Local young leaders learn about government

Submitted to The Democrat
High school juniors from across Tennessee debate and vote on a mock bill during the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association’s annual Youth Leadership Summit at the state capitol in Nashville.

Tanner Buchanan from Wilson Central High School and Stella London from Mt. Juliet High School were in Nashville on March 13-15 for the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association’s annual Youth Leadership Summit.

The juniors were chosen and sponsored by Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corp.

Sen. Jim Tracy greeted delegates attending the three-day leadership and government workshop March 14 and welcomed the young leaders to the Senate chamber of the Tennessee Capitol. Alan Whittington, assistant chief clerk of the Senate, explained the process required to pass legislation, and students had the opportunity to debate and vote on a mock bill.

Reps. Mike Bell and John Lee Clemmons joined Tracy for a town hall meeting with attendees. The three discussed the legislative process and answered questions posed by summit attendees. Delegates then had the opportunity to listen in on debate in House and Senate meetings in Legislative Plaza.

In addition to a hands-on look at state government, delegates to the event learned team-building and problem-solving skills and developed a better understanding of their local electric cooperatives.

“We’ve had a wonderful day full of voting and mock legislation,” said London.

Delegates to the Youth Leadership Summit are encouraged to be leaders and use their talents to improve rural Tennessee.

“These students will soon be our community leaders – and electric cooperative member-owners,” said MTEMC community relations coordinator Jay Sanders. “We want them to share our passion for Middle Tennessee, so it is an honor for Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corp. to help prepare them for the opportunities that are ahead. The future of our rural communities depends on a new generation of strong leaders like these.”

Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corp. is a member-owned nonprofit electric cooperative that provides electricity to more than 216,000 residential and business members in Williamson, Wilson, Rutherford and Cannon counties.

Staff Reports

Firefighters battle Elementary school fire

Mt. Juliet firefighters extinguished a fire Sunday morning at Mt. Juliet Elementary School that damaged at least one classroom.

Firefighters responded to the school at 2521 W. Division St. at about 8 a.m. According to Mt. Juliet fire officials, the fire started in “hotel-style” heater” that activated one sprinkler head in a classroom, and the school’s sprinkler system contained the fire. Fire damaged the classroom, and four adjoining classrooms suffered water and some smoke damage.

“Something did malfunction, and it did ignite,” said Mt. Juliet fire Chief Jamie Luffman. “There was a significant fire as you can see by that wall over there and it came through the wall.”

Luffman said the sprinkler kept the fire contained until firefighters arrived and extinguished the remainder of the fire. The single sprinkler head released a significant amount of water that then leaked into adjoining classrooms, Luffman said.

“Obviously this fire was intense for a short period of time,” Luffman said. 

Wilson County Schools spokesperson Jennifer Johnson said in an email clean-up crews responded to the school after firefighters extinguished the fire. Firefighters remained on the scene for several hours.

Johnson initially said classes would resume as normal with students returning from spring break Monday, but she later said Monday would be considered a “student holiday” for students. All teachers and staff are expected to report for work as a teacher in-service day to help get the school ready for classes Tuesday.

“We are so grateful to the Mt Juliet Fire Department for their quick response and ability to contain the fire to such a small portion of the school,” Johnson said.

Mt. Juliet firefighters also extinguished an unrelated car fire reported Sunday just after 1 p.m. on North Mt. Juliet Road near Creekside Drive.

By Jared Felkins

jfelkins@lebanondemocrat.com

Lebanon schools go after owed money

The Lebanon Special School District will explore its options regarding an ongoing lawsuit with the City of Mt. Juliet regarding owed liquor-by-the-drink tax money owed to the district.

The city of Mt. Juliet and the Wilson County school board approved an agreement between the two parties regarding the lawsuit earlier this year, but language excluded the Lebanon Special School District.

In the agreement, the city would agree to waive any and all future fees that are within their authority up to $380,000 that are related to building, renovation and development of new and existing schools.

The agreement also said Mt. Juliet would hold Wilson County Schools harmless against litigation or payment of funds to the Lebanon Special School District, which means Wilson County Schools would not be required to pay a portion of its settlement to the city schools.

In 2013, it was revealed many cities in Tennessee didn’t pay their portion of their liquor-by-the-drink tax to public schools systems that operated within those cities due to an oversight. Wilson County Schools and the Lebanon Special School District were among the school districts in Tennessee that were owed back taxes by cities.

Monday, the Lebanon Special School District school board received an update and learned of possible options from Mike Kurtz, student services administrator. Kurtz said the potential settlement brought up issues about how the district should proceed in the lawsuit.

“We’re still in the lawsuit against Mt. Juliet. The second issue is if they settle with Wilson County Schools for an in-kind gift, where does that leave us? If it’s an in-kind gift, there’s still 17 percent pro rata that we view is owed to us,” Kurtz said.

Kurtz said the district believes its entitled to 17 percent of any money received by Wilson County Schools in the settlement, including any in-kind gifts.

“Even if they settle, the lawsuit still goes on, as well as a possible claim back against the Wilson County Schools,” said Kurtz, who said he believes Wilson County Schools has attempted to protect the district’s interest during negotiations.

“I think the only way they see to get this settled would be to take what they believe would be their percentage of the full amount,” Kurtz said.

Kurtz said no parties have questioned if the money is actually owed, especially since the city has been up to date on payments since 2013.

“Our belief is it’s about the students. It’s the students’ money – all Wilson County students,” Kurtz said.

“It’s our money and we want it. My opinion is do whatever you have to do to get the money. We’re not doing anything wrong. We’re just getting something that is owed to us. It’s for the students. It’s not a whole lot of money, but it’s money we could use for educational purposes,” board chairman Steve Jones said.

The resolution authorizes school district attorneys “to undertake any and all steps as are necessary to secure to the Lebanon Special School District all monies which should be paid and distributed to the Lebanon Special School District.”

By Xavier Smith

xsmith@lebanondemocrat.com

Student describes Commerce Farms’ impact

By Xavier Smith 

xsmith@lebanondemocrat.com

Wilson Central High School students, staff, parents and administrators are working on a possible solution to keep an access point to a large industrial development off the school’s only access road.

Wilson Central student Preston George, the school’s student school board representative, updated the Wilson County school board Monday on talks between school officials, school board and school district representatives and developers on the issue.

The Commerce Farms distribution center will be 652,00 square feet and feature 116 truck docks, two drive-in doors and a parking lot for 84 trailers and 257 cars. The access point on Wildcat Way would be available to about 60 employees.

“The largest concern we have as a school is they’re putting an entrance on Wildcat Way. This is an issue because we already have traffic issues because that light at [State Route 109] is the only access point for students, faculty and staff to get into the building,” George said.

The Wildcat Way access point would be about 50 yards from the traffic light.

George said based on conversations with personnel with the Lebanon Planning Department, state law allows the development to feature an access road on Wildcat Way because the property backs up to a city or county road.

George said, however, the group has sought other alternatives to alleviate potential congestion and reduce safety hazards.

He said one of those options included extending Wildcat Way through property adjacent to Connect Church, which currently sits at the end of Wildcat Way. George said that plan was likely not feasible due to grading costs due to hills on the property.

However, George said the parties also discussed taking any excess rock from blasting and use it as a road that would access Wilson Central near its baseball field, which could be used during games and other events.

George also discussed the project’s traffic impact study, which showed the peak access times for employees would be between 6:30-8:30 a.m. and 4:30-6:30 p.m.

“Those p.m. hours are not necessarily going to affect us unless we have a basketball or football game. Our primary concern is the morning peak hours,” George said.

George said the Lebanon Planning Department has tried to improve traffic and safety issues on Wildcat Way, but has not been able to find a feasible option.

“We’re working together to find common ground where we all three can benefit,” George said.

Wilson County Board of Education member Tom Sottek has been involved in the conversations and said although one access point will likely be on Wildcat Way, the primary entrance would be through Franklin Road.

“They also have the option to go the other entrance, as well. The expectation is, more than likely, they will adjust,” Sottek said.

Make-A-Wish makes student’s dream true

By Jake Old

jold@lebanondemocrat.com

Mt. Juliet Middle School sixth grader Sarah Meers, who is battling leukemia, wished she could visit France someday.

The 12-year-old student’s dream came true Friday, when the Make-A-Wish Foundation visited the school in a special assembly in which Sarah was presented with a check of more than $5,600, raised by her fellow students.

Sarah, along with her parents and older brother, will visit Paris later this year.

The trip, along with the special assembly at the school, came as a surprise to Sarah. One of her teachers, Johnathan Wilson, led Sarah to believe she would be visiting some of her fellow students during a physical education class that is regularly scheduled during the time period.

Sarah was unable to be in school in recent weeks due to her illness, and even the scheduling of the assembly was up in the air for some time, because she was hospitalized.

Sarah and her family came into the building away from the gymnasium, where the assembly was held. Meanwhile, the gym was packed with her fellow students, who were energized with the help of some special routines by the school’s cheerleaders.

The students were urged to be quiet as Sarah approached, to ensure Sarah did not suspect anything before walking into the gym.

All eyes were focused on the doors to the gym before Sarah came in, and as the door opened, hundreds of students shouted in unison. Sarah walked a lap around the gym with her parents and a classmate and friend, Barrett, who held hands with Sarah as she walked into the gym.

“I’m so happy for her,” Barrett said outside the gym prior to the assembly. “She had to miss school because she’s sick, and I miss her.”

“I’m sorry I had to lie to you,” Wilson said to Sarah after the chaos died down a little. He smiled and leaned in to give her a hug. “We wanted it to be a surprise.”

Sarah gave him a sheepish grin and told him his apology was accepted.

The young girl was left nearly speechless in the immediate aftermath of the event.

“Yes, I was very surprised,” she said as she answered a couple of questions from the members of local media who attended the event.

Sarah’s parents, who wore grins from ear to ear throughout the event, said they were humbled by the outpouring of support and happy for their daughter.

Sarah was joined by several members of her family in seats in front of a row of bleachers in the gym. Students presented her with a book filled with notes of support from every student in the school.

“That’s just Mt. Juliet Middle School for you,” Wilson said. “That’s the character of these students.”

Students raised the money through selling Make-A-Wish Stars. School officials said they hoped to maybe raise $2,000, but students came through and more than doubled that prediction.

“We are very proud of our students … and the community for supporting Sarah,” said Ashley Putman-Serbin, student council advisor. “We are very excited to help grant her wish.”

After presenting Sarah with the check and book, students had a special chant for her.

“Dreams,” the sixth graders all said in unison.

“Come,” the seventh graders followed.

“True,” the eighth graders said.

Education commissioner advocates local oversight on school bathrooms

By Xavier Smith

xsmith@lebanondemocrat.com

Tennessee’s education commissioner recently said she believed school bathroom policies are best handled at the local level, aligning with Wilson County’s director of schools on the issue.

Commissioner Candice McQueen sent a memo to local school districts earlier this week and discussed federal versus local oversight on bathroom policies in school districts.

Last month, President Donald Trump’s administration revoked guidance to public schools that allowed transgender students to use the bathrooms of their choice. Trump argued states and public schools officials should have the authority to make their own decisions regarding transgender students and their access to restrooms and locker rooms.

Former President Barack Obama’s administration issued the guidance in May.

“As I stated in May, we believe decisions on these types of issues should continue to be made at the local level on a case-by-case basis considering the unique needs of all students and how to ensure their safety and protection,” McQueen said.

McQueen said when the guidance was issued, it created a number of questions at the local level.

“We are confident local school districts are in the best position to appropriately and responsibly respect the rights and concerns of transgender students and others,” McQueen said.

Wilson County Director of Schools Donna Wright shared similar sentiments earlier this week regarding the proposed “bathroom bill” making its way through the Tennessee legislature.

The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, and Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, was recently assigned to the House Education Administration and Planning Subcommittee for next week. The bill would require students in state high schools and colleges to use restrooms and locker room facilities that align with the sex indicated on the student’s original birth certificate.

Wright said she believed local districts know what’s best for students regarding the issue.

“It’s not an issue for us. We take care of our kids,” said Wright, who said the district is sensitive to student needs, as well as parent and guardian concerns.

Wright said schools feature a single-stall, gender-neutral restroom that any student who feels it’s necessary is allowed to use.

Wright said the district is sensitive to all needs, including those that may fall outside of transgender students. She said she believed the legislation is unnecessary. She also cited oversight difficulties as reason for opposition.

“It becomes sort of farfetched to monitor, because we simply don’t have the personnel.  We don’t want to get into policing bathrooms,” Wright said.

“Our objective is to make sure no child is discriminated against or victimized by whatever life circumstance they may face. We take that very seriously.”

Lt. Gov. Randy McNally also said the legislation is not needed following the Trump administration’s reversal. McNally said he believed local districts handling cases on an individual basis would be best.

Mt. Juliet students excel at state German competition

Staff Reports

Mt. Juliet High School German students turned some heads and broke a few records recently at the German State Competition at Vanderbilt University.

According to Mt. Juliet German teacher Janine Zahuczky, Mt. Juliet was one of three public schools to compete at the primarily magnet and private school event. She said 11 schools participated, and Mt. Juliet had the largest turnout in history with 22 students in competition.

“We were strong in spelling and German cultural knowledge, scoring two first wins at state,” Zahuczky said. “I am very proud of the work my students did at Vanderbilt University, as there were very strong German programs in attendance, and 150 students competed overall.”

Mt. Juliet German students Margaret Adkins, Ethan Roberts, Regan Ingalls and Joseph Donahue won the Goethe Bowl in levels 1 and 2 without missing a question. The students answered 40 questions correctly in three straight rounds.

The team of Samantha McKinley, Olivia Gaston, Duncan McCampbell and Hannah Hagans finished second in the Goethe Bowl in levels 3 and 4.

“This was a difficult round, which addressed politics and modern events,” Zahuczky said. “Their knowledge is impressive.”

The team of Roberts, Ingalls, Taylor Marvel and Megan Phillips won the spelling bee in German levels 1 and 2.

The team of McCampbell, Harley Pendleton and Brendan Parish received an honorable mention in the spelling bee in German levels 3 and 4.

“This team tied for finals against MBA, but was defeated as our team had three people, and theirs had 4,” Zahuczky said.

Ingalls finished third in poetry recitation in reciting “Mein blaues Klavier” by Else Lasker-Schüler.

The team of Gideon Garcia, Becca Reynolds, Donahue, McKinley and Matthew Bochniak as actors won the skit competition in German levels 1 and 2 with “Romeo gegen Julia.” Roberts wrote the script.

McCampbell finished third in music German level 3 with “I’m Yours.”

With Amber Shugart as director and Parish as editor, the pair won the video competition in German level 2 for their video, “Mt. Juliet.”

Marvel finished second in sweet baking and won savory baking in German level 2. Adkins finished second in savory baking, and Joseph Grah finished third.

Hannah Hagans finished second and Adkins finished third in level 2 extemporaneous speaking.

“This is the hardest category, as a topic for speech is given, and students have one minute to compose their thoughts and speak on a topic in German in front of a crowd,” Zahuczky said.

Evening with the Arts brings Nashville songwriters to Mt. Juliet

Staff Reports

Mt. Juliet Christian Academy’s Evening with the Arts: Writers in the Round featured several notable Nashville songwriters perform at the school Feb. 25.

Billed as a night with Darryl Worley and friends, the event featured performances by Worley, Kenny Beard, Andy Griggs, Mark Narmore and Lauren Kleeberg, winner of the school’s songwriting competition.

Worley has been a songwriter in the country music industry for more than 15 years. His hits include “Awful, Beautiful Life,” “Have You Forgotten” and “I Miss My Friend.”

Beard has been a prominent songwriter in Nashville since the 1990s, with many songs garnering critical acclaim.

Griggs has performed in country and bluegrass groups, and has performed music in Nashville for more than 20 years.

Narmore has had a songwriting career spanning more than 25 years. He has had songs recorded by many notable musicians, including Josh Turner, John Michael Montgomery, Shenandoah, Blackhawk, Terry Clark and Craig Morgan.

Kleeberg is a sixth grader at Mt. Juliet Christian Academy. The school organized a songwriting and poetry competition leading up to the Evening with the Arts event to showcase the bright, young artists at the school. Kleeberg was named the winner a few weeks before the event, and she performed her original song, “And If Only They Knew,” during the event.

The event served as a fundraiser for the fine arts program at the school, and also featured a silent auction that was held that featured many one-of-a-kind items.

The Mt. Juliet Christian Academy Fine Arts Booster Club will use proceeds from the event to replace outdated theatrical curtains and lighting needed to support the fine arts students at the school.

For more information about the annual event, visit mjca.org/fine-arts.

School board takes a stand against voucher bills

By Xavier Smith 

xsmith@lebanondemocrat.com

The Wilson County school board took a stand Monday against several proposed school voucher bills introduced this year in the state legislature.

“In light of current legislation and bills being brought to the floor, I’d like to make a motion for resolution that states the Wilson County school board does not support any bill that promotes school vouchers aiming to remove any form of funding from public schools,” board member Tom Sottek said.

The board unanimously approved Sottek’s motion, which takes aim at a handful of bills in the state legislature.

The most prominent bill, sponsored by Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, has failed the last four legislative sessions. The bill would allow students who are zoned in or attend a public school that is identified as in the bottom 5 percent of schools in overall achievement to receive a voucher for participating private K-12 schools.

Another bill, sponsored by Sen. Delores Gresham, R-Somerville, would allow the parents of any students to convert their BEP funding into a debit card for checking account to use for approved education expenses.

Rep. Harry Brooks, R-Knoxville, sponsored a bill that would create a pilot voucher program in Shelby County, in hopes of gaining more support for the program throughout the state.

“It makes me incredibly happy to hear that they are taking a public stance on such an important issue,” Wilson County parent Kristi Dunn said of the school board. “Education is not a business. As a public, what we want for our child, we should want for all children. Our schools are already underfunded. Vouchers will just drain our public schools of further funding.”

Dunn said although legislators have set limitations on qualifications, there’s always the possibility of slow expansion to loosening of regulations.

“We will be the next Indiana. Vouchers have not been proven to work and be successful. We need to actually work on the issues that will make a difference for our kids like hunger, homelessness and equal programs for all of our students,” she said.

Board chairman Larry Tomlinson said the board would send a copy of the resolution to Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet; Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon; and Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, along with Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen and Gov. Bill Haslam.

All-Sing gives school choirs single voice

By Jake Old

jold@lebanondemocrat.com

The Wilson County All-Sing event Thursday evening saw choirs from five local high schools perform a variety of songs.

The Wilson Central High School Chamber Choir, Mt. Juliet Christian Academy Concert Choir, Mt. Juliet High School Vocal Ensemble, Watertown High School Concert Choir, Lebanon High School Mixed Choir, Mt. Juliet Christian Academy Singular Sensations Show Choir, Wilson Central High School Women’s Chorale, Wilson Central High School Aca-Flockas and All-County Mass Choir performed during the event.

Dozens of people packed into Victory Baptist Church on Thursday to watch the performances of local students. Four performances made up the first portion of the program, with six performances following a brief intermission. 

The event, which is run by the Mt. Juliet Noon Rotary Club, raised money for Rotary’s service efforts in the community, and a portion of every ticket sold went to the high schools. Tickets were $10 each, and All-Sing shirts were also sold for $12.

Wilson Central’s Chamber Choir started the first portion of the show with two songs, “Sing Me To Heaven” and “Jabula Jesu.”

Next, the Mt. Juliet Christian Academy Concert Choir performed “Sing We and Chant It” and “Stairs Behind the Sky.”

Mt. Juliet High School’s Vocal Ensemble performed “Carnavalito” and “Blessing in the Leaving,” followed by Watertown High School’s Concert Choir performing “Sure On This Shining Night,” “Dies Irae” and “A New Day Has Dawned,” leading into the intermission.

The second half of the event was kicked off by Lebanon High School’s Mixed Choir performing “I Shall Not Live in Vain” and “Clap Your Hands and Sing.”

Then, the Mt. Juliet Christian Academy Singular Sensations Show Choir performed “You Can’t Stop the Beat;” Wilson Central High School’s Aca-Flockas performed “Cups;” and Mt. Juliet High School’s Vocal Ensemble performed singing valentines.

The show concluded with the All-County Mass Choir performing “Shut De Do.”

Choir directors at each school are Ben Channell at Lebanon High School, Kimberly Overstreet at Mt. Juliet Christian Academy, Sandy Elliot at Mt. Juliet High School, Scott Corley at Watertown High School and Lynn Morin at Wilson Central High School.

School board honors Tatum

By Xavier Smith 

xsmith@lebanondemocrat.com

The Wilson County school board honored community leaders, students and received its own recognition during Monday’s monthly meeting.

The board honored longtime Wilson County juvenile court Judge Barry Tatum as a Friend of Education for his work within the school system.

Wilson County Schools director Donna Wright said she often hears students make remarks about the important role Tatum played in their lives even after graduation.

“I’ve had students tell me, ‘I’ve got to make sure I go back and tell Judge Tatum that I finished,’” she said.

Wright said many students who appear in Tatum’s courtroom do not have an adult advocate, which makes Tatum’s role more important that it appears on the surface.

“He’s fair, works to improve the circumstances of those that come before him and Wilson County is truly blessed to have a judge like Barry Tatum who not only has our students and community’s best interest at art, but the idea that young children are our future,” she said.

Wright said although Tatum often lectures in courtroom, he also offers students hope that their current situation doesn’t have to determine their future. Wright said Tatum has played the role of guide, mentor and advocate for many students.

Board member Wayne McNeese said he first met Tatum in 2000 during the district’s search for a director. He said he has the upmost respect for Tatum’s work with children in Wilson County.

Board chairman Larry Tomlinson said he also respected Tatum for his work and has witnessed his work in person. Tomlinson said he recalled one instance where a young man’s mother was acting out, which caused Tatum to threaten her with contempt of court.

Tomlinson said what Tatum told the young man after that is what sticks with him.

“It was something to the effect of, “Son, I can’t overlook what you’ve been charged with here, but I can see by the way you mother is acting why you probably are the way you are,’” Tomlinson said.

“It was such a true statement because in society today, some of these problems are placed on young people because they’re not getting a lot of direction at home.”

The board also honored the Patriot Pen and Voice of Democracy winners in Wilson County.

Established in 1947, the Voice of Democracy audio-essay program provides high school students with the unique opportunity to express themselves in regards to a democratic and patriotic-themed recorded essay, according to the Veterans of Foreign Wars website. Patriot’s Pen is the contest for students in 6-8 grades.

Winners of the Patriot’s Pen include: Mary O’Riordan of West Wilson Middle, first place; Raeann Green of Watertown Middle, second place; and Kailee Scott of Tuckers Crossroads, third place. Winners of the Voice of Democracy include: Navaneeth Shibu of Wilson Central, second place; and Kimberlynn Miller of Mt. Juliet High, third place.

Ken Kackley, VFW Post 5051 senior vice commander, and Post Commander John Marshall honored the school board for their work with the essay contest after it voiced displeasure last year with the lack of attention given to the contest throughout the district.

Schools move on build project, liquor lawsuit with Mt. Juliet

The Wilson County school board approved plans relative to leftover funds from a Carroll Oakland School projects and an ongoing Mt. Juliet liquor-by-the-drink lawsuit during a special called meeting Friday at the central office. 

The Wilson County Commission approved funds for renovations at Carroll-Oakland School in 2014, which resulted in $335,483.51 remaining once the project was finished.

Last month, the commission rejected a resolution that would have authorized using $64,683.51 from remaining proceeds for a West Wilson field house and $270,800 for the Gladeville-area middle school construction.

Another $270,800 would have been amended as a part of the Gladeville-area middle school construction resolution, approved in December, to complete track renovations at Wilson Central High School.

However, during the January commission meeting, Commissioner Kenny Reich spoke on behalf of some Carroll-Oakland parents and argued the money should be used for a Carroll-Oakland project – baseball and softball field restrooms – instead of use at another school.

The group agreed earlier this month to halt discussion on the appropriate action for the funds until more information was available about the cost of adding a restroom facility Carroll-Oakland.

The board voted Friday, 5-2, to appropriate $35,000 to the Carroll-Oakland restroom project and return the remaining $300,000 to the commission to use for future school projects.

Carroll-Oakland principal Carol Ferrell presented information from the school’s booster club, which included one bid for the project. Ferrell said the bid was the only one received from 10 companies.

The bid estimated the project to cost around $100,000, but Ferrell said that would include restrooms, a concession stand and a covered hitting-pitching area. Board member Larry Inman made the motion, while Wayne McNeese and Linda Armistead, who joined the meeting via FaceTime, voted against the move.

Board chairman Larry Tomlinson said he voted for the measure because he felt the $35,000 would cover the initial request from Carroll-Oakland parents – restrooms.

“I would hope that they would got some more bids on this. I would also think with restrooms being the main priority that they could build a building that would be easy to attach to if they ever wanted to build their hitting facility or their concession stand. The main thing I was told on the front end is they needed restrooms up there,” Tomlinson said.

Wendell Marlowe, West Wilson Middle School principal and county commissioner, also brought plans for the field house at the school, which he said would be used for all sports.

Marlowe’s presentation prompted McNeese and Inman to explain their stances.

“I don’t have a problem with the Carroll-Oakland project. I think if we’re going to do this, I thought we should have spent the $100,800 and also the $64,000 to help [Marlowe], which would give us $165,480 and turn in that back to the commission,” said McNeese, who said he felt the biggest reason for the commission’s rejection was the perception that money was being yanked from Carroll-Oakland.

“I want to finish this Carroll-Oakland project and help [Marlowe] out with some of the money.”

“My motion was to let Carroll Oakland know we’re trying to deal in good faith with them. I also made it to let the commissioners know we’re trying to deal in good faith with them, as well. We’re trying to what they asked us to do and trying to help [Carroll-Oakland] with what they’re trying to do,” Inman said.

Wilson County attorney Mike Jennings said the action would not be a part of this month’s commission agenda. Deputy Director of Schools Mickey Hall said the Wilson Central track renovation project would move forward as previously planned and should be completed by the start of school in August.

The school board also agreed to a potential agreement with the city of Mt. Juliet regarding an ongoing liquor-by-the-drink tax lawsuit.

The school board agreed to present the city the proposed terms earlier this month. In the agreement, the city would agree to waive any and all future fees that are within its authority up to $380,000 that are related to building, renovation and development of new and existing schools in Mt. Juliet.

The city leaders differed on their feelings about the potential settlement.

“I’m not supportive. If it had the three acres of land involved like we had before, I’d be willing to consider it,” said Mt. Juliet Mayor Ed Hagerty. “This basically says that we lose.”

Commissioner Ray Justice said 3 acres at the future site of a Mt. Juliet high school on North Green Hill Road could potentially be a part of the settlement, depending on future talks with school officials. The land was not a part of Friday’s approved language.

Hagerty and Justice heavily debated the agreement, with Hagerty citing past waived fees as reason for objection.

“We’re paying what we’re supposed to pay,” Justice said.

“We’re not supposed to pay it because we did a ton of waived fees that we’ve gotten zero credit for,” Hagerty said. “How many millions did we do in waived fees?”

Mt. Juliet city attorney Gino Marchetti said the figure on waived fees was closer to $950,000.

“We’re talking about a wash, basically, on that amount of money,” Justice said.

In 2013, it was revealed many municipalities in Tennessee were not paying their portion of their liquor-by-the-drink tax to public schools systems in which those cities operated due to an oversight. Wilson County Schools and the Lebanon Special School District were among the school districts in Tennessee that were owed back tax money by cities.

The Wilson County Board of Education filed the lawsuit in Wilson County chancery court in 2014 after failing to reach an agreement with the city about paying liquor-by-the-drink back taxes collected until 2013. Mt. Juliet owes an estimated $372,000, according to Hall. 

By Xavier Smith

xsmith@lebanondemocrat.com

New principal named at Stoner Creek Elementary School

Wilson County Director of Schools Donna Wright announced  last Wednesday that Rutherford County principal Michael Hickman was hired as principal at Stoner Creek Elementary School.

Hickman worked for Rutherford County Schools since 1996. He’s served as principal of Buchanan Elementary School for the last seven years, which has made tremendous strides under his leadership, according to Wright.

Buchanan Elementary School ranked among the top 5 percent in the state for progress in 2012, and was recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School for gap closure three years later. 

Wright said she is thrilled to have a candidate with such a strong track record assume the reins at Stoner Creek.

“We continue to be proud of the extraordinary performance of our students and teachers at Stoner Creek. I’m certain Hickman will be able to not only assume the role of principal, but also take the school to even greater heights,” Wright said.

Staff Reports

Nominees announced for Wilson County Teacher of the Year

Organizers of the 19th annual Wilson County Teacher of the Year program announced the nominees for the 2016-17 Wilson County Teacher of the Year.

The overall winner will be honored and named at the annual Teacher of the Year banquet and ceremony April 7 in Baird Chapel on the campus of Cumberland University.

The Teacher of the Year program began nearly 20 years ago under the direction of W.P. Bone III, owner of Wilson County Chevrolet-Buick-GMC, and Bob McDonald, president of CedarStone Bank.

“This program supports education and educators in the communities we serve,” said Bone. “It is fitting that we recognize and congratulate those professionals to whom we entrust the futures of our children.”

Each of the 31 schools in Wilson County nominated and elected its own “teacher of the year” from its faculty; their peers chose the nominees. Those 31 teachers then complete self-evaluation packets, providing the information for the final judging. Past winners of the award meet with those nominees and go over the criteria processing materials, which have proven to be a great learning experience for all those involved, organizers said. An anonymous panel of Cumberland University faculty members then will select the Wilson County Teacher of the Year.

Those selected from across the county as “teachers of the year” in their respective school are Tabitha Bird with Byars-Dowdy Elementary School, Jennifer Barrett Jenkins with Carroll-Oakland Elementary School, Heather Campbell with Castle Heights Elementary School, Kristi Brooks with Cedars Preparatory Academy, Sandra L. Edwards with Coles Ferry Elementary School, Sheila Kay Mobley with Elzie D. Patton Elementary School, Toni Ross with Friendship Christian School, Melanie Williams with Gladeville Elementary School, Megan Hamilton with Lakeview Elementary School, Frankie Beth Dunklin with Lebanon High School, Jennifer M. Beavers with MAP Academy, Jon Willis with Mt. Juliet Christian Academy, Emily Partin with Mt. Juliet Elementary School, Amy Bowman with Mt. Juliet High School, Courtney Quisberg with Mt. Juliet Middle School, Lori Boykin with Rutland Elementary School, Stephanie Smith with Sam Houston Elementary School, Melissa Grandstaff with Southside Elementary School, Jessica Moses with Stoner Creek Elementary School, Carly M. Clinard with Tuckers Crossroads School, Rachel Walton with W.A. Wright Elementary School, Chuck Graviss with Walter J. Baird Middle School, Geoff Luckett with Watertown Elementary School, Matthew Hallmark with Watertown High School, Sara Warner with Watertown Middle School, Karissa Rogers with West Elementary School, Keith Heim with West Wilson Middle School, Kristi R. Dragan with Wilson Central High School, Patti Huffman with Wilson County Adult High School and Blake Lewis with Winfree Bryant Middle School.

Many people play a significant role in making the program successful, including members of local businesses and government, school principals, school administrators and the chambers of commerce from Lebanon, Mt. Juliet and Watertown.

Community leaders throughout the area are on hand during the awards banquet to show their support and gratitude.

“Some 20 years ago, my friend, W.P. Bone, and I sat down and decided we would make a concerted effort to recognize teachers in our county. The process took us about a year to complete and now, 19 years later, we are still proud of this program and the wonderful teachers it acknowledges as heroes and champions in the classroom,” said McDonald.

The winner will receive a $1,500, and their school will net another $500 for their efforts.

Staff Reports

Schools call sick week

Wilson County Schools officials announced Monday schools would close for the remainder of the week due to illness after the district reached high absentee rates among students and staff.

Jennifer Johnson, Wilson County Schools public information officer, said school officials monitored absentee rates since last week. Johnson said student attendance remained above 90 percent at every school, excluding Lebanon High School.

Johnson also said few teachers and staff had called in sick as of Friday. She said the situation changed dramatically Monday as 138 teachers across the district called in sick, which left 26 classrooms without teachers.

Wilson County Director of Schools Donna Wright said she felt the only solution was to cancel school until illnesses had time to run their course.

“Obviously, we don’t close school for almost an entire week unless the situation is very serious. The last thing we want is for this to spread to even more students and staff.  Hopefully, these four days off, plus the weekend and the holiday Monday will give everyone time to recuperate and come back well,” Wright said.

All Kid’s Club locations will remain open this week. Johnson said no athletic events were canceled, including the district basketball tournament to take place at Lebanon High School this week.

All year-round staff members with Wilson County Schools will not be impacted by the closures. Those individuals should report to work in accordance with their regular schedule.

Any school-related events such as Valentine’s Day parties will be rescheduled for next week, according to Johnson.

Staff Reports

Nominees announced for Wilson County Teacher of the Year

Submitted to Mt. Juliet News Wilson County Teacher of the Year founders W.P. Bone III (left) and Bob McDonald meet with members of the selection committee as they consider nominees for the award recently at Cumberland University.

Submitted to Mt. Juliet News
Wilson County Teacher of the Year founders W.P. Bone III (left) and Bob McDonald meet with members of the selection committee as they consider nominees for the award recently at Cumberland University.

Organizers of the 19th annual Wilson County Teacher of the Year program announced the nominees for the 2016-17 Wilson County Teacher of the Year.

The overall winner will be honored and named at the annual Teacher of the Year banquet and ceremony April 7 in Baird Chapel on the campus of Cumberland University.

The Teacher of the Year program began nearly 20 years ago under the direction of W.P. Bone III, owner of Wilson County Chevrolet-Buick-GMC, and Bob McDonald, president of CedarStone Bank.

“This program supports education and educators in the communities we serve,” said Bone. “It is fitting that we recognize and congratulate those professionals to whom we entrust the futures of our children.”

Each of the 31 schools in Wilson County nominated and elected its own “teacher of the year” from its faculty; their peers chose the nominees. Those 31 teachers then complete self-evaluation packets, providing the information for the final judging. Past winners of the award meet with those nominees and go over the criteria processing materials, which have proven to be a great learning experience for all those involved, organizers said. An anonymous panel of Cumberland University faculty members then will select the Wilson County Teacher of the Year.

Those selected from across the county as “teachers of the year” in their respective school are Tabitha Bird with Byars-Dowdy Elementary School, Jennifer Barrett Jenkins with Carroll-Oakland Elementary School, Heather Campbell with Castle Heights Elementary School, Kristi Brooks with Cedars Preparatory Academy, Sandra L. Edwards with Coles Ferry Elementary School, Sheila Kay Mobley with Elzie D. Patton Elementary School, Toni Ross with Friendship Christian School, Melanie Williams with Gladeville Elementary School, Megan Hamilton with Lakeview Elementary School, Frankie Beth Dunklin with Lebanon High School, Jennifer M. Beavers with MAP Academy, Jon Willis with Mt. Juliet Christian Academy, Emily Partin with Mt. Juliet Elementary School, Amy Bowman with Mt. Juliet High School, Courtney Quisberg with Mt. Juliet Middle School, Lori Boykin with Rutland Elementary School, Stephanie Smith with Sam Houston Elementary School, Melissa Grandstaff with Southside Elementary School, Jessica Moses with Stoner Creek Elementary School, Carly M. Clinard with Tuckers Crossroads School, Rachel Walton with W.A. Wright Elementary School, Chuck Graviss with Walter J. Baird Middle School, Geoff Luckett with Watertown Elementary School, Matthew Hallmark with Watertown High School, Sara Warner with Watertown Middle School, Karissa Rogers with West Elementary School, Keith Heim with West Wilson Middle School, Kristi R. Dragan with Wilson Central High School, Patti Huffman with Wilson County Adult High School and Blake Lewis with Winfree Bryant Middle School.

Many people play a significant role in making the program successful, including members of local businesses and government, school principals, school administrators and the chambers of commerce from Lebanon, Mt. Juliet and Watertown.

Community leaders throughout the area are on hand during the awards banquet to show their support and gratitude.

“Some 20 years ago, my friend, W.P. Bone, and I sat down and decided we would make a concerted effort to recognize teachers in our county. The process took us about a year to complete and now, 19 years later, we are still proud of this program and the wonderful teachers it acknowledges as heroes and champions in the classroom,” said McDonald.

The winner will receive a $1,500, and their school will net another $500 for their efforts.

Staff Reports

Date set for Mt. Juliet Middle School PTO race

The Mt. Juliet Middle School parent-teacher organization announced plans for the group’s largest annual fundraiser.

The sixth annual Mt. Juliet Middle School PTO 5K Fun Run/Walk will take place March 4 at Charlie Daniels Park. The Fun Run will start at 8 a.m., and 5K will start at 8:30 a.m.

Each year, the PTO was able to buy many classroom items for teachers and staff with funds raised through past events.

Runners may register through active.com. The early bird special runs until Feb. 13, and rates are $15 for the fun run and walk and $25 for the 5K. After Feb. 13, rates will increase to $20 for the fun run and walk and $30 for the 5K.

People can register by Feb. 20 to guarantee a race T-shirt. Students will receive a $5 discount for the 5K.

Three sponsorship packages are also available for people interested in supporting the event. Gold sponsorships are $400, black sponsorships are $250 and white sponsorships are $150.

Participants may pick up their packets, which will include a T-shirt, bib and other information March 3 from 2:30-7 p.m. in the Mt. Juliet Middle School cafeteria. If a person cannot pick up their packet at that time, the PTO will have them at the on-site registration on race day, but those people are urged to arrive by 7:15 a.m.

Runners registering on race day are advised to arrive earlier than 7:15 a.m.

Proceeds from the event will go to support the needs of teachers and students at Mt. Juliet Middle School. This year, the Mt. Juliet Middle PTO was able to provide iPads, Apple TVs, projectors, books, repairs and supplies to students and faculty.

For more information, contact the Mt. Juliet PTO at mjmspto@gmail.com.

Staff Reports

Schools boot corporal punishment

Xavier Smith • Mt. Juliet News Wilson County Schools Director Donna Wright shakes hands with Kenneth Dillard, who received an honorary diploma from Lebanon High School class of 1957. Dillard, who served as junior class president, attended Lebanon High from 1953-56 until he entered the United States Navy and served three years.

Xavier Smith • Mt. Juliet News
Wilson County Schools Director Donna Wright shakes hands with Kenneth Dillard, who received an honorary diploma from Lebanon High School class of 1957. Dillard, who served as junior class president, attended Lebanon High from 1953-56 until he entered the United States Navy and served three years.

The Wilson County school board voted Monday to remove language in its code of conduct relative to corporal punishment after discussion on the issue in two meetings.

The group voted 5-2, with board members Bill Robinson and Larry Tomlinson as the “no” votes, to formally remove corporal punishment as a possible consequence after school leaders said the punishment hasn’t been practiced in several years.

Director Donna Wright recommended last week the district amend current language on corporal punishment from the code of conduct, which sparked discussion on the necessity of the practice.

“At one time a paddling worked, but for many kids, we’re seeing some behaviors that might not exist because we don’t know what’s happening at home. We don’t know what kids are facing. We’re committed to helping work through some behavior with kids,” Wright said Monday.

“When we do that, so everybody might know this, if we take out corporal punishment, then the next step could be suspension. If we suspend somebody, then a parent might have to miss two or three days of work. It’s kind of the lesser of two evils. It’s kind of tough issue to remove it, but I still think it’s the right thing,” board member Wayne McNeese said.

Robinson said he believed the language could have a place in the code, especially since it’s not a mandatory punishment.

“There is not consequence that says a child has to take a paddling in our current code of conduct. My only concern is – not that I’m in favor of corporal punishment – but there is an option if a situation, such as [McNeese] mentioned, comes up,” Robinson said.

Robinson said an example would be if a student does something that warrants suspension but the parent is in a financial situation where missing work would harm the family.

Wright said school leaders do everything they can to avoid out-of-school suspension, especially in the younger grades.

Board member Tom Sottek questioned last week how the district would protect itself if corporal punishment were administered and teachers or staff didn’t receive proper training, if any.

Wright said state law allows local school districts to determine if they want to allow corporal punishment in schools and Wilson County is one of a handful that still had language allowing it as a form on punishment.

Wright said she doesn’t remember any instances of corporal punishment being administered since she’s taken over as school director three years ago. Deputy director Mickey Hall said the last instance he remembers happened about 15 years ago at West Elementary.

The group also agreed to a possible solution to the ongoing liquor-by-the-drink tax litigation situation with the City of Mt. Juliet. The board formally rejected the city’s latest offer in December, but agreed to the terms of the latest offer after a 30-minute closed door session with Wilson County attorney Mike Jennings.

Jennings said he believed the offer to be a “fair proposal,” but did not announce the specifics of the offer.

“They owe us the money. We don’t like doing this, but they’ve owed us money for over 10 years now,” McNeese said last year. 

In 2013, it was revealed many municipalities in Tennessee were not paying their portion of their liquor-by-the-drink tax to public schools systems in which those cities operated due to an oversight. Wilson County Schools and the Lebanon Special School District were among the school districts in Tennessee that were owed back money by cities.

The Wilson County Board of Education filed the lawsuit in Wilson County chancery court in 2014 after failing to reach an agreement with the city about paying liquor-by-the-drink back taxes collected until 2013. Mt. Juliet owes an estimated $372,000, according to Mickey Hall, Wilson County deputy director. 

A court date for the lawsuit is set for March, but Jennings said that would not occur if the Mt. Juliet Commission agrees to the offer during its meeting next Monday.

By Xavier Smith

xsmith@lebanondemocrat.com

Two new principals named

Wilson County Director of Schools Donna Wright hired Stoner Creek Elementary School principal Christine Miller to lead Springdale Elementary School, the district’s newest elementary school, which will open in Mt. Juliet at the beginning of the next school year.    

Miller has worked for the district since 1999, when she was hired as a sixth-grade science teacher at Watertown Elementary School. In 2009, Miller was promoted to assistant principal at West Wilson Middle School, where she spent four years before being named principal at Stoner Creek Elementary School.

Wright said Miller has demonstrated herself to be a strong leader, which will be needed as the district launches the new school.

“We have a lot of major staffing decisions to make between now and August that Christine will be an instrumental part of,” Wright said. “Half of the students who’ll be rezoned to Springdale currently attend Stoner Creek.  It’s just a fantastic fit.”

March 15 will be Miller’s last day at Stoner Creek. Assistant principal Jennifer Yokom-Brown will remain at the school until the end of the year to assist with the transition and a search begins for a new principal at Stoner Creek. At the beginning of the next school year, Yokom-Brown will assume the role of assistant principal at Springdale Elementary School. 

Officials ceremoniously broke ground in November at the new school, which was well under construction at that time at its site on Central Pike.

A portion of students currently zoned for Elzie Patton and Stoner Creek elementary schools will be rezoned to Springdale. The rezoning would only affect these schools, and it will not change zoning for middle or high schools.

The plan would have 537 students who currently attend Stoner Creek and 200 students who currently attend Elzie Patton rezoned to Springdale.

Elzie Patton and Stoner Creek each have an enrollment of about 750, and the rezoning to Springdale is intended to alleviate overcrowding at both schools.

New principal named at Mt. Juliet Middle School

Wright announced last Wednesday she hired Leigh Anne Rainey to be the new principal at Mt. Juliet Middle School.    

Wright said Rainey brings a wealth of experience to her new position. From 1997-2009, she taught several subjects, including AP biology and environmental science. In 2009, Rainey was chosen to be the school intervention and response to intervention specialist for Jonesboro High School in Arkansas, where she was later promoted to assistant principal and executive principal. Rainey is currently wrapping up her duties at Jonesboro High School, in preparation for her family’s move to Middle Tennessee next month.

Rainey will replace Tim Bell, who retired as principal at Mt. Juliet Middle School at the beginning of winter break in December.

“We’re thrilled to have Leigh Anne join us,” Wright said. “A lot of tremendous candidates applied for this position, but after our second round of interviews, Leigh Anne clearly emerged as the person who exemplified the qualities and attributes we felt were paramount as the next leader of Mt. Juliet Middle School.”

Rainey is no stranger to Middle Tennessee. She graduated from Franklin High School in Williamson County, where many of her relatives still live.

“My husband and our three children are very excited about this move,” Rainey said. “Our roots have always been in Tennessee, and we’re so happy to finally see that dream realized”

The district will hold a reception for Rainey on Feb. 20, where she’ll be formally introduced to her staff and members of the community.   

Bell joined Wilson County Schools in 1987, when he taught health and physical education at Mt. Juliet Middle School.

He served as assistant principal, varsity baseball and varsity basketball coach at Mt. Juliet High School. He holds bachelor and master’s degrees from Trevecca Nazarene University.

Staff Reports

School board votes to distribute funds for projects

The Wilson County Board of Education voted Thursday to appropriate excess funds previously earmarked for Carroll-Oakland Elementary School to three other projects in the school system.

Of the almost $400,000 of funding, about $270,800 will go toward a new track at Wilson Central High School, about $63,000 will go toward road improvements leading into Carroll-Oakland Elementary School, and the remaining funds will go toward a field house at West Wilson Middle School.

Because the board voted to move funds previously allotted to one school toward projects at other schools, the Wilson County Commission will need to approve the funding moves.

Director of Schools Donna Wright said the funding toward the Wilson Central track is to compensate for the fact that the project will be more expensive than early projections indicated. Track students have had to travel to Watertown to make use of the Watertown High School track.

The board also approved a volunteer early retirement incentive program.

The program is open to employees who will have 30 years of verified Tennessee Consolidated Retirement Service within Wilson County Schools and the state or who have reached 60 years of age with a minimum of 20 years of service with the Wilson County Schools on or before the date of retirement.

Experience with the Lebanon Special School District may be counted toward the credit.

School system employees may apply for the retirement incentive program through Feb. 10. Wright will approve applicants who meet the requirements of the program.

Wright said the school system has used the program in the past. The retirement incentive program is voluntary, and no attempts are made to bring pressure on any employees to retire.

The board also approved a prescription benefit recommendation for the employee health insurance plan. The recommendation came from consultants the school system uses.

The item was a late addition to the agenda, which irked some of the board members.

“I just think it shouldn’t come up on the day of our meeting, or a day earlier,” board member Bill Robinson said. “Why couldn’t they tell us about this in December?”

Board member Wayne McNeese also said he wanted to see items added to the agenda as far in advance as possible.

Wright said the first she heard about the item was Tuesday, but she thought it was important enough to include on the agenda. She also said she agreed with Robinson and McNeese, and she said she will try to make sure late agenda additions are not a regular occurrence.

The item passed by a 5-1 vote, with a motion by Tom Sottek and a second by Linda Armistead. McNeese was the lone vote against it.

The school board will next meet in a work session Feb. 2 at 5 p.m. at the central office at 351 Stumpy Lane in Lebanon. The next regular school board meeting is scheduled for Feb. 6 at 6 p.m.

By Jake Old

jold@lebanondemocrat.com