodney Johnson at Dalewood and Maryo Beck at Orchard Knob).  He said Justice could help them with "discipline and management plans and work with their communities."  Funding for Justice's position would come from Federal Title II funds, "and would not impact the school district budget" according to Dr. Scales.

District 3 Board member Everett Fairchild expressed admiration for Justice, but said, "It's evident that we've placed administrators in positions they were not prepared for.  We're saying these three schools are fragile, but that's an over-simplification.  We might as well admit that the students are out of control, and we can't control them."

Fairchild continued, "I have heard reports of teachers having trouble controlling their classrooms and they've been told not to turn in discipline referrals.  We must do something.  I'm concerned about these teachers.  My fear is, we're going to have an exodus of teachers leaving our school system.  And I don't know if one person (Justice) can provide all the help these schools need."

Dr. Scales responded by saying, "We need all the help we can get.  We have cut Central Office to the bone, and in our budget for next year, if we can balance it, we need some help in the secondary schools area.  We have principals who need assistance.  I need assistance.  I spend weekends talking to my mentors across the country asking for advice."

District 1 Board member Rhonda Thurman said, "Holy cow.  We bring in all the experts but until you can get control of the classrooms, it doesn't make any difference.  I've been told the noise level at some of those schools, Dalewood in particular, is unbelievable.  Hiring someone at Central Office won't help.  Who trains our principals to handle discipline?"

The superintendent responded, "We do that throughout the year, and we're bringing in consultants for more training this summer."

Thurman continued, "As far as Central Office cutting to the bone, I see more people running around there than I've ever seen.  I'm still trying to figure out what's been cut!  I have a friend, a male Marine, not some young female teacher, who was astonished at what he saw when he was teaching at Dalewood, so he left.  We need a reality check.  And you can say this isn't from local tax dollars, well it's federal money, so it's still taxpayer money."

District 5 Board member Jeffrey Wilson, who represents Dalewood, came to the defense of the school and it's principal.  "It's not out of control," Wilson said.  "Dr. Rodney Johnson is a strong disciplinarian.  I was there a few days ago, and it was quiet as a mouse.  All of our principals do a very good job."

Thurman concluded, "One of the major problems we've had for the past ten years or so, is we keep shuffling principals around.  We used to put an assistant principal in place for a while, with a good principal mentor.  That's how they learned to be principals.  Now we move people around all the time."

The Board approved Justice's contract by a vote of 8-0.