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Top Stories in Education

Kerri Bartlett
Superintendent Dr. Mike Looney said that this school year he is most proud of the hard work of teachers and the implementation of the student-led Ladders to Hope initiative. 

Williamson County’s Board of Education and Superintendent Dr. Mike Looney led many projects this year, including setting in motion a plan for building new school buildings, supporting the increase of safety in schools, pushing for passage of new state legislation and implementing groundbreaking student-centered projects.
However, controversial issues such as a dispute with the state over the miscoding of standardized tests, debates over textbook content and the implementation of common core state standards and discussions about rezoning posed new challenges for the school district. 
SRO’s hired for all elementary schools
About 32 School Resource Officers (SRO’s) walked their first steps through the halls of elementary schools in WCS and FSSD this school year. The county commission approved about $2.6 million to fund the officers last January. The county, sheriff’s office and the WCS and FSSD school districts quickly banned together to support the effort after the Sandy Hook tragedy in Connecticut in December of last year. 
“I’ve gotten nothing but positive feedback,” Long said. “The lives of elementary school students are just as important as middle and high school students. We need to be protecting all.” 
School safety evaluated and enhanced
Michael Dorn, executive director of Safe Havens International, a non-profit consulting firm specializing in school safety visited buildings in both FSSD and WCS last February to assess the safety conditions at all schools in the city and county and to make suggestions for strengthening it. 
The county commission approved the visit to WCS for $40,000 last winter. Although the full safety report submitted by Dorn remains confidential due to security, schools have been implementing certain safety measures over the past year, such as adults showing ID’s in schools and implementing new technologies that will enhance safety in school buildings. 
Commission approves Nolensville schools design plan funding
After years of long range planning, land acquisition and budgeting, the design of the WCS’s next high school (which could be called Northeast High School) and K-8 school both in Nolensville is underway. Funding for design plans and site construction were approved by the county commission in October, which allows roads and sewer lines to be built. 
County commissioners approved a bond issuance of about $19.4 million to cover the design plans and site construction dollars for the schools, also including capital funds and funding for repairs to existing buildings.
Recently, Looney said that he plans to ask the commission for construction dollars this spring for the schools that are to be built on 100-acres of land at Nolensville and York roads. Rezoning will be addressed in April, Looney added.  
Looney announced that the high school could be completed as early as January 2016, while the K-8 school is projected for completion in fall 2015. 
The new schools are projected to relieve surrounding overcrowded high schools—especially Ravenwood—as well as to accommodate residential growth in the Nolensville area. 
Rezoning of Lipscomb, Spring Station sparks emotions
The Williamson County School Board approved rezoning for a portion of the Spring Station Middle and Lipscomb Elementary geographical areas in November upon Superintendent Dr. Mike Looney’s recommendation. 
Both schools are overcrowded and need relief, Looney explained last fall.
About nine percent of students at Lipscomb Elementary will attend Walnut Grove Elementary, while about seven percent of students from Spring Station Middle will attend Heritage Middle, effective 2014-15.
The rezoning plans sparked much community debate and emotions from parents at each school. Parents expressed concern about uprooting students from their neighborhood schools and busing them into a different part of the county. At issue, is a plan to send Lipscomb students in Brentwood to attend Walnut Grove just north of Franklin.
City lines weren’t evaluated in the decision, Looney said. However, factors such as school population, capacity and geographic density in areas helped WCS make decisions for redrawing zoning lines. 
“Change is never easy,” said Chairman of the Board Pat Anderson, District 8. 
“There are a lot of emotions. These decisions do not come easily. However, I know that the students affected will continue to succeed and thrive. I believe that this plan provides stability and follows logical geographical lines.” 
WCS sues state, settles
WCS settled a legal dispute out of court with the Tennessee Department of Education. The board opted to file a lawsuit last fall against the department for its “refusal to correct” demographic coding errors regarding the Hispanic population on the high school End-of-Course (EOC) exam. 
Due to the coding errors, the Hispanic population was categorized as “needs improvement,” rather than being given the correct “intermediate” status. The state determined that because the mistake was generated at the district level, the coding errors were not corrected.
However, in a letter submitted to the district by TDOE Commissioner Kevin Huffman, a committee will be formed at the state level to reduce the likelihood of the occurrence of future coding errors. “It’s a win for everybody,” Looney said. 
Haslam approves high performing school districts legislation
Governor Bill Haslam signed into law the High Performing School Districts Flexibility Act last spring.
WCS Attorney Bill Squires and Looney crafted a bill that allows WCS and other high performing districts across the state to bypass bureaucratic red tape so that districts can operate in a more timely manner. The new legislation empowers the district to hire teachers more quickly when needed and allows the board more flexibility in transferring money between budget categories.  
“It has been a blessing in many ways,” Looney said. “The increased flexibility has helped us to be more responsive. For example, we have received several grants, which were able to be approved by the school board instead of going through the county commission first. My only regret is not asking for more flexibility.” 
‘Ladders to Hope’ kicks off Williamson County Education Foundation projects
Mallory Churchwell and Melanie Hagerman of Fairview High School at the Ladder’s to Hope launch.  Kerri Bartlett
“One of my most proud happenings this year is the formation of Ladders to Hope,” Looney said. “It was a great feeling seeing the community come together for the project. Also, seeing students helping students and taking ownership of their learning is truly inspiring.”
Ladders to Hope is an ACT prep initiative generated as part of the 2014 senior class project with the goal of helping every student graduate with a 21 on the ACT to qualify for the state HOPE scholarship. 
About 800 Chrome laptop computers were purchased through business and community donations of almost $200,000 for students to participate in the project.
A Ladders to Hope celebration at the Franklin Theatre marked the first inaugural event for the Williamson County Education Foundation (WCEF), a nonprofit 501 (c) whose purpose is to help fund the needs of school children and classrooms across the county in WCS and Franklin Special School District. 
Common Core defended and criticized 
WCS leaders, TDOE Commissioner Kevin Huffman and representatives from SCORE (State Collaborative on Reforming Education) held an informational meeting at The People’s Church in Franklin last spring, which drew a crowd of hundreds. Looney and staff answered questions submitted by index cards by posting answers on the district website.
Common Core State Standards in math and English/language arts will be fully implemented in WCS by 2015. “We have no choice,” Looney said previously this year. “The state chose to adopt these standards.”
An anti-Common Core panel discussion called “Kevin Kookogey Presents Confronting the Common Core” drew a crowd of about 600 people in a hotel ballroom in Franklin in which panelists discussed their disagreement with the implementation of Common Core in schools. 
Textbook debates cause dissention
The WCS Board voted to uphold the ad hoc textbook committee’s decision to keep a controversial AP textbook—The Cultural Landscape: An Introduction to Human Geography, 10th Edition by James Rubenstein published by Pearson —in classrooms. After months of community debate, led by parent Laurie Cardoza-Moore, the textbook, which opposition characterized as anti-Semitic, was turned over to an school board appointed committee. The committee ultimately released an 8-page report outlining their decision to retain the book.
FSSD swears in new board member
The FSSD School Board voted unanimously to appoint Allena Bell in July as the new board member for the vacant seat left by Melanie Hembree, who moved out of state last spring. 
Bell will seek election to her appointed post in 2014.
Bell was chosen out of three other candidates, all of whom board members praised for their experience and passion for education.

“I am very excited,” Bell said earlier this year. “I think it’s important for me to be an active listener because there is such a wealth of experience on the board and to be a strong team player moving forward.”

Posted on: 1/3/2014


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