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Snowden, Looney speak at final Williamson County-Franklin Chamber luncheon

According to the county’s economic development director Matt Largen, the quality of public schools is an important variable when businesses are considering locating or relocating to a community. For that reason, it is also important businesses within the community continue to be appraised of the quality of those schools.

Although not generally known for their brevity, Franklin Special Schools Superintendent Dr. David Snowden and Williamson County Schools Superintendent Dr. Mike Looney gave a brief report regarding the state of the county’s two school systems to members of the Williamson County-Franklin Chamber of Commerce Tuesday and encouraged businesses to find a way to be involved in the schools.

Snowden, who came from Mississippi to take FSSDs top position in 2001, played off the system’s recent Exemplary Schools award from the state when he proudly announced, “We have had an exemplary year.”

One of 21 schools named exemplary, FSSD raised the proficiency levels on the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program achievement test and made significant progress closing the gaps in all subgroups.

It had been a couple years since the superintendents last addressed the chamber, so Snowden took the opportunity to present a demographic update. FSSD has seven schools pre-kindergarten to grade 8 and 3,900 students. Included in the total, 9.2 percent come with limited English skills – primarily students who are among the 21 percent Hispanic population. The remainder of the population is 12 percent black and 60 percent white, 14.3 percent have disabilities and 37 percent are considered low income at risk students, which is lower than in past years when the percentage hovered around 40 percent.

Statewide, FSSD students ranked third in math and fourth in science, social studies and reading and language – behind Williamson County schools, which came in first in all areas.

“Our challenge is to continue to raise achievement for all students and also raise achievement for subgroups at a faster rate,” Snowden said. “We are implementing the Common Core state curriculum this year with a focus on math – it’s a very deep curriculum, and prepare for reading and language arts next year.”

The district will also focus on providing and teaching teachers with the technology that will enhance student learning and implementing the teacher evaluation process. Both FSSD and WCS received approval to implement a flexible plan that allows and encourages teachers to continue to grow their skills, Snowden added.

“The times, they are a changing,” Looney said, paraphrasing an old Bob Dylan song. “In Williamson County we find the demographics are changing.”

For that reason, the school system has set a goal to teach all children to speak a second language and Looney, who came from Alabama in 2009 to lead WCS, and the system’s teachers are learning Chinese and Spanish. To prove it, the superintendent took the opportunity to practice what he’s learned so far speaking a phrase in both Chinese and Spanish.

He admitted he needs a lot more practice.

“Just because children are born or raised in Tennessee doesn’t mean they speak the same way,” he said referring to another language:  texting, a language Looney admitted to having more difficulty with than Chinese.

This new digital language was the justification for a new board policy allowing students to bring the digital devices to class and use them to learn and encouraged chamber members to use their own digital devices to connect with the school system and get involved in the education of the county’s children.

“We are the highest ranked in achievement and we are the highest ranked in growth,” Looney said. “It doesn’t get any better than that. Not only are we achieving, but it’s not even close.”

WCS is the fastest growing school system in the state and a look at the achievement trend shows everybody in the district is making progress including students with disabilities, who out --performed the typically developing students throughout the state, Looney said.

“Our charge is to grow and close the [achievement] gap,” Looney said.

The luncheon was the final membership luncheon held by the Williamson County-Franklin Chamber before the unification of three of the county’s chambers takes place officially in October.

Posted on: 9/26/2012


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