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Director of Coffee County Schools sends letter; will interview on Thunder Radio

The following is a letter sent to staff and faculty of Coffee County Schools after the Coffee County School Board School Board failed to extend Director Charles Lawson’s contract, at their February 12, 2024 meeting (beyond the June 2025 ending date):

Over the seven month period in which my contract has come before the board three times, it became obvious that some board members were not interested in feedback that did not match their own preconceived notions.  Even with that fact, I wanted the chance to speak before the vote at Monday’s board meeting.  The “Call to Question” that ended discussion prevented that from happening.  I just want the staff of Coffee County Schools to know what I was going to say.

I was planning to remind the board of several items of which they were already aware:

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1. Reserve funds during my tenure have grown from $6.8 million to $15.2 million.

2. Coffee County Schools now pays the most experienced teachers more than Manchester City Schools and has closed the gap everywhere else.  We have also closed gaps with Tullahoma City Schools by thousands of dollars in some places on the pay scale.

3. Coffee County Schools had 80% of the schools score an A or B when letter grades were issued by the state.  For comparison, the South Central region only had 38% of the schools score an A or B.

4. There have been massive improvements in academic, athletic, and artistic facilities during my tenure. (gymnasiums, seating at athletic fields, high school theater, new classrooms, floors, windows, doors etc.)

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I was planning on pointing out two things that have come out recently:

1. Coffee County Schools now has 4 Reward Schools.  The district matched its best performance last year with two Reward Schools and smashed that record this year with four.

2. According to data from the Tennessee Education Association, Coffee County Schools teacher pay scale was ranked 56th in the state in my first year, 2019-2020.  This year, 2023-2024, the teachers pay scale was ranked 44th in the state.  The hourly pay scale for classified staff has grown by an even larger percentage in my tenure, but there is no entity tracking those pay scales across the state.

While I enjoy numbers and data as much as the next person, I was also going to say this in support of my renewal:

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I am a person who was born and raised in Coffee County.  My mother and I both taught in the district.  My siblings, my children, and I have graduated from the district.  I know what it means to live, work, worship, and invest myself in this community.  My personal experiences with Coffee County Schools has created a faith in me that this district does what is best for kids.  That is why I trusted this district to educate my own children.  For much of my children’s academic career, I worked in Tullahoma City Schools.  I could have easily taken my kids with me.  My faith in Coffee County Schools was the reason I left them in this district.  During this same time, my wife has worked in Manchester City Schools.  It would have simplified our lives for my kids to have gone to work with her.  It was our faith in the work that Coffee County Schools performs that made us decide to make our lives a little more difficult and leave our children in the care of the staff in this district.  With our background and our resources, my wife and I could have easily homeschooled our children or sent them to private school.  In my opinion, neither of these options provides the quality of total academic experience that can be obtained in Coffee County Schools.  My success, my siblings’ success, and my children’s success in college and career have validated that faith.  You can gauge others’ faith in our system by where they choose to educate their children.

I simply want the staff in this wonderful district to know that I still plan to work out the duration of my contract which ends in June of 2025.  I am thankful that I have been a part of the miracles that this district performs every single day, even when there are forces that don’t seem to be working with us.

I want to close this message by expressing my appreciation for the outpouring of support I have received from so many staff members throughout this process.  I believe that the quality of a person can be measured by the people who support them.  This process and the support I have received from people I respect has made me feel wonderful.  The survey data (which I consider to be valid) is one of the most rewarding things I have experienced in my entire career.  Thank you very much.

I hope that all of you have a wonderful holiday weekend.

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Charles Lawson

Director, Coffee County Schools

Dr. Lawson is scheduled to be an interview guest on Thunder Radio’s “Connecting Coffee County” Friday. February 23, 2024 at 4PM.

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