As Williamson County Schools prepares for change following a shift in leadership, newly appointed interim Superintendent Jason Golden assures parents, teachers and education advocates that his vision is rooted in the basics, especially emphasizing “students first.”
The Williamson County Board of Education recently entered into contract negotiations with the intent of appointing Golden as its next superintendent. The school board will discuss the contract at its next monthly meeting June 17.
Golden held a meet and greet Tuesday morning to discuss some of the key issues in WCS with many district stakeholders, who gathered around a conference table in the training room at the district’s central office. He expressed his desire to unify all of the moving parts in the school district to form a functional team to best serve students.
“We are in an environment as a public school system where there’s tons and tons of rules,” he said. “Everything we do has some impact down the road. I want us to renew our focus on students first, and I expect that in everything we do.”
Golden said this student focus extends to issues like health, individualized education programs (IEPs) as part of special and gifted education, as well as budgeting, noting that funding WCS is the county’s greatest expenditure, just as he thinks it ought to be.
He also discussed the importance of viewing the student body as individuals first.
“One of the things I don’t ever want to hear is, ‘We don’t do that here,’” Golden said. “I want it to be individualized.”
Kim Stinson, whose children attended schools in Franklin Special School District and are enrolled at Centennial High School, has served with the Needs of Our Kids, or NOOK facility, to help impoverished families in FSSD schools. She raised concerns about pockets of poverty throughout Williamson County, where children may not have their needs met at school.
Golden explained he handles these situations at the building level, providing each school with tools to address its specific needs.
“We have some processes in place to give those schools that have more students in poverty some extra site-based funds. … We will try to emphasize more technology efforts in those schools,” he said. “When we meet with our principals about where there’s gaps in instruction, we end up by default placing more supports in those buildings instructionally because the research does show that there’s a direct link between economics and student performance.”
He continued to explain the benefits of holding each school to the same instructional standard, providing resources to challenge both gifted students and those with special needs. That includes AP courses, IEPs and the upcoming Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center (EIC) to open soon on the Franklin High School campus.
Another aspect of serving students is achieved by serving teachers, Golden said.
PTO Leadership Council member Leslie Murray, who has children at Ravenwood High School, expressed concern over teachers leaving WCS for other counties where they can make more money.
Golden said this area is under constant assessment. Challenges arise because the school board does not have sole authority over the matter; they must receive funding from the Williamson County Commission.
Nonetheless, Golden said the board has made efforts to adjust the pay scale to come closer to a living wage and to narrow the increasing wage gap between higher- and lower-paid teachers created by routine annual percentage raises.
“We put a pretty massive effort into revamping our teacher pay chart this past year,” he said. “The net money we ended up asking from the county commission was a total of about $12.1 million to bump up teachers’ pay, and it was a combination of giving everybody — every teacher — a pay increase, plus bumping up those lower-pay scales, typically from younger teachers, so that they can become more competitive.”
Golden shared that the starting salary for a first-year teacher with no experience has increased by approximately $3,000, rising to $40,500, to be more competitive with the surrounding area.
However, when it comes to bus drivers, WCS is experiencing an opposite problem: there are simply not enough.
Golden assured parents, though, they need not fear the elimination of bus service, despite some who might suggest such action.
“We do it because there’s value in it, and we’re going to continue to do the best we can with the resources we have,” he said.
Susan Pitts, whose children attend Sunset Elementary School, said this issue affects them, because many of the drivers double up on bus routes since there are not enough drivers to operate single routes. She said her children have been on the second route for three years, and it increases the time they spend waiting to get to and from school.
As a result, Pitts chooses to pick up her kids from school in the afternoon so they can get home sooner.
Golden said there is simply a shortage of drivers, which is also a national problem, but they are working to recruit additional help, offering benefits despite the job’s part-time status. In the mean time, he said, they are working to be as efficient as possible with their current resources.
He also explained that the district has a seven-year strategic plan to improve these issues and more. However, he expressed his desire to obtain parents’ input as they implement each step.
“I’m going to spend some more time listening to parents, and I’m going to listen to them in the context of our strategic plan and find out what we can do to make sure that those students are served and those needs are met,” Golden said. “The scope of the work is huge. I mean, you’re thinking about serving a child. … We need to be good and the best we possibly can be at every aspect of what we’re doing to serve children.”
Golden began serving WCS as the school district’s attorney in 2006. He was promoted to chief operating officer in January 2010 and then to deputy superintendent and general counsel in July 2012.
He will address the public again Thursday, June 6 on WCS Facebook Live at 11:30 a.m.