Snowden: Accountability standards must acknowledge schools’ challenges


Snowden: Accountability standards must acknowledge schools’ challenges

For Franklin Special School District Director of Schools David Snowden, it’s been a relatively smooth year for him as leader of some of the best schools in the state.

Franklin Special serves 3,652 in its eight schools this 2016-2017 school year in pre-K thru eighth grade. The district doesn’t have any high schools: students transition to Williamson County high schools. According to the state report card for the 2015-2016 school year, FSSD had 15 percent of its student population with an economic disadvantage with at least 12 percent denoted as English language learners. Approximately 12 percent are students with disabilities.

Last year, the district spent $13,984 per student.

What are you looking forward to most entering into 2017?

We are really excited about the renovations projects at Franklin Elementary School. We are moving pre-k classrooms to the annex building now. We will move around teachers some, so we can start construction to that renovation project. We have made plans, and we are excited to finally see some really progress on that.

As far as any other big projects, we have a few smaller projects with roofs that we will finalize. But we want to continue to focus on meeting the needs of our students. I told the leadership team – the first semester has flown by. We have a lot of work to do before testing, so they are prepared as they can be to exhibit what our students have learned. 

The legislature is about reconvene come January. What are you wanting Williamson’s legislators to pay attention to?

The challenge going forward in this session is the accountability system as a whole. The legislature passed the A-F (rating system), but the details of that plan were left up to the state department. They are still in that process of creating that plan to meet the legislative mandate. Many of us as superintendents are in total agreement of how that looks, because we don’t want schools to be unfairly judged by any criteria. In trying to develop the plan, the state department has taken a lot of time and input. But it’s going to be a difficult challenge to make sure that all schools are appropriately designated based on the different variables coming into play.

That’s my preference – for the legislature to take another look at the A-F grading scale to see if there’s anything else they can do with it. There has to be a way to distinguish schools and how they are performing. And looking at just the schools is going to be a real challenge to make it equitable across the board.

State funding hasn’t always been an easy issue for either you or the Williamson County School System. What are your thoughts on that as we enter another year?

Our hope is they don’t take any more money away cost differential factor. There would still be some room reduce even more money from the two school districts, but we are hopeful and optimistic they won’t make that reduction.

Several have noted there’s a difference in per pupil expenditure between the two local school districts. Why is that from your perspective?

A lot of it is offset by and the amount of money it collects from schools and fees in Williamson County Schools. We have 40 percent of our students who couldn’t pay those fees. Our percentages of low socio-economic students is much higher. We believe we have to have additional programs and personnel to meet the challenges that those students have. There’s no telling how how much the schools in Williamson County Schools raise in fees alone of the per pupil expenditure that’s not demonstrated in the budget.

The awareness of homeless students has been brought to the forefront with a new policy update from the school board to better address those needs. Has this always been an issue in FSSD or is it just something that piqued the concern of the current board?

This is something that’s occurred ever since I’ve been here and can remember. Some years are greater than others. I would speculate that in the economic downturn in 2008 that those numbers in 2009-2011 were higher than they were today. But they are higher this year than last year. These are delicate situations where you don’t broadcast who people are.

The schools do a great job of helping those families when they are in those situations. They need other support. That’s why we do what can to help, and that’s why we don’t make a big deal out of it as a district. But when it came up for the change in the policy, it’s natural for them to ask, and they were a little surprised. It’s not just something we make a pronouncement. We do take it upon ourselves to address those needs.

You don’t have any data from the state because of its suspension of K-8 testing. What are you telling your principals and faculty as you’re about to enter the semester when TNReady is administered?

Even though we know what’s asked of us, and until you take a new standardized test, you seemingly don’t fully know what you’re going to get.

There’s some unknowns and high school teachers would tell you that they learned a lot of the first administrations of those end of course tests, and there were some surprises. Now we know there’s going to be some surprises, and we hope that the knowns and what we are doing prepares are students to do well. We can take those surprises and learn from them moving forward. But I can tell you that our administrators would have much rather have data for grades 3-8 because we would have learned a lot. 

Emily West covers Franklin, education, and the state legislature for the Franklin Home Page. Contact her at emily@franklinhomepage.com. Follow her on Twitter via @emwest22.

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