The Williamson County Schools Board of Education meeting Monday involved public comments concerning diverse representation in school curriculum and board discussion on asynchronous learning days, which eventually led to the approval of eight “flex” days throughout the remainder of the school year.
At the beginning of the meeting, four high school students involved with the Williamson County chapter of Diversify Our Narrative shared their views on the importance of including the perspectives of people of color in school curriculum.
Molly Volker read a message written by Camden Blackburn, who wrote that “To Kill A Mockingbird” is one of the only books included in high school English curriculum that includes an African American character, and throughout the book, Black people are referred to by names that are not considered appropriate today.
“Many kids are taught that these kinds of words are bad things to say,” Blackburn wrote. “However, once we started this unit, white students were told it was OK to use the slur if they felt comfortable with it. The reasoning for this was that, because the book was written and took place in a different time when it was socially acceptable to use this kind of language, it was OK to repeat it in a classroom.”
The Williamson County chapter of Diversify Our Narrative is calling for WCS to require at least one book written by a person of color about the experiences of people of color to be included in high school English or literature classes.
WCS Superintendent Jason Golden said he was “impressed with the students who spoke” as he discussed the district’s goal to find professionals to help improve the schools’ culture around race, diversity and inclusivity.
“Every time I hear our students speak, it does my heart good,” he said, adding that he’s spoken to young WCS alumni about their experiences at school concerning race. “The willingness of those students to step up and speak to that in a setting like this is just so impressive, and I’m so optimistic about their future. Ultimately, we owe this to them to help grow how we serve them.”
During the school board’s work session Thursday, Golden mentioned the district would like to enter into a two-year, $101,000 agreement with Derek Young Culture Strategies to address these issues. The board shared Thursday it would like to see a presentation from Young about his work and services before committing that money.
Golden said on during the meeting Monday that staff was scheduling a time for the board to hear from Young, and the item concerning the two-year contract was removed from the agenda, presumably until that presentation occurs.
Flex day schedule approved
Also during the meeting Monday, the board approved a flex day schedule for the remainder of the school year, which includes eight primarily asynchronous Fridays to allow for teacher planning and collaboration. The approved days include Nov. 13, Dec. 4, March 12 and 26, Jan. 15 and 29, and Feb. 5 and 26.
Originally, Oct. 23 was included on that list, but after a long discussion during the board’s work session which included board members sharing that families need to be able to plan for those days, that date was removed from the list since it came so soon after the board’s vote. Additionally, the district will continue its late-start “Power Mondays” through the end of the fall semester but will not hold these days in the spring semester.
Before the final vote, District 5 board member Jennifer Aprea proposed an amendment, which would change the full asynchronous days for elementary students only in the second semester to half days and allow district administration to add additional half days to throughout the elementary schedule as needed. While District 6 board member Jay Galbreath and District 2 board member Dan Cash expressed support for this amendment, saying they believed it would better serve the students, other board members and district staff expressed the idea that teachers would have more effective planning and greater opportunity for collaboration, which would better serve the students, if they had full asynchronous days.
“The opportunity to share best practices, to sit and engage in creative thinking, to share those strategies that some teachers are learning better across the hall and being able to sit and engage in that — it takes time,” said Juli Oyer, assistant superintendent of elementary schools. “We believe that that full day offers teachers the opportunity to increase their level of effectiveness in a way that will benefit kids.”
The amendment failed 8-3, with Aprea, Cash and Galbreath voting in favor. The original schedule for full flex days passed 11-0-1 with Cash abstaining.
The board also approved the first reading of new policies for employees and students concerning harassment, bullying, discrimination and more. These policies would have to pass second reading at the next board meeting to become active.
The school board will gather again for its next virtual work session on Thursday, Nov. 12 at 6 p.m. For more information, visit WCS.edu.