Parents question WCS board member about records request


Parents question WCS board member about records request

Most parents who attended Tuesday night’s “Let’s Talk Schools” meeting with Williamson County School District leaders focused questions on District 12 representative Susan Curlee and her recent request for public records.

Most parents who attended Tuesday night’s “Let’s Talk Schools” meeting with Williamson County School District leaders focused questions on District 12 representative Susan Curlee and her recent request for public records.

The meeting format varied from the typical structure of Lets Talk Schools gatherings, during which School Superintendent Mike Looney usually takes the lead in answering parent questions.

Instead, school board members were each designated a classroom for Tuesday night’s meeting at Centennial High School, and parents split off to speak with a board member of their choosing. Parents could visit three different board members in 15-minute segments.

Most parents crowded into Curlee’s classroom and stayed for the entire hour without rotating, questioning Curlee on a request she made Sept. 29 including email correspondence between Looney and several private citizens associated with a pro-WCS group called Williamson Strong.

The parameters of Curlee’s appeal, which was sent to school attorney Bill Squires, are as follows:

  • All emails between [School Superintendent] Mike Looney and board members (individual or as a group, past and/or present). Curlee indicated priority for correspondence between Aug. 1 of this year to date, with second priority given to correspondence between May 1 and July 31 this year.
  • All email correspondence between Looney and Jennifer Tabisz Smith, Bill Peach, Susan Drury, Jim Cheney, Sarah Evans Barnard, Kim Henke from May 1 to date.
  • Correspondence in which the names Beth Burgos, Susan Curlee, Dan Cash and/or Candace Emerson appear from May 1 to date.
  • Correspondence referencing Williamson Strong and/or Williamson Secrets.

Curlee, who has two children in Franklin Special School District but one will attend Centennial High in WCS within two years, was elected to the school board in August this year along with five other new board members.

Parents demanded Curlee explain the reasons for her request, and how the request relates to the priorities for WCS that Curlee named — setting up teachers and students for success and transparency with parents about standardized testing, specifically what is done with the test results.

Curlee said through her recent records request she seeks “activity, not people.” She did not name specific activity, but did express concern with Williamson Strong.

“I think that is a concern — the fact that they are an unregistered organization acting politically,” Curlee said.

“Let me ask you, why is it from Williamson Strong’s inception, there seemed to be concentrated activity and focus that anyone not agreeing with Common Core and the status quo was treated substantially different and called out by name?”

Several present members of the group, including Jennifer Smith and Kim Henke, protested that Williamson Strong is a parent organization without political ties.

“I’ve never once met you, and I’m one of the founding members of Williamson Strong,” Henke said.

“We don’t have any money. We’re parents. We have a Facebook page, which is free, and a WordPress website that costs $5 a month. We’re not a PAC.”

Henke and Smith also asked Curlee to provide proof of accusations that Williamson Strong members have threatened Curlee and her family.

“I and several of my friends have been accused of harassing you and your family, slander, lying, compromising the election and even threatening to kill you and your family,” Henke said, referencing Curlee’s Facebook page.

Smith also asked for proof that Williamson Strong members have made threats, and that she would pursue litigation if accusations didn’t stop.

Curlee shared with the room two anecdotes.

“After our first school board meeting, in which we were sworn in, my daughter and my husband was there, and there was a group from Williamson Strong. A county commissioner told my daughter, ‘I’m very proud of your mom,’ and someone from Williamson Strong said, ‘There is nothing to be proud about,'” Curlee said.

“Another instance was in early voting. I went into the main building, and when I came back, my daughter was crying.”

Curlee was also pressed about her Twitter account that goes by the handle, @ISaidKnow, which is a private account and locked unlike her school board account, @curlee4wcs.

Curlee said it was unfair to question her private Twitter account, but not the Twitter account of District 7 board member Bobby Hullett.

“Bobby Hullett has a Twitter account, and my question is, is it fair to have a different expectation of me than someone else?”

Curlee also denied allegations that she was selected to campaign for the school board this year by a “mysterious group,” or that she had spoken to any particular party about running.

“The insinuations made about my character are absolutely false,” she said.

Parents also asked Curlee why she nominated District 10 board member Beth Burgos to vice-chair the board at the most recent board meeting, when it contradicts the school board handbook to elect a board member with less than 12 months’ experience to a leadership role.

Principles outlined in the board handbook serve as guidelines to the board and are not as binding as board policy, yet parents questioned the message sent to students, teachers and the general public if the board disregards its own handbook.

School attorney Jason Golden consistently advises following the provisions in the board handbook and policy, and to handle any changes or suspensions during policy committee meetings.

“Based on what I observed in working sessions and communications, and I think as a medical doctor she would do well – I think it allows someone to be objective,” Curlee explained why she nominated and voted for Burgos – who won the vice-chairmanship by a 7-4 vote.

Asked to share her stance on school vouchers, Curlee said whether she would ever support such a system would be contingent upon performance metrics, economic impact studies and other information to determine if any strings were attached.

Curlee also explained some of the questions she wants answered in regards to students’ standardized test scores and how the state handles that data.

“What constitutes ‘educational purposes?’ – that’s an ambiguous umbrella. Will the data follow my child on to college? How much information has visibility? How much personal identifiable information is attached to a score?”

Other board members available Tuesday were Ken Peterson, Dan Cash, P.J. Mezera, Jay Galbreath, Bobby Hullett, Candace Emerson, Rick Wimberly and Mark Gregory.

Board representatives Gary Anderson, Paul Bartholomew and Beth Burgos were unable to attend.

Jessica Pace covers Williamson County, Williamson County Schools and the Town of Nolensville for Home Page Media Group. Contact her at jess@brentwoodhomepage.com or follow her on Twitter @Jess_NHP.

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