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Board votes to declare WCS a high performing school district and wraps up school year

Williamson County Schools Board of Education wrapped up important issues a few days before the last day of school at the work session Thursday and the board meeting Monday night. 
The board voted in approval to declare WCS a “high performing school district.” A survey called PRIDE shows that student drug use is low in the district. Chinese language classes will soon be offered after school, and if students play a sport, they could receive high school credit. 

High Performing School Districts Flexibility Act
The school board voted to declare WCS a high performing school district in order to enact the High Performing School Districts Flexibility Act, which was recently signed into law by Governor Bill Haslam, marking a significant success for the WCS district and other high achieving districts across the state. 
WCS Atty. Bill Squires and Superintendent Dr. Mike Looney crafted a bill that would allow WCS to bypass bureaucratic red tape so that the school district can better operate such as hiring teachers in a more timely manner rather than undergoing an almost 36-day process through the County Commission as it has done in the past. The Board will also have more flexibility in transferring money between some categories. Looney said that a signing ceremony will be held by Governor Haslam, which is to be announced.

Graduation policy addition
The Board also voted in approval upon first reading of a graduation requirement which would allow the .5 P.E. credit to be substituted by a “documented and equivalent time of physical activity in marching band, JROTC, cheerleading, dance team, TSSA interscholastic athletics effective with the class of 2017 …” Students will also be required to complete 180 hours of computer education.

PRIDE survey results
Results from the annual PRIDE survey, which anonymously surveys drug and alcohol use among students in fourth, seventh, ninth and 11th grades, showed that drug use is low in Williamson County Schools, and that the majority of drug use takes place “at a friend’s house.”
“This survey comes along every year, and it’s the same thing – the bulk of misbehaving is going on at a friend’s house,” school board member Mark Gregory, District 11, said.
“I don’t know if parents are clueless or afraid to address it with teenagers, but please pay attention,” he said.
Although alcohol use is down among ninth- and 11th-grade students, the use of cigarettes, marijuana and hallucinogens are slightly up among 11th-grade students according to the survey that documents annual use. Among 11th-grade students about 31 percent have used marijuana, 28 percent have smoked cigarettes, 7.3 percent have used hallucinogens and 47 percent have used alcohol.

Chinese and Spanish foreign language elementary programs 
About 2,200 families registered for an optional elementary after-school foreign language pilot program in an effort to work toward fluency in a foreign language – in Spanish or Chinese – to help to instill language skills at a young age. At the work session May 16, Looney expressed his reservations on the risky venture. “I am nervous. We should go in with eyes wide open,” Looney said. “There is a risk of not being successful.”
“But we have been given the charge of implementing a foreign language program [for fluency found in the Board’s Strategic Plan] to be successful for years to come … The pilot will allow us to see if families find value in a foreign language program,” Looney said. 
Eric Welch, District 10, remains hopeful and compared the risky decision to past history. “The Kennedy rocket program was a huge roll of the dice. It could’ve been a huge national and international embarrassment. It could be a huge flop, but I don’t think that’s reason enough not to do this … if we are to be a premiere district in the nation.” 
Board member Cherie Hammond, District 6, pointed out the value of implementing the pilot as another step in collecting data to determine if implementing a world language program would be successful in WCS.
Elementary students would attend a language class for one hour of instruction each week for a series of 12 weeks per semester. Parents would be assessed a fee of $100 for each 12-week session. Classes would be offered in the fall and spring semester of 2013-14. 

Superintendent's Evaluation Instrument for 2013-14 
The board also voted to approve the Superintendent’s Evaluation Instrument for the 2013-14 school year. However, the lone board member to vote against the four-goal measure was Tim McLaughlin, District 4. “I have a hard time supporting this evaluation process. It does not properly evaluate a CEO,” he said. The four items do not tell us all that Dr. Looney is doing but only a portion. It is an inadequate process.”

New bus and TCAP preview
The board also voted in approval of the funding of $93,000 to purchase a new bus that will replace the totaled bus involved in an accident on Columbia Avenue earlier this month. Because the amount is under $100,000, district insurance does not pay for it, plus the other driver, who was killed in the early morning accident, was not insured Looney said. 
Although TCAP scores are currently embargoed by the state, Looney reported that at his first glance, the upward trend towards high achievement and growth seems to continue in WCS. “I am extremely pleased with the efforts of students, teachers and administrators,” Looney said.

Posted on: 5/21/2013


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