After a short, one-month summer break, the Williamson County Schools Board of Education reconvened for the first time this academic year for a work session Thursday, focusing on school safety and construction updates.
At the start of school last week, the district piloted its partnership with Gaggle, a program that monitors the WCS electronic system for keywords that could point to at-risk behavior.
WCS Superintendent Jason Golden reported the program has already caught signs of self-harm. He said these few preliminary pings make it all worth it.
“I don’t care how much it costs. It’s already paid for itself,” he said.
He explained that the system monitors school electronic property only, such as students’ district emails and online projects, not their personal emails or internet activity — much like an employer, Golden noted.
He said many school assignments are done through an online system, which allows students to write electronic notes. Administrators have found students will sometimes write private messages and then delete them, but if those notes contain trigger words, Gaggle will catch them.
District 3 board member Eliot Mitchell raised a concern with the system, asking if a protocol was in place for those notified by Gaggle to ensure students are not being inappropriately questioned if they write a triggering message.
Golden said, yes, and the response process is situational, but a lot of it comes down to building relationships and trust with the students. In such cases, the principal of the school, assistant principal and school safety officer are notified, and for immediate threats, there’s a tiered system of communication to ensure timely action.
Also, along the lines of safety, Golden said the district is continuing to retrofit the schools with double entryways to direct incoming persons through the school central office before they can enter the main halls.
He also mentioned that the high schools are continuing to require driving students to take a driving safety course, emphasizing key issues like seatbelts and the new hands-free driving law in Tennessee, before they receive a parking pass.
As this was the board’s first meeting of the school year, Vickie Hall gave an update on staffing needs. She mentioned the schools could still use SACC and food service workers, but they are doing fairly well in those departments. They are in desperate need of math teachers and more school bus drivers.
Golden mentioned that while WCS does have enough bus drivers for smooth operation, they are in need of substitutes in case of illness or other absences.
Director of Facilities and Construction Kevin Fortney then gave an update on the many construction projects currently underway.
He first mentioned that renovations to Brentwood High School have been approved by the fire marshal, but as this includes a new entryway, it will take at least two summers to complete so as to not interfere with students during the school year.
The addition to Page Middle School is scheduled for completion in mid-October, sparking conversations about the next phase of renovations at the school. Page High School is preparing for construction starting in the spring, which will bring a three-story classroom, laboratory and administration building.
The middle school being built on Henpeck Lane is seeing progress despite some challenges and is set to finish in August of next year, while the Grassland Middle auditorium is expected to finish within the next couple months.
On a smaller scale, the town of Nolensville is funding a sidewalk from Brittain Downs Subdivision to Sunset Elementary School to improve walkability for nearby families.
“Nolensville does a really incredible job on walkability,” Golden said. “So, we are adding sidewalks to both the north and south end of the Sunset campus.”
Golden also mentioned that, after a busy back-to-school week, he is again prioritizing meetings with parents and will be hosting one in-person meeting as well as a couple Facebook Live sessions to answer parents’ questions.
He and Communications Director Carol Birdsong will hold Facebook Live sessions on Tuesday, Aug. 20 at 11:30 a.m. and Thursday, Sept. 12 at 11:30 a.m The physical meeting will be held at Centennial High School on Thursday, Sept. 5 at 6 p.m.
The WCS Board of Education will meet again Monday, Aug. 19 at 6:30 p.m. at the Williamson County Administrative Complex.