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WCS ‘exemplary’ status and rezoning for new middle school among work session topics

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The Williamson County Schools Board of Education met Thursday for its second meeting of the 2019–2020 school year, sparking conversations about rezoning for a new school and the district’s state-appointed “exemplary” status. 

Kevin Deck, who covers assessment and accountability analysis for WCS, kicked off the meeting with a presentation on last year’s student performance. He mentioned that WCS falls in the 90th percentile in the state, which contains over 140 school districts. 

For grades four through eight, the district ranked the highest in the state in proficiency and growth for English language arts and highest in proficiency for math. 

“That is a credit to our principals and our teachers,” Superintendent Jason Golden said. “They’re not resting on our laurels, saying they were doing well. When you have a growth number like that, it’s very impressive.” 

The district also had a 98% participation rate in AP courses last year. Golden explained the schools encourage students to try an AP course to push themselves even if they don’t land the best grade. 

“We focus on ‘Take a class. Give it a try. This is going to be more challenging,’” he said. “We’re not worried as much about passing as we are of pushing yourself, giving yourself an opportunity to do more so that you can be a little bit better prepared.” 

From the 7,362 AP tests passed last year, Deck estimated this saved families a total of $9 million in college money, though not all credits transfer and tuition rates vary. 

The conversation then turned to zoning, as the middle school on Henpeck Lane will open next fall, and families will shift around. 

The preliminary parameters outlined for discussion were as follows: 

Minimize the impact on families as much as reasonably possible 

Maintain consistent feeder patterns as much as reasonably possible 

When possible, zone planned developments prior to construction to optimize school capacities 

This sparked a long debate between board members. One sticking point came from Eric Welch, District 10, who said feeding patterns don’t necessarily need to remain consistent. 

“I think the consistent feeding patterns has become such a sacred cow, but … I think it’s also the origin of a lot of qualms that we have,” he said. “At some point, we need to have a discussion about what is more important. Is it distance or the feeding pattern? And I would be okay with a school that splits evenly … more than neighborhoods having to drive past a high school to get to the school where they’re zoned.” 

Eliot Mitchell, District 3, went a step further to say perhaps parameters should be avoided altogether. However, Jay Galbreath, District 6, said he believed parameters help staff and board members communicate the reasons behind zoning decisions to families. Vice chairman Nancy Garrett, District 12, agreed. 

“I feel like having parameters was a real fairness test in every rezoning I’ve done, and I could always talk to my constituents about why that decision was made in the context of the parameters,” Garrett said. “It’s a check and balance, which is what our great country is based on.” 

The board was also scheduled to discuss the school calendar, but Golden opted to push this off until they could hear recommendations from the calendar committee next month. 

The board will meet for a full meeting on Monday, Sept. 16 at 6:30 p.m. at the Williamson County Administrative Complex, where they will vote on whether or not they will dictate zoning parameters.

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