Wright tells Education Committee about state mentorship program

By Angie Mayes

Special to Mt. Juliet News

There was no business to vote on at Thursday’s Wilson County Education Committee meeting, so chair Commissioner Annette Stafford asked Wilson County Director of Schools Donna Wright to give the committee an update.

Wright discussed a number of items at the meeting, but one of the highlights was that Wilson County has 100 percent participation in a state mentoring program.

“With Tennessee Promise, Tennessee Achieve, it’s always been something for students to access. Many of them are first-time college and having to be able to navigate [the scholarship process],” Wright said. “About three years ago, the governor’s office launched a program to get mentors for students. They could go through all the things they needed to go to as far as college.

“In Tennessee, if you go through the resources they have and make a 21 or better on the ACT, you can more or less go to college. Two years or four years [is] essentially free in the state. Many districts around the state are struggling to get mentors. But we’re one of 21 school districts out of 140 high schools that has met 100 percent goal. We have someone for every student that’s going through the process of Tennessee Achieve, so that’s good.”

She also mentioned state testing, which is the end-of-course testing for high, is winding down for the first semester.

“There’s not been any of the historical glitches that have been newsworthy,” she said. “It doesn’t happen in the fall, because it’s limited to high school testing. It’s going to be interesting when everybody goes online in the spring, elementary, middle and high, and East Tennessee goes online an hour earlier, so we’ll see.”

She said Bethany Wilson was named the new principal for Gladeville Middle School that will open next fall.

“We had a panel interview and went through multiple rounds,” Wright said. “She’ll start on Jan. 3. Dr. Donna Shaffer is the principal at Watertown Elementary, and Angie Pulley is going to be the assistant principal there.”

Flyers that went out to the public for the sales tax referendum, was a $70,000 project that was split 50-50 between the county and the school.

“There was a reimbursement of $50,000 that came back,” she said. “It was split 35-15.”

The majority went back to the county, county finance director Aaron Maynard said. “That’s because [Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto] was able to make “a deal for assistance for funding from [Eastern Middle Tennessee Association of Realtors.]”

Wright said, “We entered into it willingly, because the benefit would have been to the school district. Unfortunately, it didn’t play out as we were hoping, [the referendum failed by] 2,200 votes. I’ve heard many people say if they had known about it earlier…they would have thought about it differently. We’ve heard that over and over.”

She also said the semester is “winding down for the holiday, and I’ve already been informed by one middle school boy not to let it snow during Christmas [break], because that is a wasted day. He was saying it’s got to snow while we’re in school, so we can get out.”

Wilson, Lebanon schools receive new state report card

By Angie Mayes

Special to Mt. Juliet News

Wilson County Schools and Lebanon Special School District received a new, redesigned state report card for 2017-18 from the Tennessee Department of Education this week.

The new report card was developed in the past year with educators, parents and community organizations and includes a number of new features based on the feedback, including school ratings, a Spanish translation of the site and additional new data about the performance of different student groups.

The school information was broken down by achievement, growth, chronically out of school, proficiency in English language, ready to graduate and graduation rate.

Scores were given to different group and subgroups, such as race, economically disadvantaged, English as a second language students and those with disabilities. The scores were rated 1-4, and four is the highest score.

The new report card is intended to help families better understand school performance and support student success. The updated design of the report card and information included in the tool, including the new rating system, is based on input the department received as it developed a plan to transition to the new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, and has several components unique to Tennessee.

This is not the first time the department has published a report card, but this is the first time the report card provides schools with ratings on up to six indicators designated in Tennessee Succeeds, the state’s ESSA plan. These indicators capture different aspects of school performance and include academic achievement, academic growth, chronic absenteeism, progress on English language proficiency and graduation rate. The report card also includes a new measure called the Ready Graduate indicator that looks for students’ readiness for college and career to let families know how well students are prepared for life after graduation.

Ratings are based either on how well the school did overall or how much it improved over the last year; the school receives the higher of the two. The report was also translated into Spanish.

Wilson County

Wilson County’s 20 elementary, middle and high schools were among those on the report card.

“I’m pleased by the performance our district, but we will use this data to identify any areas that need to be worked on,” said Wilson County Director of Schools Donna Wright. “Ultimately, a quality education is about more than a score, but any information we receive helps us to become better.”

Elementary Schools

Carroll-Oakland School’s overall scores were a 1.7 in achievement, 1.9 in growth, while it scored a 3.1 on chronically out of school and 3 in proficiency in English language.

Gladeville Elementary School’s scores were a 2.8 in achievement, 0.5 in growth, 3.3 in chronically out of school and no score in proficiency in English language.

Lakeview Elementary School’s overall scores were a 3.2 in achievement, a 1.3 in growth, while it scored a 2.7 on chronically out of school and no score in proficiency in English language.

Mt. Juliet Elementary School’s overall scores were a 3.6 in achievement, a 0.5 in growth, while it scored a 3.9 on chronically out of school and a 4 in proficiency in English language.

Rutland Elementary School’s overall scores were a 3.7 in achievement, a 1.7 in growth, while it scored a 2.9 on chronically out of school and a 2.6 in proficiency in English language.

Southside School’s overall scores were a 2.6 in achievement, a 1.7 in growth, while it scored a 2 on chronically out of school and no score in proficiency in English language.

Stoner Creek Elementary School’s overall scores were a 3.5 in achievement, a 3.8 in growth, while it scored a 3.2 on chronically out of school and a 4 proficiency in English language.

Tuckers Crossroads School’s overall scores were a 1.4 in achievement, a 0.4 in growth, while it scored a 2.1 on chronically out of school and no score in proficiency in English language.

Watertown Elementary School’s overall scores were a 2.8 in achievement, a 2.5 in growth, while it scored a 1.1 on chronically out of school and no score in proficiency in English language.

West Elementary School’s overall scores were a 3.3 in achievement, a 3.6 in growth, while it scored a 2.5 on chronically out of school and a 4 in proficiency in English language.

W.A. Wright Elementary School’s overall scores were a 3.1 in achievement, a 3.6 in growth, while it scored a 2.5 on chronically out of school and a 4 in proficiency in English language.

Elzie D. Patton Elementary School’s overall scores were a 3.7 in achievement, a 3.7 in growth, while it scored a 3.8 on chronically out of school and a 4 in proficiency in English language.

Middle Schools

Mt. Juliet Middle School’s overall scores were a 3.2 in achievement, a 0 in growth, while it scored a 2.4 on chronically out of school and a 0 in proficiency in English language.
Watertown Middle School’s overall scores were a 1.8 in achievement, a 2.3 in growth, while it scored a 1.6 on chronically out of school and no score in proficiency in English language.

West Wilson Middle School’s overall scores were a 3.5 in achievement and growth, while it scored a 2.6 on chronically out of school and 0 in proficiency in English language.

High Schools

Lebanon High School’s scores were a 1 in achievement, 3.5 in growth, 3.8 in chronically out of school and a 1 in proficiency in English language. It also received a 2.2 in ready to graduate and a 2.2 in graduation rate.

Mt. Juliet High School scored a 3.2 in achievement, 4 in growth, 2.1 in chronically out of school and no score in proficiency in English language. It also received a 3.6 in ready to graduate and a 3.9 in graduation rate.

Watertown High School scored a 2.6 in achievement, 3.9 in growth, 2.1 in chronically out of school and no score in proficiency in English language. It also received a 3 in ready to graduate and a 4 in graduation rate.

Wilson Central High School scored a 1.6 in achievement, 3.2 in growth, 2 in chronically out of school and a 1.8 in proficiency in English language. It also received a 3.6 in ready to graduate and graduation rate.

Lebanon Special School District

Lebanon Special School District’s six schools were also counted.

“Our administrators, teachers and students across the system work so hard. It is a major accomplishment to have half of the schools in the system recognized by the Tennessee Department of Education as Reward Schools and for the system overall to be classified as exemplary for the second year in a row,” said Lebanon Special School District Director of Schools Scott Benson earlier this year. “I am extremely proud of everyone involved. We will continue to focus on areas of improvement and at the same time celebrate success with our students and teachers.”
Benson said the achievement area was the success rate of English language arts, math and science combined. LSSD officials tallied the numbers and discovered with a 51.9 rating, it had the highest achievement rate from any district in the counties that surround Wilson County.

Elementary Schools

Byers Dowdy Elementary School’s overall scores were a 3 in achievement, a 3.8 in growth, while it scored a 2.8 on chronically out of school and a 3.9 in proficiency in English language.
Coles Ferry Elementary School’s overall scores were a 2.4 in achievement, a 1.8 in growth, while it scored a 2.9 on chronically out of school and a 3 in proficiency in English language.
Sam Houston Elementary School’s overall scores were a 3.6 in achievement, a 2.3 in growth, while scoring a 2.7 on chronically out of school and a 4 in proficiency in English language.
Castle Heights Elementary School’s overall scores were a 3.3 in achievement, a 1.4 in growth, while scoring a 2.3 on chronically out of school and a 4 in proficiency in English language.

Middle Schools

Walter J. Baird Middle School’s overall scores were a 3.8 in achievement, a 3.7 in growth, while scoring a 2 on chronically out of school and a 1 in proficiency in English Language.

Winfree Bryant Middle School’s overall scores were a 2.3 in achievement, a 1.8 in growth, while scoring a 2 on chronically out of school and a 1 in proficiency in English Language.

To view the full report, visit tn.gov/education/data/report-card.html.

Cook’s Cantata expects to be traditionally nontraditional

Staff Reports

Just because a Christmas cantata is traditional doesn’t mean there isn’t room outside the gift box for a little creativity. 

Cook’s United Methodist Church choir members plan to color outside the lines Sunday and put a little extra bit of themselves into the 9:30 a.m. Christmas chorale service.

This will be a world premiere, as the lyrics for five of the six songs in the cantata are written entirely by Cook’s choir members with music added by choir director Rick DeJonge. The Cook’s choir will expand for the event, swelling to 28 voices, which will be backed by a 15-piece orchestra.

“I love writing music, but I’m not as strong lyrically,” said DeJong, who has had songs recorded by Willie Nelson and Liza Minelli, which demonstrates quite a range of his own. “This was a chance to get others in the choir involved. We were able to tap into some hidden talent.”

A phenomenon was witnessed by some of the amateur songwriters, as some songs seemed to write themselves without the need for a cocktail napkin on which so many songs were written in Music City.

“I’d never tried to write a song before despite having a long background in music,” said Ed Watson, a former Top Gun fighter pilot and retired CEO of the Barbershop Harmony Society. 

Watson’s writing topic was Joseph, and he wasn’t sure what to say at first. 

“I woke up at about 5 a.m. one morning and wrote my piece in about 30 minutes,” said Watson.

Sally Swaney and Sandy Wright also admitted they had the writing process go much faster than anticipated when first given their assignment.   

Wright also has a strong barbershop harmony background but found a home in the Cooks choir after moving from Pennsylvania.

“My topic was the shepherds, and I wasn’t sure what I was going to write about them,” Wright said. “It turned out to be much easier once I imagined their point of view, how scared they must have been by the star. It then went pretty quickly.”

Swaney also woke up one morning and wrote most of her assignment about the star, but then reached out for a little help.

“I called my sister, Susan, in Michigan, and she helped me polish some parts,” Swaney said. “She probably should get some writing credit.”

Maybe divine inspiration doesn’t require a napkin but sometimes needs a sister.

Erin Cervenansky has the most experience writing songs, as she loves mixing lyrics and music. She had a more measured approach to writing her topic, which was “waiting for a savior.”

“The chorus came to me pretty quickly,” Cervenansky said. “For the story portion of the lyric, I looked in the Bible for the prophesies for inspiration.”

Joyce Gaines had a centerpiece topic with Mary in “The Handmaid of the Lord.”

“Writing the lyrics challenged me to think about Mary’s story from the perspective of a young teenage girl,” said Gaines. “She thought she knew what her future would look like, then her world got rocked by the angel. The story in the song is the same, but perhaps it’s told in a different tone.”

The Cook’s choir includes DeJonge’s talent and originality. He writes the music for Disney World’s Thanksgiving parades each year. He was conductor of the Wilson County Honor Band last year and the Rutherford County Honor Band this year. 

The Cook’s Cantata is open to all Wilson County residents and will be held in the friendship hall at the church at 7919 Lebanon Road in Mt. Juliet.

There are also provisions underway to simulcast the event on the web and in Cook’s newly renovated sanctuary in the event of an overflow crowd. 

Orchestra director ranked among top 50 nationally

Staff Reports

School Band and Orchestra magazine recently presented its annual list of 50 directors who make a difference for the past two decades, and Mt. Juliet High School’s Sherie Grossman was selected to represent Tennessee this year. 

The list is designed to focus a spotlight on one outstanding music educator from each state. Honored directors were nominated by students, colleagues, band parents, administrators, friends and sometimes even the spouse of a director who’s witnessed their ongoing dedication on a regular basis. This year, the magazine pored more than 880 nominations before it arrived at its final 50. 

Once the selections were made, each director was asked reflect back on their career and answer a host of questions. The following is what Grossman had to say about her 16 years of teaching.   

What is your proudest moment as an educator?

“I have had many proud moments, from former student successes to the current student playing a passage for the first time correctly,” Grossman said. “But something that makes me very proud is the startup and success of the orchestra program at Mt. Juliet High School. It is the only orchestra program in Wilson County, and I’m amazed at the students’ progress.”

How do you hope to make a difference in your students’ lives?

“I try hard to open as many doors of opportunity to my students by encouraging them to audition for outside music groups, take lessons and bring in guests to work with them,” Grossman said. “I want them to be inspired and instructed by more than just me and to have unique experiences in their music careers. I also want them to have high expectations and reach further than they think they can.”

What’s the most important lesson that you try to teach your students?

“I try to instill a love for music and a feeling of camaraderie within my students,” Grossman said. “I know they all won’t be professional musicians in the future, but I hope they will be consumers of music, appreciating all genres. I also teach them that this is the one and only time their particular group of people will ever get to create art together. Every group is unique, and we all need to appreciate that uniqueness.”

To see the full list of educators who made this year’s list, visit sbomagazine.com.

Schools debates student transfers

By Matt Masters


The Wilson County Board of Education debated changes to student transfers within the system and heard from three middle school students who had some issues with how teachers are treated and represented in the district at its Monday night meeting.

The board approved on final reading a policy regarding student transfers within the school system, something Zone 1 board member Wayne McNeese spoke out against. He said the policy change took away an option previously open to parents of Wilson County students who are also school employees.

The policy previously allowed students of teachers and school administrators to attend whatever school the parents wanted, but was changed to say the students of teachers and administrators should stay in the feeding pattern of the schools where the parent works.

The policy also shortened the application period from Feb. 1 through March 31 to Feb. 1-28 for the next school year. The change was reportedly made to get students information and classes in order by March for the next school year. School principals, who felt the timeline for transfers should be shortened to get students prepared for the upcoming school year, brought up and supported the change.

The changes passed 4-3. Board members Bill Robinson and Tom Sottek voted against the policy, along with with McNeese.

Three Mt. Juliet Middle School students also spoke to the board about concerns regarding teachers’ salaries and unpopular changes to fall break.

“As many may know, teachers in Wilson County don’t receive the proper salary they work hard for and deserve in this district. Teachers are underpaid, ignored and underappreciated,” said Mark Habashi said as he spoke to the board, along with fellow eighth graders Kaitlyn Davenport and Madison Lachowicz.

“Teachers, especially in Wilson County, work their absolute tails off every single day to make sure that students like us receive a proper education. Time and time again, teachers’ needs have been ignored by the school board and central office. Statistics show that Wilson County teachers are better off in Williamson County, Rutherford County and Davidson County where they make a higher salary than they do here,” Habashi said.

In an email with The Lebanon Democrat, Habashi said he and the other students’ motivation to speak at the board meeting and have further correspondence with board members was to make sure their teachers’ concerns and needs were heard and understood.

“We started by wanting to make changes to our school then learned about the bigger issues in the district, and we wanted to see if we could make a difference in our community. Teacher pay, unions and fall break were all issues brought up by teachers and parents several times, which made us take notice and address those issues to the school board,” Habashi said.

While the board was impressed by the group and commended their willingness to speak, they were not exactly supportive of the assertion teachers weren’t treated well or were underappreciated, something in which Habashi said the group was disappointed.
“We were hoping for more of an open and positive reaction from the school board. Most of there reactions more or so encouraged us to do ever more to make sure teachers’ needs are fulfilled,” Habashi said.    

Phil Wilson with the Bridge Fellowship church asked the board for a two-year extension for the continued use of Watertown Middle School for church functions, which the board approved.

Director of Schools Donna Wright detailed a few issues with testing. She said Wilson Central High School students whose ACT tests were nullified last month were given another chance to take the test Dec. 4.

Wright said students in need of meal assistance are eligible for backpacks with food. The board discussed ideas of how to serve less-fortunate students without bringing unwanted attention to them.

Wright also said the district is in talks with a local church that may donate a traveling food bus and traveling classroom, which could be operational in May.

Wright said the district plans to hold a site visit of 40-50 superintendents to see how Wilson County Schools operates in July.

Wright also announced that Wilson County Schools was one of 20 districts that met its goal for TN Achievement.

Mickey Hall, deputy director of schools, said construction on the new Gladeville Middle School and Green Hill High School were both coming along well. He said the district is currently hiring staff for Gladeville Middle School.

The board unanimously approved a bid on school buses by Mid South Bus Sales. It also approved a bid for digital transformation of good and services awarded to Dell Technologies by a 6-0 vote, with McNeese abstaining. A mini bid was awarded to CDW Government LLC for wireless technology.

The board unanimously passed a voluntary early retirement incentive, along with the final reading of personal, professional and bereavement leave, which featured no changes to last year’s policy.

The board also unanimously passed a policy on district water testing, which said all district facilities built before Jan. 1, 1998 will have their drinking water tested every two years.

Students from Stoner Creek Elementary School also treated the board to a presentation of Christmas songs.

Cook to participate in Governor’s Academy for School Leadership

Staff Reports

NASHVILLE – Gov. Bill Haslam announced the participants selected for the 2019 Governor’s Academy for School Leadership, a one-year fellowship program to cultivate and develop future school leaders across Tennessee and improve school effectiveness and student performance.

Rachel Cook, assistant principal at West Elementary School in Mt. Juliet, is among the participants.

It marks the fourth year of the academy, a unique partnership between the state, Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College and local school districts, to provide an opportunity for exceptional assistant principals to increase their leadership skills.

“The success of our students and our schools starts at the top, so it’s critical to identify and build future school leaders ready to guide our students and teachers to greatness in the classroom,” Haslam said. “We’ve made record investments in K-12 education, raised our standards, and increased accountability, and, while our students and teachers are rising to the challenge, we must have strong principals to support them and continue the momentum.”

The performance of Tennessee’s students in math and reading remains among the fastest improving in the nation, and they have demonstrated historic gains in science, as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, commonly known as the Nation’s Report Card. Additionally, for the fifth year in a row, Tennessee had a record high school graduation rate – 89.1 percent in the 2017-18 school year.

A total of 29 participants from the first three cohorts were promoted to principal. The academy’s goal is for all participants to be promoted to principal within three years of completion. The program has impacted 32 partnering school districts that represent all regions of the state. 

Each assistant principal selected for the 2019 GASL class will be paired with an experienced principal mentor, attend monthly group training sessions and a week-long summer institute at Vanderbilt and will intern three days a month at his or her mentor’s school. Upon completion of the academy, participants will be expected to pursue placement as a school principal in their districts or regions.

Participants were nominated by their district’s director of schools and selected through an application and interview process conducted by representatives from Haslam’s office, the Tennessee Department of Education and Vanderbilt University.

Mt. Juliet student among region’s top high school chemistry students to earn awards at MTSU tournament

Staff Reports

MURFREESBORO – Many of the brightest young minds in chemistry from high schools across the region participated in the recent Middle Tennessee State University Department of Chemistry Scholarship Tournament.

MTSU chemistry officials revived the tournament, which was last held in 2015, and conducted once again in the science building.

The event was an effort to recognize nearly 30 outstanding chemistry students from Rutherford and surrounding counties and get them to consider MTSU as their college choice. Participants included seniors who had completed a year of chemistry and qualified juniors.

Incentives included special awards – scholarships to attend MTSU and cash – to the top three finishers from the about 90-minute exam “based on general chemistry that a high school student would have covered,” said professor Norma Dunlap, who oversaw the running of the event.

College of basic and applied sciences dean Bud Fischer presented scholarships and checks to first-place Faith Viers ($2,000 scholarship and $500) with Central Magnet School in Murfreesboro, runner-up Callie Hall ($1,500 scholarship and $300) with Central Magnet and third-place Daniel Bergman ($1,000/$100) with Mt. Juliet High School.

The students toured the 250,000-square-foot Science Building, including research labs, that opened in 2014 and learned about the program from current students Myranda Uselton, 2015 tournament winner; Kayley Stallings, 2015 participant; Avraz Anwar; and Daniela Taylor.

The visiting students observed research posters that were presented by MTSU students at regional and national meetings. The chemistry department provided gifts for the students and their teachers.

“Our intention is to make this a yearly event,” Dunlap said.

MTSU has more than 300 combined undergraduate and graduate programs.

New principals named at Wilson County schools

Wilson County Director of Schools Donna Wright tapped two new principals and one assistant principal Tuesday at two different schools.

Bethany Wilson, assistant principal at West Wilson Middle School, was named principal at Gladeville Middle School when it opens next fall. 

Also, Donna Shaffer removed the interim from her principal’s title at Watertown Elementary School, according to Wright. Angela Pulley, a longtime teacher and administrator, replaced Shaffer as assistant principal.

Wilson has worked for the district for more than eight years. She was hired in 2010 as an English teacher for Wilson Central High School. In 2015, Wilson was named assistant principal at West Wilson Middle School.

Prior to coming to Wilson County, Wilson served as an English teacher for Franklin Road Academy and Metro Nashville Public Schools. 

As a 2017 graduate of the Governor’s Academy of School Leadership, Wilson will be an asset to Gladeville Middle School, Wright said. 

“It is a great honor to be selected to serve as the first principal of Gladeville Middle School,” Wilson said. “I am excited for the opportunity to work alongside teachers, parents and students to establish a learning environment where students are our focus, and academic excellence is our main pursuit.”

Wilson will start her new position Jan. 3, and a search will begin for her replacement at West Wilson Middle School.

Wright described Shaffer as a seasoned educator with more than two decades of experience as a teacher and administrator in the Lebanon Special School District.

Wilson County Schools hired Shaffer as assistant principal at Watertown Elementary School, and she served in that capacity until Sept. 25, when she was named interim principal due to former principal Anita Christian’s unexpected retirement. Shaffer was previously assistant principal at Castle Heights Elementary School, a position she held for several years.

“I’m honored that Dr. Wright has entrusted me with guiding the direction of Watertown Elementary.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting to know these students over the past four months, and I look forward to working with the dedicated staff to continue providing a strong educational foundation for them in the years to come.”

Pulley has worked for the district since July 2008, when she was hired to be a teacher at Southside School. In 2017, Pulley was promoted to assistant principal at Southside. Prior to her work in Wilson County Schools, Pulley was a prekindergarten teacher.

Mt. Juliet High School students soar in choir

Staff Reports

The Middle Tennessee Vocal Association played host to the All-Mid-State and All Freshmen Honors Choir event Nov. 12-13 at Christ Church in Nashville, and several Mt. Juliet High School students took part in the event.

Mt. Juliet High School students auditioned Oct. 19-21, along with about 1,600 students. The top-scoring students earned their way into the honor choirs. Out of the 420 Mid-State Choir students selected, Mt. Juliet High School had 30 participants. Out of the 160 Freshmen Honor Choir students, Mt. Juliet High School had 22 freshmen participate.

Students rehearsed and performed with clinicians from the University of Memphis, Middle Tennessee State University, Tennessee Tech University, Chattanooga Boys Choir and Austin Peay State University. The students not only had a great experience, but they also made themselves scholarship eligible for several colleges and universities.

Mid-State Choir members from Mt. Juliet High School included Margaret Adkins, Rachael Baldwin, Madison Burnette, Madison Campbell, Anthony Cash, Logan Casto, Bryton Cole, Landon Collins, Hunter DaBell, Noah Dillon, Delaney Eaves, Macey Fee, Sam Ford, Caitlin Garrett, Kyle Hacker, Tatum Hazel, Takiah Ledo, Avery Leggett, Celeste Maas, Nikko Manipis, Ella Mercer, Neville Riley, Matt Porter, Evan Reavis, Macy Ruggiero, Gracie Shaddox, Molly Smith, Addie Stafford, Alexia Stotsenburg and Brad Thompson.

Freshmen Honor Choir members from Mt. Juliet High School included Lindsey Armstrong, Ally Barnett, Alexis Bumbalough, Jarrett Buskirk, Isabelle Cosby, Halli DaBell, Olivia Ellis, Hailey Hraba, Avery Johnson, Rachel Joyce, Kassi Pape, Cadence Perry, Halle Pollei, Taylor Powell, Ava Rainey, Tess Raney, Jordan Rehm, K’Miyah Smith, Karissa Szarek, Kayla Taylor, Abby Taylor and Sydney Welch.

Wilson Central High School students’ ACT tests nullified

By Matt Masters


The parents of 391 students at Wilson Central High School received letters recently that said the students’ ACT scores were nullified after they took the test in October.

Wilson Central principal Travis Mayfield sent the letter to parents to explain and apologize for the issue. He said the issue was due to several factors that stemmed from an Oct. 2 ACT security breach.

Due to the security breach, ACT officials rescheduled the test for Oct. 16, which fell during Wilson Central’s fall break. The students’ were scheduled to retake the test Oct. 30, but the test wasn’t returned in exchange for tests with the new test date, something ACT officials require for security reasons, which all resulted in the students taking the wrong tests.

Mayfield said students who took the ACT with accommodations were not affected and would receive their scores.

Students will have an opportunity to take or make up the ACT on Dec. 4 at Wilson Central.

It is not clear whether the rescheduled test will have any negative impact on students who plan to apply for college and meet deadlines to turn in applications. Wilson County Schools public information officer Jennifer Johnson said students’ college applications shouldn’t be impacted by the testing delay.

Wilson County school board discusses countywide rezoning

By Angie Mayes

Special to Mt. Juliet News

A rezoning plan for most Wilson County and Lebanon Special School District schools for students headed to middle and high schools was expected to be the main topic of discussion at Monday’s Wilson County Board of Education meeting.

The only school not part of the zoning map, created by the county’s transportation department, is Tuckers Crossroads School. There was recent controversary about plans to turn the school into a kindergarten through fifth-grade school and bus sixth- through eighth-grade students to Watertown Middle School.

But according to Deputy Director of Schools Mickey Hall, that will not be on the agenda Monday night. There is expected to be no further discussion of the matter, Hall said.

Hall led the discussion about the different areas of the county and where each of the schools could potentially be a feeder school for the middle and high schools. The map was created to balance out the schools in population.

For his presentation, Hall included dozens of pages with addresses and notifications of the school the respective students would attend. He said the school system did not want to separate subdivisions or streets, where students on one side of the street attend one middle school and students on the other attend another.                                

During his talk, Hall outlined streets that outlined an area that would be a middle school zone and explained what high school those students would attend. In some cases, the middle school and high school would change from what it is currently, he said.

Another new high school could be in the future of the county since “the city of Lebanon has told us that there could be 8,000 people living on the north side of Lebanon in the next 10-15 years,” Hall said. “The Lebanon Special School District is already proposing a new elementary school on the north side of Lebanon for Five Oaks east. That is a tremendous amount of people on the north side of Lebanon High School.”

As he explained the different high school zones, Hall said Wilson Central High School pulled students from different areas in the county.

“Wilson Central zone has always had the largest land mass of all our schools,” he said. In addition, now that the new zones have been proposed, students in the northern and southern part of the east section of the county would go to Watertown High School.

Board member Wayne McNeese was concerned about students north of Interstate 40 in the eastern part of the county traveling to Watertown High School.

“Couldn’t they be rerouted to Lebanon High School to make it shorter?” McNeese asked.

Hall said the buses would have to come to that area. Currently, the buses come to Tuckers Crossroads and then go on to the high school. If passed, all of those high school students would attend Watertown High School.

Hall said the data the county has in terms of the number of students in each high school was based on numbers as of Aug. 30. But the plan isn’t expected to take effect for two years when the new Green Hill High School opens in Mt. Juliet, he said.

Hall said with the proposed rezoning based on enrollment as of Aug. 30, there would be about 800 students at Watertown High School; 1,780 at Lebanon High School; 1,450 at both Wilson Central and Mt. Juliet high schools and 1,705 at Green Hill High School.

Hall told those who questioned the rezoning, “if you open Green Hill High School in two years, are you going to rezone Lebanon [High School] or are you going to let that fill up? What we’ve tried to do with this rezoning is to balance the schools out.”

Hall said the information was presented to the board at its request. Any changes requested during the meeting would be ready by Monday’s meeting.

West Elementary School principal’s list and honor roll

Principal’s List

Sophia Beimfohr, Elijah Booker, Adalyn Hensley, Maddie Hill, Jackson Krage, Annika Langford, Zoe Sloan, Jackson Waller, Aimi Bishop, Elijah Brent, Zoey Blackwell, Ellie Jackson, Landon Jenkins, Russell Marquis, Blakely Smith, Levi Wood, Anderson Jones, Lilli Kerney, Keaton Powell, Brielle Hill, Luis Shimamoto, Elijah Vaughan, Linley Wolfe, Jaxon Bragg, Calvin Opelt, Miracle Shehata, Tommy Travers, Kaden Ballesteros, Gunner Garcia, Sophie Garland, Wiley Linde, Savannah Napier, Andrew Pettinelli, Kyle Sleezer, Carter Williams, Grayson Bean, Georgianna Bice, James Clemons, Anthony Hoover-Thompson, Kaden Kreuger, Savannah Pullen, Josiah Spivey, Graham Branch, Blake Coffman, Riley Craddock, Addie Jo Hayes, Fiona Jones, Maddie Piper, Cameron Rood, Verina Salama, Noah Savley, Bronson Schauer, Kendall Bucher, Kailey Glover, Skyla Griffin, Justin Helm, Carter Lewis, Emma Long, Kate Plummer, Reese Staggs, Kailey Baird, Logan Crisp, Addy Embry, Ethan Odden, Nandini Rohit, Jacob Rotondo, Camren Warren, Brookelynn Aldridge, Halsey Beall, Lindie Farough, Anna Johnson, Cora Joyner, Silas Kendall, Jake Thompson, Danika Chan, Bella Free, Chloe Carter, Trevor Katzenmiller, Andrew Kistemaker, Bella Brewer, Braiden Cochran, Madison Davenport, Emma Tzompanakis, Bella Ashe, Tyler Bittman, Sabrina Larsen and Savannah Solomon.

Honor Roll

Michael Austin, Kavionna Felts, Violet Hughes, Kellen Lee, Malakai Mastello, McKinlee Stone, Jabari Thompson, Elliot Adams, Dawsyn Bain, Isabella Collier, Meredith Daniels, Jacob Farmer, Ellah Geist, Evan Krage, Chloe Lee, Lucas Mallory, Grace Moore, Joslyn Vaughn, Dylan Winter, Faith Porter, CJ Wood, Caleb Duncan, Margie Edinger, Jax Hampton, Samir Hashmi, Camden Johnson, Kynlee Johnson, Sam Kerney, John Miller, Dallas Morris, Audrey Owens, Charleigh Beck, William Casto, Julianna Inman, Kobe Johnson, Layne Perry, Austin Raethz, Liam Robertson, Antwain Saxon, Michael Thomas, Noah Wiley, Andrei Bratosin, Caleb Bullion, Nate Davenport, Mia Garland, Karen Gerges, Scarlett Joyner, Brylee Mahoney, Miriam Amin, Aynslee Bright, Payson Caduff, Aubrey Counce, Eli Griffith, Emerson Hubbard, Mckenna Kistemaker, Abby Matter, Olivia Peck, Hailey Schauer, Kaylee Williams, Max Weist, Chase Belew, Mackenzi Carter, Ava Crook, Benjamin Crook, Jaylen Ezell, Chloe Kelly, Damian McCright, Brendan Rivard, Kaden Schreher, Garrett Williams, Isabelle Amos, Ryan Bailey, Lily Bugg, Mitchel Castillo, Tyler Cox, Emma Earley, Briana Lynch, Laycee Stanfield, Atticus Waters, Houston Wheeler, Connor Bussear, Janiyah Ellison, Conner Gentry, Parker Harrison, Railynn Jones, Elie King, JP Lafaye, Jack Mclaughlin, Sabastian Rivard, Kaylin Scoggin, Graham VanCleve, Paul Shehata, Jack Bowen, Namyia Carico, Joelle Figueroa, Hite Hagar, Glen Lambert, Maizie Linde, Brycen Norris, Anna Owens, Giovanny Agaibi, Luke Carr, Cason Chapman, Manwila Demyan, Maddison Fisher, Bella Huckaby, Lilly Kittrell, Camille Mondragon, Keriakus Saber, Stephanie Williams, Layten Young, Alyssa Zielke, Ava Adams, Lily Hampton, Ashley Harris, Karina Keopf, Avery Maynard, Quinn Pare’, Jake Rainey, Matthew Swallows, Zeke Boyd, Briley Clark, Emily Davenport, Kyler Gatica, Makenna Holbert, Parker King, Bethany Lafata, Emory Martin, Cruz Ratliff, Jackson Sanders, John Binion, Henry Davenport, Shelby Diggs, Hunter Griffin, Anna Kate Hardin, Shelby Holladay, Keegan Maes, Ezra McMahon, Meret Meshreky, Kelly Nguyen, William Payne, Joshua Tidwell, Jacob White, Shanah Wilson, Cooper Maes, Corbin Nielsen, Jack Paradise, Emma Scott, Delaney Bonds, Delaney Hawkins, Addie Brown, Connor Dewald, Luke Fiscu, Gabby Hammond, Greer Gammon, Lauren Hollis, Rayna Lambert, Madyson Mayo and Thomas Tucker.

Lakeview students say no to drugs

Staff Reports

Lakeview Elementary School students recently participated in Red Ribbon Week. Red Ribbon Week is an alcohol, tobacco and other drug and violence prevention awareness campaign observed annually in October in the United States.

On Oct. 26, several students dressed as police and military to help school resource officer Deputy Caroline Keyes encourage students to be drug-free.

Mt. Juliet Elementary School principal’s list and honor roll

Principal’s List

Second Grade

Asher Adcock, Peyton Atkinson, Jolie Ayuk-Tabi, Greg Blackman, Lyndi Bolster, Evangeline Boys, Wyatt Carlson, Emberlynn Caves, Anniston Christopher, Jayden Coleman, Kaylee Compton, Liam Donovan, Reed Eastman, Everly Elekaili, Tomas Faragalla, Jack Fly, Lauren Felix, Ellie Grove, Adalynn Hagner, J’ki Hand, Abby Hawkes, Ava Hayek, Thomas Hite, Hudson Hopper, Adelynn Im, Karsyn Jenkins, Will Johnson, Tate Jones, Jackson Lord, Kalex Lowe, Emily Ludeman, Maxi Marroquin-Alfaro, Karter Mears, Christan Murphy, Jacob Murphy, Lili Neer, Nola Ordonez, Theoula Potka, Patrick Reyadh, Drake Rhodes, Christian Robinson, Ashtyn Samol, Abby Seifert, Makenzie Smithson, Nevie Stone, Mikaela Stott, Emma Strub, Oren Stueck, Sydney Sualog, Wendy Vanhoose, Matthew Vaughn, Fenmore Waters, Libby Watkins, Olivia Willms, Conner Wilson and Liliana Yohannes.

Third Grade

Avery Anderson, Sophie Anderson, Addison Bannach, Draken Beck, Jonathan Broyles, Emmy Burch, Katie Cecil, Kolton Edenfield, Kevin Freeman, Lily Griffith, L.J. Grimaldi, Keeton Hackman, Kaleigh Hanchock, Aimee Harper, Alaina Hines, Isaac Huitz, Victoria Im, Luke Landes, Reid McClain, Avery Milner, Troy Palte, Sinjan Sarkar, Will Sloan, Sarah Theriot, Nathan Tryon, Dominic Warner, Taylor Watson and Bennett Weiberg.

Fourth Grade

Ainsley Booher, Kingston Boyle, Kellen Gnann, Max Gregory, Olivia Harris, Nick Henley, Hayden Sheehy, Macy Shipley, Kaydence Smith and Colin Walker.

Fifth Grade

Hallie Anderson, Ben Bauman, Riley Bearup, Kylie Bess, Reagan Brown, Destin Chinoda, Hannah Compton, Tessa Cummings, Briahna DeCastro, Noah Dixon, Drew Eckel, Sarah Elgin, Megan Ephrem, Emma Freeman, Niko Hailu, Avery Hopper, Mark Mansour, Breckin McAnally, Luke Partin and Caleb Yohannes.

Honor Roll

Second Grade

Austin Abbott, Nahom Assefa, Roari Benson, Zach Brandon, Wyatt Bowles, Abigail Caldwell, Evelyn Cerroblanco, Skylar Coleman, Sophia Cregan, Isaiah Dominski, Sara Jenkins, Raleigh Martin, Chloe Ratliff, Chloe Reed, Dean Roller, Cali Schoell, Maggie Sloane, Natalie Williams and Alyssa Young.

Third Grade

Afomia Abel, Armia Adly, Grant Allen, Madeline Ashe, Sam Bauman, Luke Blevins, Drew Boerner, Emily Boswell, Beth Anne Broyles, Kamryn Butler, David Clemens, Zack Czerniak, Grant Dobbs, Jake Dwyer, Maddie Finney, Trey Formosa, Kylee Holleman, Namen Khetarpal, Madelyn Kim, Liam Linville, Catherine Lopez, Savannah Mattingly, Eliana Minton, Denver Munoz, Grayson Noel, Brayden Pilkinton, Norah Ratley, Loni Ratliff, Reagan Roccazzella, Althea Smith, Sophia Smith, Brayden Spohr, Landon Stacey, Elijah St. John, Ron Talbott, Isaac Thompson, Fedrick Torres, Chloe Truong, Jacob Tubberville, Noah Unland, Emery Wade, Isaac Wayne and Lucas Winfrey.

Fourth Grade

Kaleigh Amerman, Skylar Bolster, Claire Carlton, Laken Chinoda, Carter Clark, Julia Cleveland, Colt Cross, Jazzy Daniele, Chad Druen, A.J. Dungan, Taymor Elekaili, Benjamin Ellis, Michael Ellison, Matthew Fichtl, Adelaide Fly, Rohan Ganachari, Mayurika Girgis, Jackson Glascock, Kylie Golden, J’Kira Hand, Joseph Hawkes, Karsen Killian, Delaney Kutrip, Everett Lawson, Elise Lee, Sam Long, Katelyn Mallicoat, Miller Mayer, Ian Moore, Travis Moreno, Priti Patel, Jonathan Pesquera, Disha Pierce, Colton Redmon, Kiera Richardson, Lily Rowe, David Santini, Mia Sourignavong, Aubrey Stewart, Savannah Szyperski, Benny Taylor, Malachi Tinley, Ryan Walker, Lucas Waller, Charlotte Willms, Catherine Wilt, Conrad Wilson and Alex Wood.

Fifth Grade

Gomana Adli, Casey Ayuk-Tabi, Phoenix Baker, Jacob Barber, Hailey Bartlett, Abby Bauman, Paisleigh Bayless, Will Brady, Raistlen Burgenheim, Ethan Chapman, Jackson Crawford, Omeiza Daniyan, Charleigh Dick, Jaycie Dixon, Eden Dominski, Chris Farag, Riley Ford, Emerson Haley, Valencia Hibler, Jayla Hill, Vincent Huitz, Abby Johnson, Kaylee Kim, Destiny Layton, Ethan Lee, Savannah Mahoney, Rylee Marshall, Ronan McNamara, Jack McNulty, Joseph McNulty, Kiley Melton, Jordan Moore, Lydia Moore, Tyler Oakley, Braden Palmeira, Joey Phelps, Whitley Pleasant, Claire Pollard, Isaiah Powell, Lexi Reagan, Bret Robey, Julian Rotolo, Morgan Rowe, Autumn Scillian, Hannah Shell, Gracie Shewmake, Hailey Smoot, Sam Stafford, Robby Streszoff, Olivia Swierc, Ben Thomas-Short, Isabella Waters, Emmie Watkins, Abby Willoughby, Kira Wilson, Savannah Wilson, Jackson Wix, Molly Woods and Marly Yoshino.

Wilson Central assistant principal appears on ‘Ellen’

By Angie Mayes

Special to Mt. Juliet News

Fresh off her appearance with the Wilson Central High School dance team on Ellen DeGeneres’ television show, “Ellen,” Wilson Central assistant principal Ranesa Shipman was once again on the show, but this time, it was in person.

During her first appearance, DeGeneres invited Shipman to be an audience member during a taping of the popular talk show.

At Monday’s show, DeGeneres called Shipman down from the audience. Shipman called the experience, “unreal, phenomenal, outstanding. It knocked the breath out of me.”

With tissues in hand, Shipman told DeGeneres that DeGeneres was wonderful.

“I was mesmerized to be in the studio, to see people and her,” Shipman said. “What you see on TV, magnify that by 10 million. She is so pleasant, caring, loving and has a heart of gold. She has such generosity and care for people. I’m just grateful. It was a wonderful time, and I’m excited that my family and I had the opportunity. To think enough of us, to include us in the event, I’m humbled and grateful. It was a remarkable time.”

During the show, DeGeneres talked about Shutterfly’s previous gift of $15,000 to the dance team and another $15,000 to Shipman herself. At the show Monday, DeGeneres gave Shipman another $20,000 from Shutterfly to help pay off Shipman’s “secret” credit card bill.

“I’ve had it since I began teaching,” Shipman said. “There are a lot of other educators who do the same thing, especially when it comes to things needed in the classroom. We don’t want to be a burden to the parent, and the educators just get it. I don’t want to draw any attention to me. I’m not doing anything extra. I’m just doing what any other human would do to help out their brothers and sisters. I don’t want to be recognized. I just want to help people and be remembered as a loving person, who was upbeat, happy and energetic.”

She said with the $20,000, she hopes to create a nonprofit that will give back to others who need things for the school.

“I think a lot of the $20,000 will go for legal fees, but I want to start the process for creating a nonprofit,” she said. “I don’t want people to think I’m taking the money for myself. I’m giving back to the community.”

Shipman and her family were in Los Angeles for two days.

“It was a very short trip,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve slept in the past 72 hours. I had to come back, because there are people who depend on me.”

Mt. Juliet Elementary School wins school challenge, grant at Buddy Walk

Staff Reports

More than 250 teams competed to raise funds to support the Down Syndrome Association of Middle Tennessee at the 21st annual Nashville Buddy Walk on Saturday at the Hermitage, and among those teams included 10 schools that accepted the Buddy Walk School Challenge.

Mt. Juliet Elementary School was named the winner Friday of the Buddy Walk School Challenge.

“The Buddy Walk School Challenge was created to recognize schools that get involved with their students with Down syndrome and showing that support,” said DSAMT executive director Alecia Talbott. “The school raising the most money receives a $1,000 grant for its special education program, a team headquarters, professional training and a big trophy.”

Mt. Juliet Elementary School principal Ginger Ash said, “Mt. Juliet Elementary is a proud supporter of DSAMT and the Nashville Buddy Walk. As a school, our faculty and staff foster a community culture where all students are included, celebrated and supported. We are honored to be able to accept this award and are flattered to be recognized at this wonderful event.”

“The Nashville Buddy Walk is all about celebrating all individuals, promoting acceptance and inclusion in our community.  Having our local schools participate in this event each year has meant a great deal to our participants with Down syndrome and their families,” said Talbott.

Mt. Juliet Elementary School has three students with Down syndrome, and its Boy Scout Pack presented the flag Saturday at the Buddy Walk for the third year in a row.

The Nashville Buddy Walk is Tennessee’s largest event to raise awareness of and celebrate individuals with Down syndrome. It is a free annual event that will take place on Saturday from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. and will include a live music concert from the Blues Brokers, food, inflatables, vendors, exhibitors, activities, crafts, games, character meet-and-greet and more. About 250 teams compete to be the top fundraisers. More than a dozen school cheer teams from Middle Tennessee will cheer on teams during the less than one-mile parade-like walk, and everyone with Down syndrome will be presented a medal at the end of the walk.

“This event recognizes and celebrates those with Down syndrome. Everyone quickly sees that individuals with Down syndrome have extraordinary gifts to contribute to communities,” said Talbott. “That is why this event has become such a well-known and popular family activity for all of Middle Tennessee, not just those who have a direct connection to someone with Down syndrome.” 

The Nashville Buddy Walk was a Nashville community event open to anyone. It was one of more than 250 Buddy Walks that took place across the U.S. President and CEO of the National Down Syndrome Society Sara Hart Weir attended the event. Learn more about the Nashville Buddy Walk at nashvillebuddywalk.org and the National Down Syndrome Society at ndss.org.

Proceeds from the Nashville Buddy Walk will fund DSAMT programs.

For more information, visit somethingextra.org or like DSAMT on Facebook.

City to pay schools to settle suit

By Angie Mayes
Special to Mt. Juliet News
The Mt. Juliet passed a resolution Oct. 8 that served as an agreement to pay the Wilson County Board of Education $325,000 to settle a liquor tax lawsuit.
In 2013, it was revealed municipalities in Tennessee didn’t pay their portion of their liquor-by-the-drink tax to public school 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 taxes by cities.
The Wilson County Board of Education filed a lawsuit in Wilson County chancery court in 2014 after it failed to reach an agreement with the city to pay liquor-by-the-drink back taxes collected until 2013. Mt. Juliet owed an estimated $372,000, according to Wilson County Deputy Director of Schools Mickey Hall.
In March 2017, Lebanon Special School District voted to go after its portion owed from the suit after it believed a settlement was reached between Mt. Juliet and Wilson County Schools.
The resolution voted upon authorized school district attorneys “to undertake any and all steps as are necessary to secure to the Lebanon Special School District all money which should be paid and distributed to the Lebanon Special School District.”
“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,” said LSSD board chair Steve Jones.
In March 2017, Mt. Juliet commissioners voted to alter terms of a previous liquor-by-the-drink lawsuit agreement to include the purchase of about 3 acres of land on North Greenhill Road, which the school system bought in 2016.
Mt. Juliet Commissioner Ray Justice said in March 2017 the 3 acres at the future site of a second Mt. Juliet high school on North Greenhill Road could potentially be a part of the settlement, depending on future talks with school officials.
In an agreement prior to March 2017, the city agreed 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.
Also in 2017, the city commission voted to amend the agreement to reduce the offer of $380,000 by the appraised value of the 3 acres on North Greenhill Road, and the city would buy the land for that price. The city would not pay for the land until a road to the site is built, according to the agreement.
“I would be shocked if they rejected this, because it does exactly what the original offer was to us,” said Justice.
Mt. Juliet Mayor Ed Hagerty said last month he would be more supportive of the agreement if the 3 acres were involved.
Little was said about the new resolution to pay the school district Monday night. The issue was unanimously passed by the commissioners.
The commissioners also approved a revised version of the employee’s handbook section on higher education for employees.
The previous version listed the funds for reimbursement of higher education costs would take place, but only on a first-come, first-serve basis. City attorney Gino Martchetti said he removed the section and added the reimbursement would be “based on merit. If 10 people make an application, this gives the city the opportunity to pick the best who serves the city, as opposed to who showed up first.”
The reimbursement would not be available if the class is not job related, there is a lack of funds or the employee “is not in good standing,” according to Marchetti.
The “availability of funds” section disturbed Justice.
“From an employee standpoint, If they go out there and meet all the criteria and have already been approved to begin with…and now there’s not enough money in there to reimburse them,” he said. “That should never happen, and I think that anything we do should be affected by the availability of funds.”
Commissioner Brian Abston said the new document “basically says the same thing that the [original one] does.”
Justice said if someone is a police department employee who is trying to get their degree and takes English as a part of the degree requirement, English is an elective.
City recorder Sheila Luckett said in the past if the class was required for the degree program, then it was covered. That part will remain the same. It is not written anywhere, she admitted. Justice said the issue would be a policy-and-procedure issue that is part of the day-to-day operations.
“That needs to be written down so if you guys are gone someday, and we are too, someone will not be left out in the cold,” Justice said. “What needs to be approved is the program of study to get the degree, not the degree itself.”
In addition, the employee must have worked for the city in good standing for 48 months, Hagerty said, which changed from 36 months.
The board voted unanimously to approve the change with the addition included.

10 Wilson County schools named Reward schools

By Jared Felkins


The state Department of Education named 10 local schools, seven in Wilson County Schools and three Lebanon Special School District schools, as Reward schools, which is the highest honor given annually to individual schools.

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced Friday the 2018 Reward and Priority schools, which are two key designations under Tennessee’s school accountability system. It was the first year Tennessee implemented its new school accountability model, which was developed with educators and stakeholders across the state and which looks at multiple measures of success.

Wilson County schools named Reward schools were Mt. Juliet High School, Watertown High School, West Wilson Middle School, Elzie D. Patton Elementary School, Stoner Creek Elementary School, West Elementary School and W.A. Wright Elementary School. No Wilson County schools were named priority schools.

“By any standard, the start of this school year has been exceptional,” said Wilson County Director of Schools Donna Wright. “Last month, we learned that the district has now achieved a Level 5 status for the academic growth of our students. Nine of our schools – almost half – received the highest ranking possible. Today, we’ve learned that seven of our schools have also achieved Reward School status. I can’t say enough about the hard work and dedication that’s been exerted by our students, teachers and administrators.”

For the second year in a row, the Lebanon Special School District earned exemplary status, which indicated the district exceeded state growth expectations in all indicators. Half of Lebanon schools achieved Reward status. Byars Dowdy Elementary School, Sam Houston Elementary School and Walter J. Baird Middle School were named Reward schools. No Lebanon schools were named Priority schools.

“Our administrators, teachers and students across the system work so hard,” said Lebanon Director of Schools Scott Benson. “It is a major accomplishment to have half of the schools in the system recognized by the Tennessee Department of Education as Reward schools and for the system overall to be classified as exemplary for the second year in a row. We were celebrating our Level 5 status when the additional accolades were announced. I am extremely proud of everyone involved. We will continue to focus on areas of improvement and, at the same time, celebrate success with our students and teachers.”

Reward schools improved overall student academic achievement and student growth for all students and for student groups, and they are identified annually. In 2018, 318 schools in 85 school districts – about 20 percent of schools in the state – earned Reward status.

Priority schools are identified at least every three years, and they are schools most in need of support and improvement. Priority schools fall into the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state test scores in the past three years and have low graduation rates. Following legislation passed last spring, 2017-18 TNReady data was not used to identify Priority schools. The 2018 Priority list included 82 schools across eight districts, and these schools will be eligible for additional funding and will be supported by the department, in coordination with their districts, to develop a plan to improve.

“In this first year with our new system, it is incredibly encouraging to see more than 300 of our schools are earning Reward status for how they are supporting our students’ academic achievement and growth,” McQueen said. “At the same time, we see a number of places where we need to improve. Our new school improvement model takes a student-focused, evidence-based approach to tailor interventions for our Priority schools, and we will be working closely with these schools and their districts over the coming year to improve academic outcomes and strengthen whole-child services that support student success.”

Tennessee’s new school accountability system was developed through a 16-month process of gathering feedback and hearing input from students, parents, teachers, administrators, and community members. Tennessee has designated Reward and Priority schools since 2012, but this was the first year with an updated methodology as required by the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. As part of federal requirements, the plan was submitted to and approved by the U.S. Department of Education.

The new accountability framework is based on principles that all schools can be successful and all Tennessee students must be served well. It includes a variety of measures, including chronic absenteeism and discipline, ACT performance, and TNReady scores, to make a determination. All schools are rated both on how they serve the full student population and how they are specifically serving student groups that have historically been underserved: students with disabilities, English learners, economically disadvantaged students, and black, Hispanic, and Native American students. This fall, the department will publish more information about how all schools perform on these measures as part of a new school dashboard that will be posted online to offer additional information to parents, educators, elected officials, and community leaders.

As part of Tennessee’s new accountability plan, all Priority schools will move into an evidence-based school improvement model, ranging from district-led plans to intervention by the state’s Achievement School District. To better support Tennessee’s lowest performing schools, the state has invested $20 million into school improvement over the last two years. This funding is specifically devoted for Priority schools.

County’s graduation rate dips slightly

By Jared Felkins


Wilson County Schools’ graduation rate for 2018 dipped slightly from the previous year’s rate, and one high school had a slight increase in graduation rate.

Overall among Wilson County’s four high schools, the 2018 graduation rate was 95.6 percent, which fell 0.6 percent from the previous year when it was 96.2 percent. Out of 1,553 seniors, 1,484 graduated in 2018, compared to 1,553 seniors and 1,512 graduates in 2017.

“In tracking district graduation rates, we have consistently scored above the 95 percent graduation rate each year as set by the [Tennessee Department of Education],” said Wilson County Director of Schools Donna Wright. “ As Wilson County Schools continues to grow, we are committed to ensuring students, parents, teachers and administrators work together so our students can reap the benefits of an excellent education. We also commend each of our high schools for their diligence and commitment to every student in making sure they stay on track to graduate on time and have a postsecondary plan once they graduate high school.”

Lebanon High School was the only high school in Wilson County that had an increase in graduation rate in 2018 compared to 2017. Lebanon’s graduation rate rose 0.3 percent to 93.2 percent, compared to 92.9 percent in 2017. Out of 459 seniors, 428 graduated in 2018, compared to 449 seniors and 417 graduates in 2017.

Mt. Juliet High School’s graduation rate fell 0.4 percent to 98 percent in 2018 compared to 2017. Out of 502 seniors, 492 graduated in 2018, compared to 507 seniors and 499 graduates in 2017.

After it celebrated one of the highest graduation rates in the state and the highest in Wilson County in 2017, Watertown High School’s graduation rate had the most significant decrease in 2018, compared to the previous year. Watertown’s graduation rate fell 1.9 percent to 97.3 percent, compared to 99.2 percent in 2017. Out of 113 seniors, 110 graduated in 2018, compared to 118 seniors and 117 in 2017.

Wilson Central High School’s graduation rate fell 1.2 percent to 94.9 percent in 2018 compared to 96.1 in 2017. Out of 469 seniors, 445 graduated in 2018, compared to 486 seniors and 467 graduates in 2017.

State Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said the 2017-18 high school graduation rate held steady at 89.1 percent, which is the highest graduation rate on record for Tennessee. This year, more than 56 percent of districts with high schools statewide saw their graduation rates improve when compared to last year’s rates.

“Our schools and districts should be proud that once again we have hit our state’s highest graduation rate on record while still holding our students to high expectations,” McQueen said. “By continuing to raise the expectations, we are signaling that Tennessee students are leaving high school with the knowledge and skills to be successful in college and the workforce. This graduation rate is a testament to the work being done by teachers and students in schools across the state.”

Under the Haslam administration, Tennessee set high expectations for both students and educators, and students have made significant gains as a result. As part of the work, the state transitioned to a more rigorous calculation for graduation rates in 2011, and even under the new criteria, rates have continued to rise.

Additionally, the state raised the bar for graduation expectations when the state Board of Education included participation in the ACT or SAT as a graduation requirement for Tennessee students. This year’s results are the first to reflect the change in accountability.

For 2018, the most notable gains and overall achievements in the state were:

• 9 districts improved their graduation rates by 5 percent or more. The districts with the most significant gains were Union City at 9.4 percent, Richard City at 8.7 percent, Van Buren County at 8.4 percent, Sequatchie County at 7.6 percent and Bledsoe County at 6.5 percent.

• 44 districts – more than one-third of the districts in the state with high schools –had graduation rates at or above 95 percent, an increase from last year.

• 106 districts – nearly 81 percent of the districts in the state – had graduation rates at or higher than 90 percent, an increase from 98 districts last year. Richard City, Oneida Special School District, Alcoa City and Morgan County all had graduation rates at or higher than 99 percent.

• 22 schools across 15 districts had graduation rates of 100 percent.

Community grieves loss of teen who drowned

By Jared Felkins

Keon Dotson


WATERTOWN – A tight-knit community continued Monday to mourn the loss of a 17-year-old boy who drowned Saturday while swimming at Old Hickory Lake.

Wilson Emergency Management Agency divers found the body of Elijah Keon Dotson, of Watertown, on Saturday evening after about a three-hour underwater search at Cedar Creek Boat Ramp in Mt. Juliet. 

Dotson was a senior at Watertown High School. He previously played football and was a member of the track and field team. According to Watertown High School principal Jeff Luttrell, counselors were made available Monday to students who needed support. 

“We are so saddened as a school and community at the loss of our student, Keon Dotson,” Luttrell said. “He possessed a powerful smile and a personality that drew people to want to know him. We will take every step possible to ensure we assist our students as they grieve the loss of a friend and classmate.”

A community prayer service was held Sunday evening in the library at Watertown Middle School, organized by the Bridge’s parents of teens life group and the church’s youth group. All community members and students were invited to participate. 

According to social media posts, students and faculty wore red Monday to school in honor of Dotson. According to a tweet by a member of the football team, the Purple Tigers dedicated their season to Dotson, and the student section plans to have a “red out” during Friday night’s game against Westmoreland. 

Wilson County sheriff’s Lt. Scott Moore said the incident on Old Hickory Lake happened Saturday at about 2:30 p.m., and divers found the Dotson’s body at about 6 p.m. He said Dotson tried to swim to a buoy beyond the swim area, and there was a change in water depth where he went under and was unable to surface. 

Wilson County sheriff’s boat patrol and Wilson Emergency Management Agency water rescue crews searched for Dotson on Saturday afternoon in Mt. Juliet. 

WEMA director Joey Cooper said divers were called to the boat ramp to search for the teen. Moore said it’s believed no foul play was involved. 

Cedar Creek Boat Ramp is at 9264 Saundersville Road in Mt. Juliet. Old Hickory Lake is part of the Cumberland River.