Sams hopes board has progressive future

By Thomas Wilson
star staff
twilson@starhq.com

  Bob Sams says he hopes the Elizabethton Board of Education will encourage the school system's continued academic success and refocus the system's public discourse on education after wading through some choppy water in the past year.
  "I hope we can be progressive in everything we do," Sams told the Star during a candidate profile interview.
  Sams, 1591 Southside Road, is seeking to retain his board seat when three at large seats to the School Board come before voters in the Nov. 2 city election. Elected to his first term in 1996, he has served as board chairman for four years.
  He said four major priorities the board faced in coming years included maintaining academic success levels in the No Child Left Behind mandates; maintaining teachers' pay levels; keeping up with educational technology; and finding a permanent home for the Cyclone Center, which houses the Early Childhood Learning program.
  Sams said he took pride in the system's construction of school buildings. He said former superintendent Dr. Jessie Strickland stressed the need that a school building's symbolism exceeded merely giving students four walls, a desk and a blackboard.
  "We have tried to make a clean and safe environment for all of our students," Sams said.
  New classrooms have been added at Harold McCormick Elementary and West Side Elementary schools in recent year. He said East Side Elementary now needed an expansion to accommodate student population growth.
  "East Side is next in line," Sams said. "That is the next major project."
  Sams also was at the helm when the system underwent considerable strain. The Elizabethton City School system has had three superintendents, saw the entire upper echelon administrative staff depart, and underwent a public dispute between former superintendent Dr. Judy Blevins and high school principal Edwin Alexander. Despite past internal difficulties, the system met all federal benchmarks set forth under the controversial No Child Left Behind for the 2003-2004 school year.
  "The things I am personally proud of is the academic success that our school system has achieved," Sams said. "It goes back to the fact that we have great teachers."
  Sams was also pleased with negotiations between the school system and the Elizabethton Education Association regarding salary. Tennessee teachers received a 2 percent pay raise and a 1 percent one-time pay raise through the state's Basic Education Plan funding. The entire EEA contract with the school system will be up for renewal next year.
  "I think the EEA has always been fair with us and we've always had a good negotiation," he said.
  The board voted 3-2 changing existing policy to require all requests for professional leave by central office administrators to be approved by the full school board. Central office personnel are frequently required by the state to attend various seminars if they are involved in administering special education or curriculum programs.
  Sams voted against amending the policy and continues to oppose it as a line item issue. He said the system budgeted money to fund the staff trips, many of which were mandated for attendance by the state.
  "I see no reason to review leave as long as it is not over the budget," Sams said.
  At their September meeting, school board members discussed altering the system's existing nepotism policy on hiring the family members of the superintendent or board members into the school system. The board tentatively scheduled a discussion of the policy at its Oct. 21 meeting. Sams said he doubted a discussion of the policy would come up at least before the election.
  "I don't think it is going to come up yet," he said.
  The School Board voted unanimously to hire Dr. David Roper as the system's new superintendent last year. Since taking over, Roper has realigned the central office personnel jobs and hierarchy.
  "He is very knowledgeable and thorough," said Sams, who is a strong advocate of Roper. "He is interested in doing the right things."
  An Elizabethton native, Sams graduated from Elizabethton High School in 1957 and from East Tennessee State University. He earned his optometry degree from the Southern College of Optometry in Memphis . He served three years in the U.S. Army before returning to private optometry practice in Elizabethton. He and his wife Martha Sams have two children, Brian and Amy. Sams has never missed a meeting since being elected.
  "If someone wants to talk, I'll listen to you," Sams said. "I'll do whatever I can to help when I can."