Kingsport City School Board President Jim Welch Talks Non-Partisan Board Members and Being an American Above Political Party

Jim Welch


Live from Music Row Monday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed President of the Board of Education for the city of Kingsport City School System Jim Welch to the newsmakers line to discuss his background, the position of school board members, and non-partisan affiliation.

Leahy: We are joined on a newsmaker line now by Jim Welch. Jim is the President of the Board of Education for the Kingsport City School System. Welcome, Jim. Thanks for joining us.

Welch: Thank you for having me from Northeast Tennessee.

Leahy: You have a very interesting background. And we want to talk a little bit about some of the changes in education here. You were a teacher. You’re a University of Tennessee graduate. You were a teacher and you were a coach at Kingsport City Schools for 30 years.

Welch: 30 years.

Leahy: Now, what did you teach?

Welch: Let me back up. I did graduate work at the University of Tennessee. I did not graduate from there, but I did work there, so I don’t know where the degree part came in. But let’s don’t overextend what my qualifications are here. I began teaching Tennessee history and geography, and then I went to teaching American history, 8th grade. I taught middle school throughout my career. I did high school teaching in the summer, and I coached soccer.

Leahy: You coached soccer!

Welch: I had a long career teaching. I did. You don’t teach social studies and not coach.

Leahy: Of course.

Welch: So it’s like in my first job, the principal asked me if I knew the shape of a soccer ball. I said, it’s round. He said, congratulations, coach.

Leahy: You’re the new coach.

Welch: You’re the new coach.

Leahy: How long do you coach soccer?

Welch: I coached soccer for about 20-25 years.

Leahy: Very good.

Welch: I’ve got a few trophies in the case.

Leahy: Very good. Now you taught history. I want to invite you to come on down here in October of next year. We’re going to hold the 6th annual National Constitution fee. And at that event, the Star News  Education Foundation. The first place winner, gets a $10,000 college scholarship. How about that?

Welch: Wow. Well, teaching the Constitution was my favorite thing to do. I spent about six weeks on it. And so I’m always blasted away by these things on social media about how we don’t teach it anymore. What we teach and what kids learn are two different things, right? I would love to do that calendar, allowing it. That would be great.

Leahy: We’ve got a whole bunch of books on that. I was co-author of The Guide to the Constitution of Bill of Rights for Secondary School Students. We’ll send them up to you. And that’s the basis for this Constitution Bee. This will be our 6th year, and we’d love to have folks from Kingsport.

Welch: Alright.

Leahy: Kingsport City schools have a reputation for being among the best public K12 schools in the state. What’s your secret up there?

Welch: It’s a community committed to the school system, first and foremost. It is a community commitment to add more than just the basics. It is a community commitment for our kids to have an opportunity to compete with graduates from any school anywhere in the world, no matter whether they’re studying a career education path or a college path. It’s just been this thing to keep our public schools as a jewel in our crown. In fact, I just share this quickly with you.

I used to do a lot of other things. And one of the things I used to do is help recruit physicians to our area. And they would look and see that we really don’t have any private schools here. We have some private Christian schools, but nothing like what you have in the Nashville area. We don’t have those here. And the question they would ask is where would my kids go to school? I said, well, kids here, they go to public schools.

They kind of give you this look and say, look, our kids and my kids are graduates of the Kingsport City schools. They can compete with anybody from anywhere in the world. And we want to keep it that way. That’s what attracts people to a community like ours. We don’t have all the social attractions that a larger Metropolitan area might have. But we do have a great school system.

Leahy: So you did a number of things after you left the school system after 30 years there. You came back to Kingsport. You ran for a four-year term on the board in 2019. You were elected President of the board in 2020. Your term expires in June of 2023.

One of the things that we noted and wanted to get your feedback on was there’s a proposal now that in some areas, the counties can pick whether or not they want to have partisan elections for school board that is declared, whether you’re a Republican or Democrat. Have you thought about that? And what’s your take on that and is that good, bad or indifferent?

Welch: First of all, I think that’s bad. Second, James K. Polk is one of my heroes in life. I’m a one-and-done guy. I said that when I ran the first time. I’m a one-term guy. So it is all in for four years. I’m almost 70 years old, so I don’t see myself doing this very long. I don’t have that much highway out my windshield.

School boards deal with enough conflict as it is to throw the partisan stuff out. In my teaching career, I was active in the Tennessee Education Association. I was the chair of the Legislative Editing Committee in the 1980s when Lamar Alexander’s Better Schools program came. I worked on compromise efforts with that in Nashville.

And one of the big things about his program, and it was a Republican-based program, was to get politics out of public schools. And part of that had to do with getting into the non-partisan board elections, non-partisan Superintendent selections. That’s not a popularity thing. It’s to enhance professionalism in public education.

And I don’t know how things are all the way across the state. But being on the school board is not a full-time job and was never meant to be a full time job. It’s an oversight job. Our job is to be the employer of a Superintendent of schools, basically and to make sure that resources are collected and appropriated in the right manner.

Leahy: Now, let me ask you about that. In terms of who runs the schools. At the school board, do you see your job just as hiring the Superintendent and letting him run it him or her, or do you have more duties beyond that?

Welch: I think it’s more like a board of directors with the CEO. I worked for a nonprofit foundation. I had a board. It was a private family foundation. So the matriarch was basically the head of it. But I was responsible to the board. I was their employee. I reflect back on what they do. Their job was to give me the resources that I said I needed to get my job done and realizing that I can’t have all those things.

And I look at that relationship between the board and a Superintendent. They are much more attuned to what the needs are system-wide in the individual schools. As a board, individual board members, we don’t have the time to commit to all that all the time. Otherwise, it’s a full-time job for us.

Leahy: Let me ask you this question about your board meetings. The whole mask policy, critical race theory teaching are very controversial. Some board meetings have been spicy shall we say. What have your board meetings been like up there?

Welch: Our board meetings have not been spicy. Ours have not been. We addressed the mask issue in a meeting. If there was an opportunity to see it on YouTube, people would go to sleep. The people were very congenial with one another with differing opinions. I’m one of these people, Michael, conflict is good. Iron sharpens iron.

If it’s done in the right manner, if it’s done in a civil way, we both learn. I’m neither a Democrat nor a Republican. I voted for some Democrats. I voted for some Republicans. I don’t belong to a political party. I don’t contribute to any political party. I am more American than I am any one of those other two things. I believe that public education is a bedrock to our Democratic Republic.

Leahy: Well, Jim Welch, the President of the Kingsport City Board of Education. Thanks for joining us. Come down and participate in the National Constitution being October.

Welch: Alright. Good spending time with you. Have a great day.

Leahy: Alright. Thanks.

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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “Jim Welch” by Kingsport City Schools.















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