To the left of me as I took a front row seat in the audience section of the Joplin R-8 Board of Education meeting room was the executive director of Bright Futures USA. I have never had the pleasure of meeting her before, but I have written about her bankruptcy.
Then sidling into the room in crisp white pants, with a blue Joplin Eagles t-shirt tucked into them, acting like she owned the place, was Tina Smith, the HR director, the same person who had no problem sitting in the same building one year earlier and accusing me of "grooming" students because they supported me.
I thought about saying hi and recording our conversation, but I hate repeating myself.
By the time everyone had entered the room for the 7 p.m. meeting, I counted more than a dozen people that I had written about in recent months. I felt like the Ghost of Character Assassinations Past. Those dozen were nearly two-thirds of the audience.
I had written that several of these people were unqualified; one of them had been rewarded with an upper administration post after running off nearly all of the teachers at McKinley Elementary and then there was Mike Johnson, the head of the building project.
With him sitting nearby, when the words "Stapleton Elementary" were mentioned, I couldn't help but think of the pending lawsuit in which a former employee talked about the crude things Johnson supposedly said he wanted to do to a former Stapleton principal. No one would have ever used that desk again.
At the head of the board table was Superintendent C. J. Huff. It was the first time I had seen him in person in over a year and...to put it as politely as possible... the year has not been kind to him. Thankfully, when the plans for the 21st Century Joplin High School were drawn up (and then added to, and added to, and added to), the district did not skimp on physical fitness machines and with a track being added at the high school, perhaps once the building opens and things settle down, if C. J. is still around he can take advantage of the facilities.
Of course, someone will have to talk C. J. into doing something for himself and not just "for the kids."
During the two-and-a-half-hour session, I learned a number of things:
-C. J. Huff is happy that the auditors are here because it will give everyone a chance to see how efficiently the district operates.
-After the auditors left the meeting, C. J. and the board members, in exasperated answers to board member Debbie Fort's questions, revealed how they spent $8 million in "might as well" money (though no one said those words last night) to add tennis courts, lighting, artificial turf, concession stands, and a track (and bathrooms, too) "for the kids." It was worth going into deep debt for two decades so we could have those things.
-What you do not see on Jet 14 are the reactions of C. J. Huff and the board members as others talk. C. J. drummed his fingers obsessively nearly every time Debbie Fort was speaking and appeared to be grinding his teeth. At other times, he and board member Mike Landis would whisper and occasionally laugh while she was speaking, behavior I had seen before, from board members during my hearing and from children in my classroom. At other times, C. J. appeared to be texting.
-I missed being able to switch the channel during the latest photos and videos of construction to see how the St. Louis Cardinals were doing. It was the major drawback of attending the meeting in person.
-Though I was surrounded by people who have created an atmosphere of fear in the Joplin R-8 School District, I was amazed by just how small these people really are. A time is coming, in the near future, when we look back and wonder how people like these ever came into power and we will do everything we can to make sure that it never happens again.
(Note: I actually did have a friend or two in the room, but I have already cost one person a job this year because of C. J. Huff's vindictive nature and I don't want to add anyone to that list.)