After mixed comments from a large crowd of public speakers, the Williamson County Schools Board of Education voted to extend Superintendent Jason Golden’s contract by one year during Monday night’s board meeting.
Golden thanked the board for the extension and the public for the discussion, which featured 40 speakers, seven of whom spoke in support of Golden and the district’s diversity and inclusion work. Some of these were members of One WillCo and Be the Bridge Nolensville, which along with The Public, Franklin Justice and Equity Coalition, Williamson Social Justice Alliance and Together Nolensville released a joint statement last week in support of Golden.
Most of the rest of the crowd was with the Williamson County chapter of Moms for Liberty, which has been vocal against Golden and the school’s elementary English language arts curriculum, Wit & Wisdom.
“This public comment discussion this evening has re-emphasized what you all have known for a long time, that this is hard work,” Golden said to the board. “The work you do is hard work. The work we do is hard work, and the scope of thought in our community is very broad, and we have a mandate to serve all our students even knowing that.”
The board’s vote was 8-2-1. Members Dan Cash and Jay Galbreath voted against Golden’s extension, while Candy Emerson abstained from the vote and Brad Fiscus was absent from the meeting. Angela Durham, Eliot Mitchell, Jen Aprea, Sheila Cleveland, Rick Wimberly, Eric Welch, K.C. Haugh and Nancy Garrett voted for the extension.
While Golden's contract was previously approved through June 17 of 2024, the board’s vote on Monday extended it to June of 2025.
Wimberly was the first to speak about Golden following public comment, sharing he believes Golden “did what the board directed him to do” and that his leadership led to students being in the classroom for much of the year, student performance tracking “just slightly behind,” no “increase in mental health cases” and an in-person graduation.
“These things did not happen by accident,” he said, noting that the board’s evaluation of Golden reflected that his performance was slightly above expectations.
Cleveland, Haugh and Mitchell recognized the difficulty of making decisions this past year, noting that WCS fared well compared to other districts. While they didn’t agree with every decision Golden made, they appreciated his leadership.
“COVID was a moving target for us. My only issue has always been the quarantine process. Quarantining students took an incredible and emotional toll on the teachers and parents and students, and in my opinion, there was too much conflicting information about the quarantine,” Cleveland said. “That being said, I don’t believe the entire quarantine issue should land entirely on the shoulders of Mr. Golden.”
Haugh shared that he understood the frustration of so many, also noting the fact that some students were quarantined multiple times was “a shame” and “was very difficult for those families.”
“If I think I’m in the superintendent’s shoes last March, last August, it would be hard to sleep at night if I was concerned about the safety and the life of staff members,” he said. “I feel that Mr. Golden erred on the side of caution appropriately. It has been a very difficult year. It’s hard for anybody to get an A+ in the grade, but I feel that he’s done a good job.”
Galbreath also agreed that it has been a difficult year, but he didn’t believe Golden, to use his mantra, put students first.
“I did not agree with a lot of the measures that were taken, and I do think that it was to the detriment of our kids this year,” he said. “I completely support Jason as the leader of our school system. He’s our superintendent. Just, given the year we’ve had, I can’t support extending his contract at this time, but I don’t mean to undermine his authority in any way. I don’t mean to say that I’m out to fire him.”
Cash shared that his decision not to vote for Golden’s contract extension was “not all about COVID.” He said he wants to start “building a better relationship” with Golden, but he “can’t agree” with certain decisions, particularly noting his concerns with the age-appropriateness of Wit & Wisdom.
“What I heard the other night in the few bullet points on what we’re going to do to improve on [the curriculum] isn’t much,” he said.
Emerson shared that she was “wrestling” and that she didn’t have enough time to decide, thus abstaining from the vote.
The board will meet again for a nonvoting work session at 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 12, at the WCS Professional Development Center. The school board does not meet in July.