Non-renewed Knox County teacher speaks to school board

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KNOXVILLE (WATE) – There was a large show of support Wednesday night for a teacher whose contract was not renewed for next year by Knox County Schools.

Christina Graham taught kindergarten for three years at Copper Ridge Elementary. Last year she spoke out against SAT-10 testing for kindergartners. After her speech to the school board, Graham was called in to talk to her principal about being a representative for Knox County Schools. Graham said that was only time she was ever pulled in to talk about an issue, and she was told then that it wasn’t a disciplinary meeting.

At the end of the 2015 school year, Graham said she was blindsided by the decision not to renew her contract. The only reason she said given for the move was that she no longer fit the vision for her school. Many parents and teachers are speaking out, saying the non-renewal is the district’s way of retaliating against a teacher who spoke out.Previous story: Parents and teachers worry Knox County teacher’s contract non-renewed as retaliation

Graham’s picture is now all over social media, and the incoming president of the Knox County Education Association said teachers fear losing their jobs if they speak out to challenge policies. That idea was echoed throughout public forum comments at Wednesday night’s school board meeting, where about a dozen parents and teachers spoke to the school board about non renewed contracts, specifically Christina Graham’s.

Graham also spoke to the board, and the teachers and parents there supporting her stood behind her for more than five minutes as she told board members her story.

“I just want to teach! At this point, I just want to teach,” Graham told WATE 6 On Your Side. “Just let me teach.”

Graham said even after being told she doesn’t fit the vision at Copper Ridge, she still wants to go back. Instead, she’s had to start applying for other teaching jobs across East Tennessee and has found out, whether being let go was retaliation or not, it’s going to follow her for the rest of her career, starting with every application form she fills out.

“Have you been non-renewed or dismissed from a job,” she said, quoting every application she’s started. “And it has a little details box where I’ve put, you know, I wasn’t given a reason, my evaluation scores were fine.”

WATE 6 On Your Side pulled Graham’s personnel file and found there weren’t any problems, complaints or any reasons for her contract not being renewed. The school district said its policy states it doesn’t have to have a reason for not renewing a teachers contract.

Superintendent Dr. Jim McIntyre said, while he reviews all non-renewals, the idea that Graham was on the list because of retaliation is just a rumor.

“I will say this very clearly: we do not make decisions based on teachers speaking up at public board meetings. We just don’t. That’s not how we do business,“ he said. “And so any rumors to that effect are just not true.”

Dr McIntyre said non-renewals are usually for a combination of issues and he likes the decision being made by principals, but Graham said he and the board listened to her speech at the meeting and will at least consider changing the policy.

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