BRISTOL, Tenn. (WJHL)- For the first time, Bristol, Tennessee’s Director of Schools, Tom Sisk, is speaking out about the questions raised with his education.
“The reason I didn’t want to talk to you on Monday is because I waited until Monday to start looking for an official transcript from them. And you can imagine how shocked I was to start seeing that and I was caught off by it,” said Sisk by phone on Friday from the National Conference on Education in San Diego.
News Channel 11 attempted to interview him at Monday’s school board workshop and has been requesting an interview almost daily since.
“I have had two different professional pursuits for many years,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that there are those who have tried to marry the two together and maybe I had inadvertently helped to contribute to that.”
Earlier this week, Sullivan County Commissioner Mark Hutton questioned Sisk’s educational background and why he called himself “doctor” with a Ph.D.
“We’re talking about Tom Sisk as a numismatist- so if somebody wants to question the validity of that numismatics degree, as a client who brings me their coins to evaluate, I think that’s a valid conversation,” said Sisk.
The recently hired Director of Schools says he wants to clear up his educational background and any misconceptions.
“I do feel like I’ve been a little snookered by it, obviously embarrassed by it and certainly I’m apologetic not only to the board but to the teachers who feel like they have been misled,” he explained.
Sisk is referred to as “doctor” on official letterhead from the school system but that degree and its focus aren’t on his resume on file.
“That was my attempt at being transparent in terms of integrity,” he said. “I think I could be called into question if I had put it on my Bristol, Tennessee application and be considered because I have a doctorate in Numismatic Studies.”
Sisk says that after working with mentor Colonel Hudson McDonald, he had hundreds of hours in training to obtain a degree in numismatic studies from Ashwood University back in 2004.
“I went through hundreds of hours of interactions with him, Rod Stevens and a number of other numismatists and learned the trade of the industry and then they filed on my behalf so that I got a diploma and I have my credentials,” said Sisk.
Numismatic studies is the study of coins and other currency and is widely considered a Doctor of Arts degree, abbreviated as “D.A.” But, when signing official documents as director of schools – Sisk has used the term “Ph.D.” which stands for Doctor of Philosophy.
“I thought that was the correct set of letters because I hadn’t looked at a transcript in 16 years and in the last 16 years I have not ever been questioned on it,” says Sisk. “So, I have to own that.”
Sisk now says – he doesn’t plan to continue using the title in his educational role.
“I think that to continue with that kind of language on official documentation knowing now what I know it would be intentionally misleading,” he said. “And I’m not going to do that.”
Today, Ashwood University is known as a diploma mill that is ran out of Pakistan. Anyone can go online, pay a fee and obtain a degree in any subject. The online institution claims to offer a wide variety of life experience degrees.
“It’s not a regionally accredited school. I’m not sure that it was in 2001 (when he started to become interested in obtaining education in Numismatics). I didn’t research it. I relied on others who guided me through this process,” he said.
Sisk says he has hosted several coin shows and his last one was in 2013.
Advanced degrees often mean more pay for educators. Sisk says his doctorate wasn’t a requirement for the Bristol job and he wouldn’t expect to pay those in his system for degrees that don’t fall within the field.
“If you’re going to pursue a degree that you expect to get paid for it needs to be relevant to the work that you’re doing,” he said.
When asked about how this affected his pay negotiations during his interview process for Bristol City Schools, he says he took a pay cut and that he thinks his experience got him the job here- not his “doctor” title.
“The discussion on the contract negotiations- nothing was ever talked about ‘because you have a doctorate because you have and EdS or a Masters’ – that never even entered into the conversation,” he says.
All in all- Sisk hopes he and the system can move forward from this issue.
“To those who have felt misled- I’m going to do my best to work as hard as I can to earn their faith and I’m going to continue to do it every day as long as the board will let me,” said Sisk.
News Channel 11 reached out to School Board Chair Nelson Pyle for an interview on Friday who earlier in the week called the degree question a distraction. He said the board is “making progress” but had no further comment.
Sisk says he will address the public and the media at Monday’s Bristol, Tennessee school board meeting at 6 pm.