WCS school board debates substitute teacher pay, zoning for new middle school

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WCS School Board Work Session

The Williamson County Schools Board of Education meets for its final work session of the year.

The final Williamson County Schools Board of Education work session of the year was long and heated on Thursday, but it was to be expected when discussing new zoning and feeder patterns. 

The meeting began on a light tone, discussing designs for a new illuminated sign for Independence High School funded by the school’s parent teacher organization. The new sign is meant to increase the visibility of the entrance to the school campus. 

WCS Superintendent Jason Golden discussed briefly the school’s ACT scores, which averaged a 25.3 composite for this year’s graduating class, 5.3 points above the state average but a tenth of a point below last year’s average for the district. However, Golden said, the average scores also dipped nationwide. 

Goals for the future included increasing the percentage of students who make a 21 or higher (the score needed to receive the Tennessee HOPE Scholarship) from 80% to 90%. 

Allison Fisher, administrator of WCS Online, then gave a report concerning the expansion of online learning in the district. Enrollment more than quadrupled between last year and now, topping out at 1,866 seats among 16 courses. Student passing rate for online courses was 91.4% as opposed to the 92.7% gleaned from on-campus classes, raising no concern from staff. 

The district will continue to grow the program and is looking into options for summer courses. Fisher said they plan to offer summer classes by need or request, and course fees may be applicable for the summer months. 

The board then discussed potential incentive options for substitute teachers, as Golden explained the fill rate is about 80% regardless of whether they have 100 or 200 subs lined up because only a group of about 50 are regularly filling slots. The proposal suggested offering an extra $100 to teachers who work seven days in a given pay period — two weeks long — and an extra $200 to those who work 50 days in a semester. 

Eighth district board member Candy Emerson explained she is friends with some of the substitute teachers, and she explained that many of them are simply not paid enough for their work, particularly considering the education level and teaching experience of some. 

Pay for substitute teachers ranges from $70 to $100 per day depending on the teacher’s qualifications. 

The board expressed their approval of the $100 incentive, but District 6 board member Jay Galbreath said he didn’t think the $200 incentive was too low in proportion to the $100. He suggested either raising the $100 bonus and doing away with the $200 or raising the $200 amount to be in proportion with the shorter-term benefit. 

Golden said he would consider this point. 

“The 50 or 60 who are coming so much — I’m hoping that they see this as an extra thank you for them,” he said. “Then those who might say yes, … we’re hoping that this will incentivize them.” 

The conversation then turned to the proposed zoning changes — a portion of the Thompson’s Station Elementary zone north of Interstate 840 would move to Oak View Elementary; College Grove Elementary and Trinity Elementary would move 55 and 78 students, respectively, to Creekside Elementary; hundreds of students zoned for Heritage Middle and Thompson’s Station Middle north of I-840 would move to the new middle school on Henpeck Lane; and Heritage Middle and Thompson’s Station Middle would take 172 and 58 students, respectively, from Spring Station Middle to address overcrowding. 

With these changes also come a few alterations to feeder patterns. Oak View Elementary and Winstead Elementary would attend the new middle school on Henpeck Lane; Allendale Elementary would split almost evenly between Heritage Middle and Spring Station Middle; Heritage Middle would feed mostly into Independence High, with 18% going to Summit High; and Thompson’s Station Middle would be weighted more heavily towards Summit High, with 20% going to Independence. 

Zoning for other high schools would not change. 

A debate arose over grandfathering in middle-schoolers. Golden expressed concerns about allowing upcoming seventh-graders to be exempt from these changes, because he worried this would delay the crowding relief for Spring Station Middle and would make the launch of the new middle school on Henpeck unpredictable. 

Third District board member Eliot Mitchell said he thinks both seventh- and eighth-graders in Heritage Middle and Thompson’s Station Middle (those who would move to the middle school on Henpeck) should be grandfathered into their schools, proposing open zoning as a solution. 

“Open zoning really doesn’t move the needle, in part because, … generally speaking, people love their school,” Golden rebutted. 

Board member KC Haugh, 11th District, said he worries that, if rezoning isn’t enforced, the new middle school may not have the same opportunities as the others, because they may not be able to fill certain programs and extracurricular activities. 

Cash said this debate comes up with every rezoning discussion, and he said he thinks either all seventh- and eighth-graders need to be grandfathered in across the district or none of them. 

Finally, the board discussed the changes to the five-year capital plan that were made “due to the changing growth projections across the county,” according to the agenda. 

Plans for an eastern addition to the Sunset Elementary campus have been canceled, and a south central middle school has been pushed beyond the five-year window. 

The proposed plan for new buildings are now as follows: an eastern elementary school to be finished in 2021, an elementary school on the Jordan Middle property and a southern elementary school in 2022, an eastern middle school and Brentwood Middle replacement in 2023, central and northern elementary schools in 2024, and a southern elementary school and western high school in 2025. Additionally, a new southern early childhood development building is expected in 2023. 

The only major projects expected to complete in 2020 are the installation of synthetic turf at Ravenwood High’s, Centennial High’s and Fairview High’s football fields. The district has also slated major renovations for Hillsboro School, Grassland Middle and Bethesda Elementary. 

The school board will discuss these issues further and vote on each agenda item at their full meeting Monday, Nov. 18 at the Williamson County Administrative Complex at 6:30 p.m.

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