By Angie Mayes
Special to The Democrat
In a five-hour workshop and meeting last Monday night, the Wilson County Board of Education touched on a number of things that will affect the county’s schools.
Among them was the calendar policy. During a previous discussion of the calendar, emails were sent to parents, a public meeting took place and a calendar for the upcoming school year was decided upon and recommended by Director of Schools Donna Wright and approved by the board.
The main objection point among parents was a fall break split from two consecutive weeks to two weeks a month apart.
During Monday’s meeting, the board discussed a calendar committee and who would be on it.
Board member Chad Karl wanted to add wording to the policy that said the director of schools would receive and take into account opinions of school staff, students, parents and school-related organizations.
“Basically, that is a committee,” said board member Wayne McNeese. “Why not just leave it alone like it is?”
Board chair Larry Tomlinson echoed McNeese’s question.
“Does that constitute a committee?” he asked.
Deputy Director of Policy and Student Services Lauren Bush said, “I think it gives the director of schools the freedom to obtain that feedback as he or she sees most fit. It could be through surveys of school employees. It could be through suggestions or requests for comment. It gives the director of schools the ability and the authority to do so in a way that makes the most sense for our district.”
McNeese disagreed with Bush.
“I think we need to have a formal committee, consisting of parents and teachers and really listen to them,” McNeese said. “I don’t mean that we have to go with what they say, but we need to have an open hearing. I’m still in favor of a calendar committee.”
Board member Kimberly McGee said she wanted to hear what the other board members thought because, “We need to come to some resolution on this.”
Tomlinson said he thought there should be a committee, and it should consist of at least some board members, “because we’re the ones who are elected by our constituents to serve in the position we serve in. We are the ones who are getting paid to hold this position. Evidentially, this is a tough decision and is a problem for some in our community. They’re not happy with it. We’re the ones who need to be making that decision, not someone else.”
Tomlinson said if there is to be a committee, it should consist of school board members, the director of schools and “maybe one person on staff.”
Board member Linda Armistead said the issue of a committee revolves around the two-week fall break, which, until next year, was consecutive. For the next two school calendars, which the school board and state officials previously approved, the breaks would be separated.
“I’d rather focus on what we have to do to provide the students with what we’re supposed to be doing, which is educating them, and less on vacation time,” Armistead said.
Karl said if a committee is the way to proceed, then he would support it. The director would need to gather the information in different ways, including from parents, teachers and school groups. If going to parent-teacher organization meetings is the way to communicate to the public, then he said that would be the best way to go.
“It gives you flexibility, and that’s what policy should do,” he said. “Policy should be flexible and give direction, and I think that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Wright asked for a definition of what constitutes a committee. She said during the recent calendar decision, only three people showed up at a public hearing regarding the calendar.
“I think when you mentioned before about three people showing up for that meeting, I think the reason that is, is we had this survey done [about what parents and teachers wanted to do], which we basically threw in the trash,” McNeese said to Wright. “People didn’t trust us. Why should they come to that meeting?”
Wright said the number of respondents to the survey based on the number of potential respondents was “not overwhelming.” She said the survey was a way to gather information, not a vote on the issue.
McNeese made a motion to table the issue until next month.
Board member Mike Gwaltney asked what the main issue was.
“Is it the two-week break?” he asked.
McNeese and Gwaltney began to disagree.
“Yes. Why not?” McNeese asked. “If it’s broke, we fix it. This is not broke.”
Gwaltney said, “I’ve been there, and I know what happens with those two weeks. I think it’s up to us to decide what the calendar should be. If [the director] doesn’t know and gets input from people, what I feel like needs to be done, who better to make the decision.
“We’ve got people out there in the community who think they’re experts in schools because they attended high school.”
Karl, who made the original motion, withdrew his motion due to lack of a second from the board.
A motion made by McNeese to pull the calendar item off the agenda for April passed 6-1. Karl, McGee, Tomlinson, Gwaltney, Bill Robinson and McNeese voted to defer the item, and Armistead voted to keep it on the agenda.