Late yesterday afternoon, Knox County Schools sent out a press release that came as a shock to almost everyone in town, except perhaps for a few close friends: 2nd District Board of Education representative Indya Kincannon was quitting:
Kincannon to step down from Board of EducationIndya Kincannon, second district school board member, has announced she will step down from the Knox County Board of Education after the August 6 Board of Education meeting in order to accompany her family to Slovenia, where her husband was recently awarded a Fulbright U.S. Scholar grant.Kincannon, currently in her third term, has served the second district since 2004. Kincannon's husband, Ben Barton, works for University of Tennessee College of Law.
Shortly thereafter, Kincannon confirmed the news in her own press release:
Dear Friends,Big news! My husband, Ben Barton, was recently awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to teach law in Slovenia for the coming academic year. I'm so proud of Ben's professional achievement. He will learn a lot and the Slovenian students will be lucky to have him as a teacher.It's been our long-time dream to live abroad with our kids, so we are happily accepting this amazing opportunity.Unfortunately, this means I will have to step down from the School Board. I will serve through our August Board meetings.This is not an easy decision as serving on the School Board has been such a meaningful way for me to contribute to the community. I have learned so much in the last 10 years - from constituents, students, teachers, staff, parents, principals, Central Office folks, not to mention my colleagues on the Board and in County government. It's been the best job I've ever had.I truly appreciate the support from the people of the 2nd District and across Knox County. Together we've made a lot of progress.Who will take my place on the School Board?If you are interested in representing the 2nd District on the School Board, I encourage you to contact Commissioner Amy Broyles at email@example.com or (865) 237-6538. If you have questions about School Board service, feel free to contact me.Back in Summer 2015We will miss our friends and family during this time away, but Knoxville is our home and we'll be back in 9 short months.It has been an honor to serve you. I look forward to staying involved in education and public service upon our return!Indya
Over her three terms, Kincannon has been one of the most vocal and inquisitive school board members. Critics have complained about her support of Superintendent Jim McIntyre and certain education reform policies -- including her recent vote to approve Emerald Academy's application as the district's first charter school -- but if you've ever paid attention to the less controversial board meetings or talked to her in person, it's clear that Kincannon is one of the sharpest people on the board. Agree with her votes or not, she doesn't make the majority of them without deliberation (unlike some other elected officials we can think of). So for her to suddenly announce she's leaving took us completely by surprise, especially since other UT professors had been making plans for their Fulbrights for months.
As it turns out, the Fulbright has come as a surprise to Barton and Kincannon, too. In a phone interview this morning, Kincannon said they only found out about the award on June 11, right as they were leaving for Bonnaroo.
"We thought we'd find out at the end of March," Kincannon says. "But we didn't hear anything, so we thought it wasn't going to happen this year."
Instead, the family now has just a few weeks to find a place to live in Slovenia, find a school, find a tenant for their lovely home, and find a replacement representative for the 2nd District.
Oh wait, that last task will actually be up to County Commission. Per the county charter, the Commission can appoint a replacement, since the next county general election isn't for two years. (Well, the next one is in August, but that's when Kincannon is officially leaving, and it's way too late for that.) The replacement would serve out the remainder of Kincannon's term until 2016, at which point he or she could run as an incumbent or step aside, having had enough of politics.
Kincannon says she's heard from one person expressing interest in the seat, and she expects more names will pop up soon. Amy Broyles represents the 2nd District on Commission, so interested parties are encouraged to contact her, but technically any commissioner can put forward a name, as long as that person lives within the boundaries of the North Knoxville/Fountain City district. And that has Kincannon a little concerned.
"I do worry that someone will be [nominated or appointed] solely because they are anti-McIntyre or anti-Common Core, and I think that's not in the best interest for the district. I hope my replacement is someone whose main focus is what is in the best interests for students," Kincannon says. "It would be a mistake to appoint someone for purely ideological reasons."
Other observers are already suggesting the appointment will be a "political dogfight," but Kincannon says she hopes the community will come together behind a candidate they can all agree on, as happened when Paul Kelley was appointed to replace Harry Tindell after he won election to the state House.
"I think the people of the 2nd District are pretty moderate," Kincannon says. "I think they will just want someone to represent them who will be a strong advocate of kids and schools, period."
However, there's one more option Commission could consider -- one which Kincannon hopes it does. She has told Broyles that, as she'll be returning to Knoxville next summer with more than a year left in her term, she's more than open to the appointment of an interim replacement instead.
"I know the decision isn't up to me -- I realize that I'm relinquishing that option. But I'd love to return, if that's what the Commission decides it wants," Kincannon says.
Whether or not she returns to the dais in 2015, Kincannon could still be back in 2016 -- as of now, she remains undecided about running for a fourth term.