Williamson County School District Superintendent Jason Golden is revamping his “Let’s Meet” sessions to answer parents’ questions in person and online, all in the name of putting students first.
He and Carol Birdsong, the district’s communications director, hopped on Facebook Live one recent morning to kick off a new leg of the series, beginning — as the district works out kinks with the new bus routes — with a discussion about transportation.
Golden said the biggest issue right now is they don’t have enough substitute bus drivers. While every route does have an assigned driver, if some call out sick, they don’t have enough to fill the gaps.
“I’m more worried about the wintertime, when illnesses spread, because we’re really not close to having enough substitute drivers,” Golden said.
“We’re already having absences, because that’s life with 250 or so drivers approaching 500 routes if you include all our middle, high and elementary routes plus our special-education routes.”
Birdsong said that because middle and high schools start earlier than elementary schools, one bus driver is assigned two routes in the morning and two in the afternoon to get nearly 27,000 bus-riding students to and from school every day.
Golden suggested that driving a school bus, a part-time job for which the district provides full benefits, is perfect for retirees or stay-at-home parents wanting to get involved.
Golden mentioned that the state recently named the district an “exemplary district” with 28 Reward Schools, but he explained that not every school can achieve that status because the formula considers school growth as well as achievement. Because of this, high-performing schools with lower growth rates, such as Brentwood High, were not among those named Reward Schools.
Golden also gave an update on the new middle school being built beside Oakview Elementary School. He said that administrators are hoping to set a plan for the zone in October and will hold public meetings to receive input before asking the school board to vote on the proposal in November.
Golden said he hopes this new school will reduce driving time for the parents of middle school students in the area.
The conversation turned to safety as one parent asked why the number of adults allowed on campus for student events such as parties is limited.
Golden explained that elementary school principals, in particular, expressed concern about too many people attending these events. In some cases, people who are registered sex offenders had made their way into schools, so the staffs began restrictions to better monitor each visitor.
Golden also said that when it comes to snow days, safety will be the No. 1 priority.
“We have a large geographic county, so if we have a safety issue in a portion of our county, we’re going to close because that’s the unit we are,” Golden said.
This priority of safety remains at the top regarding another prominent issue among students: vaping.
Golden said that district has drug detection test kits to use when a student is caught vaping. However, because vape smoke is harder to detect than cigarette smoke, administrators are looking into other technology — aside from security cameras in restrooms, for obvious reasons — to make such detection easier.
“The emphasis has been put on the amount of a drug that you can consume quickly compared to a cigarette, and it’s scary,” Golden said. “The reality is that technology is catching up to this vaping, and we’re going to continue to hit that on all fronts.”
Golden said that overall, one of the main goals for the year is developing empathy for students.
He recently met with the Cultural Competency Council — a group of parents dedicated to bringing attention to the diversity of lifestyles in Williamson County — and mentioned that the district is encouraging teachers to develop relationships with their students, learn their backgrounds and develop empathy through these interactions.
“We all come from our own background, and so there’s wisdom in getting a grasp on what’s going on beyond us in our life experiences,” Golden said.
Golden is planning to meet with parents at 6 p.m. Sept. 5 at Centennial High School before holding another Facebook Live session at 11:30 a.m. Sept. 12.