Knoxville School Board President Marty Duffy called for a moratorium on meetings during an early morning work session on Jan. 2.

The 6 a.m. work session was scheduled to discuss the district’s climate and culture going into 2020 with administrators. There were over 20 people present at the meeting, including district administrators, staff and community members.

“We’re going to have a moratorium on meetings,” Duffy said. “We’re going to not have meetings for the foreseeable future. This includes training, committees, with the one exception that is the building committee.”

“I was told last month that I would need a management system to see all the agendas for the school,” Duffy continued. “Well, I decided I didn’t need a management system. What I needed was no meetings.”

Duffy’s moratorium on meetings would include canceling professional development at the high school and only allowing the professional learning community (PLC) meetings to continue. He also wants to implement “no stress Mondays.”

In addition to canceling meetings, Duffy asked all building administrators to ask the teachers in their buildings a series of five questions: do you feel safe, do you feel respected, do you feel joy in your work, do your views get consideration, and do you fear for your job. He also asked principals to consider the topics of disciple, taking on lunch duty, having conversations with teachers, looking into special education, and taking bus rides.

The moratorium on meetings had not previously been discussed or approved by the board. Duffy told members and those gathered he was stating his opinion.

One board member was quick to clarify Duffy was not speaking on behalf of the board.

“I feel like he’s actually speaking for the board and I want you all to know that is not correct,” said board member Cheri Gerdes. “We have not chatted about this. We have not discussed this at all.”

Duffy said he was being “punitive at this point,” which he emphasized multiple times throughout the 45-minute meeting. He said the topic would appear on the agenda for the board’s next meeting.

“I think if we’re going to talk about climate and culture, which is what we’re doing today, we need to go from the top to bottom,” Gerdes said. “Start at the top. Who’s the top? Us, right? Us. How are we doing?”

“I think you should be worried about us [the board],” Gerdes said to those in attendance.

Northstar Elementary principal John Keitges shared his opinion, saying he is excited about the Monday morning PLC meetings his building holds. Keitges says the meetings allow elementary teachers to have conversations and collaborate with one another when students are out of the building.

“I have zero concerns with the culture and climate, except if we are not being supported. I hope that’s not the case,” Keitges said. “I don’t have any concerns for Northstar. As a parent, community member and administrator, this is concerning.”

The discussion came from an agenda item at a previous meeting, where a culture and climate study from an outside source had been proposed.

“I do fear that there is a certain level of our staff that is unable to speak up because they fear speaking up, and I don’t want that to be happening,” Gerdes said. “We need to take care of those issues and make ourselves better.”

Multiple board members discussed the importance of making teachers feel safe and secure in their jobs, and not feeling targeted for speaking out. Board members agreed a culture and climate survey would be beneficial, but could not agree on how to carry it out.

The work session ended without any action being taken. The school board’s next regular meeting is scheduled for Jan. 13 at 5:30 p.m.

Emma Skahill can be reached at eskahill@journalexpress.net or by calling the newsroom at 641-842-2155.

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