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.