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Schools reconsider calendar

Caitlin Rickard crickard@lebanondemocrat.com • Dec 15, 2015 at 11:38 AM

The Wilson County Board of Education met in a work session Friday to discuss numerous points of interest on the agenda for their upcoming meeting Nov. 4.

The board kicked off the meeting by discussing the proposed 2014-15 school year calendar after it sent the calendar committee back to the drawing board to redo their proposal after last months meeting.

Representing the committee, Angela Rohen spoke to board members on the “balance” they had come to.

First, Rohen said the committee decided to, “by overwhelming request” stay closed on election days.

Rohen also said that in the new calendar they added two days off to Thanksgiving break, which would give a full week off for that holiday, and in turn, provide essentially two weeks off for fall break, just not consecutively.

“This way we still have a lot of days prior to testing, more than we have now,” Rohen said.

The proposed idea would give the schools 163 school days prior to testing as opposed to the current 158.

Board member Wayne McNeese, who was the board’s representative on the committee said, “I’m not comfortable with it, but I’m not going to sabotage it. And that’s all I’m going to say.”

Rohen said the committee felt the new calendar was a good compromise after hearing teachers’ concerns about not wanting back-to-back weeks off for fall break, paired with parents’ concerns of wanting two weeks for fall break.

“The calendar conversations to me seem to be more about time off and vacations than teaching the kids,” board member Ron Britt said.

Board member Bill Robinson said that no matter what the board decided, it needed to make a decision on the calendar and take action sooner rather than later.

The board went on to discuss future plans for possibly building additional new schools for the district.

In phase one of Director of Schools Tim Setterlund’s plan, the schools would look to renovate the newest building at the old Lebanon High School and turn it into Central Office space and demolish or possibly transfer the remainder of the campus. In total, he estimated it would cost around $3.8 million.

Two other aspects of phase one consist of converting Southside Elementary School to a middle school and purchasing land and building a new elementary school in the south-central area.

“We’re in desperate need of elementary space, especially to relieve Carroll Oakland,” Setterlund said. “This is going to be a challenge to get done, and it’s something where we’re going to have to ask for a budget increase again this year.”

Setterlund said he estimated the board would have to ask the county for a “pretty significant” operating budget increase, plus phase one of the proposed plan would cost around $20 million.

“We’ve got to address the issues at Carroll Oakland as soon as we can,” board member Larry Tomlinson said.

Setterlund then questioned the board on how to go about conversations with the county to establish funding and asked what they believed was most important.

Board Chairman Don Weathers said he felt pushing for a Southside Middle School and creating a new elementary school was most important.

“If we put these two things as top priority and the old Lebanon High School as priority number two, we’re looking at now closer to $16-17 million,” Weathers said. “The county knows we’re growing and we’ll need more schools. If they don’t want to fund more schools, then cut the growth. We can’t not educate these kids. They need to know this is something we need.”

Setterlund said he wanted to continue with other phases in the future, but may remove proposed dates and ask the county when they could realistically do some of the proposals.

“I want to make this a partnership with the County Commission and we inform them of our needs so they can plan ahead and where we can be a part of that planning process,” Setterlund said. “We just want to have a dialogue with them on an ongoing basis.”

Finally, the board discussed the recent scheduling changes and schools going from block to a seven-period schedule.

Setterlund said one reason was due to the required online PARCC testing that will be implemented this coming school year.

Setterlund said that with block there would be four rounds of testing and would equal 12 weeks for students, but with the new schedule, students would only have the test at the end of the school year and would only impact six weeks instead of 12.

“It actually also provides more opportunity for variety in classes students can take like electives and advanced placements opportunities,” Setterlund said.

Robinson then questioned whether Setterlund was looking to eliminate things such as vocational or CTE programs.

“My goal is to provide a comprehensive educational system that meets the needs of the students,” Setterlund said. “I’m not about protecting programs, I’m about meeting the needs of students.”

Weathers also said the new scheduling would decrease the chances of having to lay off teachers because they would be absorbed somewhere else.

Another point for going away from block was that with seven-period scheduling, there aren’t gaps in instruction and students aren’t taking off a year in core subjects such as English or math.

Robinson said that although the board didn’t get a vote on whether or not to change scheduling, he thought they should get a vote.

Tomlinson said he agreed and he thought the board should have a say.

The board will tackle all these issues and more at their regular meeting Nov. 4.

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