Thursday, January 13, 2011

Lost holiday forces reshuffling of Johnson City MLK Day observances


NET News Service

JOHNSON CITY — With the Johnson City Board of Education’s decision to begin making up snow days on Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. holiday forcing a last-minute rescheduling of two children’s activities planned at the Carver Recreation Center, reaction from the community’s MLK Day Steering Committee and others was mixed Wednesday.

Herb Greenlee, supervisor of the recreation center that has historically served as a hub of activity for the city’s black community, said Wednesday that tentative plans are to move both the student research presentations and African-American storytelling previously planned for 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. Monday to Tuesday afternoon “somewhere in the 4 to 6 time block.”

“It kind of hurt our annual celebration and put a damper on us,” Greenlee said. “We’ve had kids here every afternoon for the past two or three weeks working on computers doing research on the history of King and the civil rights movement for PowerPoints and collages they present on the holiday. It’s a pretty big program. Last year we had about 150 kids. But we’ll do all of that on Tuesday.”

Greenlee was still working Wednesday afternoon to reschedule a group of storytellers from East Tennessee State University.

“We don’t know how many we’ll have, but hopefully they will be able to come,” he said.

In a specially called meeting Tuesday evening, school board members voted to make up the first of three snow days not built into the yearly school schedule on Monday’s holiday, Jan. 22 and Feb. 21. If needed, subsequent makeup days set by the board will see school in session on March 14 and April 22.

By scheduling the makeup days Tuesday while the snow was still flying, Greenlee said the board had “put the cart before the horse.”

“They just came up with a quick fix rather than waiting for the snow to clear. They’re not going to reconsider. But they should have had an alternative, a day of spring break or at the end of the school year. They had plenty of alternatives,” he said.

Adam Dickson, a leader on the local MLK Day Steering Committee, said he was made aware of the board’s consideration of the holiday prior to Tuesday’s meeting.

“(Director of Schools) Dr. (Richard) Bales assured us he would be working on structured programs focused on Dr. King and his legacy at each of the schools, and so as long as that is the case, my two cents is it’s another opportunity to emphasize Dr. King to a larger number of students and a larger segment of people,” Dickson said. “Dr. Bales contacted myself and Ralph Davis (vice president of the local NAACP) by e-mail. They were very cordial e-mails expressing his willingness to work together.

“I do encourage the board to work with the community. And I expect the school board to follow through, and it’s all going to work out for the good.”

The Rev. C.H. Charlton, pastor of Friendship Baptist Church and a former member of the school board, said he was certain the MLK and Good Friday holidays were not singled out or that there was any ill intent in the board’s action.

“Some people may think that but, being very candid, I don’t think they were trying to take anything away from the King holiday, and if they could have observed it and had Good Friday they would have. They’re both important days,” Charlton said.

“In a perfect world, it would be nice to do all the things we want to do. But their schedule is kind of tight. I’m not in the system, and I don’t know what they are looking at with their TCAP testing. But they sat down and looked at it, and these are the only days they had to make it work out right,” Charlton added.

Bales told the board members Tuesday he was brainstorming with teachers and principals about potential activities at each school to honor King, such as inviting community members to share their experiences during King’s era with students.

Charlton, who was the first African American to serve on the school board in his hometown of Radford, Va., and also served two years as Johnson City’s vice mayor, said he had not been contacted to speak at the schools but would be happy to do so if invited.

“I’m sure they are getting these things together, and this being Wednesday, they don’t have much time to do it,” Charlton said.

Mary Alexander, a former Washington County commissioner and an organizer of the community’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Prayer Breakfast, noted that Johnson City schools are not alone in the difficulty.

“They’re in a tough situation, but not only area schools have a problem with snow days. There are schools all over the Southeast that are having to make up snow days, and I believe they’re going to have more snow days to make up,” Alexander said.

Alexander also said she believes the two snow days built into the city schools’ yearly calendar are not enough.

“They have to make these days up. They have no choice. But last year should have said to the board, ‘Two snow days are not enough.’ ”

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