Trouble for Huffman at TSB?

Tennessee School for the Blind

Tennessee School for the Blind

Just when you thought Kevin Huffman couldn’t possibly be any more incompetent comes yet another controversy.

RTP has learned that a science teacher who taught for 39 years at the Tennessee School For the Blind in Nashville has communicated with numerous legislators and others about poor administration of TSB and the negative effect it is having on its students.

Norma Englehardt wrote to the 15 members of the legislature who recently called for Huffman’s resignation over the TCAP fiasco, pleading with them to look into the matter and offering numerous documents to bolster her case.  We have posted those emails below.  The documents were too voluminous to include on this site, but they have apparently been widely disseminated.

In her letter to the legislators, Englehardt pointedly noted the Haslam Administration seems to be uninterested in addressing the problem:

I am sorry to say that all of this has taken place under a Republican administration but am pleased that you as Republicans are holding Commissioner Huffman accountable.  That is very unusual in today’s politics and you are to be commended.


Begin forwarded message:

From: “Norma Engelhardt” <<>>
To: “Joe Carr” <<>>, “Rick Womick” <<>>, “Andy Holt” <<>>, “Tilman Goins” <<>>, “Mike Sparks” <<>>, “Jeremy Durham” <<>>, “Sheila Butt” <<>>, “Debra Moody” <<>>, “Courtney Rogers” <<>>, “Terri Lynn Weaver” <<>>, “James Van Huss” <<>>, “Mark Pody” <<>>, “Judd Matheny” <<>>, “Frank Niceley” <<>>, “Joey Hensley” <<>>
Subject: Changes at the Tennessee School for the Blind  under Commissioner Huffman

Ladies and Gentlemen:

I have read about your efforts to remove Commissioner Huffman from his powerful position.  This administration has managed to keep hidden the changes at the Tennessee School for the Blind (TSB) under the Commissioner. He is over all of the State Special Schools (TN School for the Blind, TN School for the Deaf, West TN School for the Deaf and York Institute) making recommendations to the State Board of Education for hiring and firing at those schools.  He is also responsible for the daily operation of the schools through those serving under him.  You in the Legislature provide the funding for the State Special Schools.

In 2013 67% of the teachers with visual impairments left TSB and 24.3% of all classroom teachers left.  This was the largest exit of teachers ever on record.  Throughout the 2013-2014 school year more teachers left and eventually Principal Kim Walker in April 2014.  There needs to be a thorough investigation.  Commissioner Huffman was notified in December 2012 of the treatment of a teacher with visual impairments and the danger to students in a classroom.  No changes were made.  Conditions at the school only worsened.

The school is in Representative Jernigan’s district and he has tried to help those who have come to him about the working conditions at the school and their effect upon the students’ education.  Officials in the State Department say there are no problems. DOHR  Assistant General Counsel Farmer ruled there was no nepotism and no irregularities despite evidence provided by the Advocate for the Blind to the contrary.

I just wanted to let you know that in addition to TCAP, Commissioner Huffman has other issues to answer for.  The attachments are lengthy and only for those who want to know more. Documentation exists to support them.  I can be reached by phone at 615-584-1940.  Rep. Jernigan is very familiar with the problems at the school and is an excellent resource.  I am sorry to say that all of this has taken place under a Republican administration but am pleased that you as Republicans are holding Commissioner Huffman accountable.  That is very unusual in today’s politics and you are to be commended.

By the way, the students at TSB come from all over the state so they are children of your constituents.  It was an excellent school.  Positive change needs to come with as little negative publicity for the school itself as possible.  It is the leadership that is the problem—not the staff who work very hard and the students who are the greatest kids ever!!  The school belongs to the State of Tennessee and not to a select group heading it up for what often appears to be their own purposes.  Several of us were told that June 11th-13th approximately five of the school’s leaders met at Fall Creek Falls State Park to try to figure out why morale is so low at TSB.  One staff member said all they needed was a mirror!  Remember, you provide the funding for such excursions.

Thank you for the efforts you are making to try to improve education for all of Tennessee’s students.

Most sincerely,
Norma Engelhardt
TSB Science Teacher 1974-2013

From: Norma Engelhardt []
Sent: Sunday, June 01, 2014 5:34 PM
To:<><>;<><>; ‘<>’; ‘<>’; ‘Lesley.T.Farmer@TN.Gov<mailto:Lesley.T.Farmer@TN.Gov>’;<><>;<><>;<><>; ‘<>’; ‘<>’;<><>; ‘<>’;<><>;<><>;<><>; ‘<>’;<><>; ‘<>’; ‘<>’; ‘<>’;<><>
Importance: High

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Many of you have received correspondence from myself or others including the Advocate for the Blind this past school year and some last year concerning issues with the administration of the Tennessee School for the Blind.  Those issues have not been resolved or even thoroughly investigated as exit interviews of employees are not being conducted.  This is a crucial time for several reasons.  There is a senior who will not be receiving his diploma Friday with the rest of his class.  The student’s story is on page 8 of the attached timeline.  There are those of you who have the power to see to it that the student receives the diploma that has been earned.

With the school year drawing to a close, this is the time to finally address the issues that exist at the school before a new year begins in August.  The importance of this not only for the education of the students but for the staff that provides instruction, housing and other support was brought home this weekend.  It is well documented that stress in the workplace can affect the health of employees.  Many companies have wellness programs which include addressing stress reduction.  Saturday the TSB elementary/middle school science teacher passed away unexpectedly.  If you have read past correspondence related to the school, you are aware that the atmosphere for staff has been described by some as oppressive.  That contributes to stress and needs to be rectified.  Just as no one can say definitively that stress was a factor for this teacher, no one can definitely say it was not a factor either.  It is best for all to address and resolve the problems at TSB so once again there will be an environment more conducive to learning and working.

To better understand what has taken place the last three years a timeline of events has been attached.  The second document looks at the changes that have taken place and the third document looks at the changes that need to take place for next year to be a successful, productive year for both students and staff.  I trust that you will take your role and responsibilities in relation to the Tennessee School for the Blind seriously devoting time and thought to reading these documents and improving conditions at the school so it once again will be a place where both students and staff want to come and stay instead of having all of the turnover that is occurring each year.  Photos are attached that show the science room and storage in that room in 2012-2013, the science room and science storage in 2013-2014 available to the science teacher this year who just passed away, and a photo of TSB students demonstrating STEM education last year meeting with NASA engineers in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Marshall Space Flight Center at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama.  TSB Superintendent Martin Monson is on the left side observing the interaction.  The science teacher was not given approval for the trip this year.  The only cost is the bus and one meal which students could have paid for if necessary.

Thank you for your attention to this very important and urgent matter.

Most sincerely,
Norma Engelhardt
TSB Science Teacher 1974-2013

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