By SARAH GRACE TAYLOR
In the first of two WCS “Let’s Talk School” meetings, Superintendent Mike Looney, several members of the Williamson County School Board and about 40 parents came together to discuss issues of the district on Tuesday night.
Looney delivered a brief summarizing presentation on the state and goals of the district, followed by a Q&A with parents which focused on three main issues: school start times, construction projects and testing.
Perhaps the most controversial issue brought to the meeting was school start times.
After a push to make start times later, the school system has been testing the waters with a 20-minute delay this year. With the delay, some parents have found their peace, but many have complained that it should be pushed earlier or later.
Of parents at the meeting, only three spoke on start times, all of whom had kids older than elementary and all of whom were pleased with the slightly later start time.
“I was of the thinking that, well, when I was raised you get up early and are productive so you suck it up and move on,” one parent said. “But the science is our adolescents need that time… I was totally against a later start time but now I really see the value in my house.”
Looney explained the consequences of each alternative: if you have elementary students come home late, it’s dark; if you have elementary students come home too early, they might come to an empty house; if you have older students starting too late, they have to take more early leave days to accommodate appointments.
“I think there are consequences to each outcome and we can’t make everyone happy so it would be a huge mistake to make a quick decision,” Looney said. “…the truth of it is I don’t know what the heck I’m going to do. I don’t know what I’m going to recommend to the board, but I am going to be deliberate.”
With estimated growth of 20,000 new students in the next 10 years, it’s not news that WCS is undergoing several remodeling and growth projects as well as building 17-18 new schools in that time.
Still, Looney provided progress updates for many large ongoing projects:
- Brentwood Access Road parking to be complete by December, open February 2018.
- Plans for the Brentwood Middle/High STEM building have been submitted to the state fire marshal, the project will be complete January 2019.
- Thompson’s Station Elementary School is ahead of schedule, structurally finished.
- Jordan Elementary on schedule, within budget
Looney and the district have been publicly opposed to over-testing students for years. In this meeting, Looney highlighted the district’s recent efforts to push back against state-controlled testing and its impact on student grades.
His stance, which was met with a literal cry of support from one parent, was echoed by several parents in the audience concerned with the impact of assessment tests on student’s final grades.
At the end of the meeting, County Commissioner Steve Smith plugged the upcoming commission vote which, if passed, would set a date for the countywide referendum to approve a sales tax increase for the schools.
“This sales tax increase is a critical element to ongoing funding of our schools program,” Smith said, urging parents to vote in favor of the referendum.
In conclusion, Looney implored that attendees encourage people to take jobs as school bus drivers, highlighting that the district is down 20 drivers, that the job starts at $17/hour with benefits and can be held as a full or a part time position following paid training to receive a commercial driver’s license.
The district will host a second “Let’s Talk School” meeting on Thursday night at 6 p.m. at Summit High School.