By Kimberly Jordan
Wilson County Director of Schools Tim Setterlund visited Tuckers Crossroads School on Tuesday night for a forum in which parents could voice their opinions on the kindergarten through eighth-grade school model versus a middle school model.
"I know that this conversation about K-8 versus middle school is not a new conversation," Setterlund said. "I am honest; I will tell you the truth whether it's something that you want to hear or not. But I also believe that there is value in listening."
Many parents took the opportunity to speak and voice their concerns regarding a proposed move to a middle school model for the schools that are currently K-8.
"We like our small community school; we like our family. You're trying to fix something that's not broken," said parent Kelly Waller.
Another parent added "the parents are a huge part of the education process. This is our school. This is the kids' school. This is the parents' school. We want it to stay K-8. If parents want a K-8 school, then why can't it just be a K-8 school?"
Setterlund told the assembled parents and faculty members the reasoning behind the school board's original discussion about converting to the middle school model.
"Let me tell you what the district sees as advantages to a middle school model. In a middle school, there are academic and extracurricular opportunities that can be made available that simply cannot be offered in a small K-8."
A few parents said the school used to offer things, such as computer labs and even German courses, but those are no longer offered, and parents questioned why.
Principal Susie Breedwell addressed the concern by explaining "part of that [decision] was made, those were elective classes, [and] as our requirements got harder, we had to look at how much we were teaching. The teacher who taught German asked to be transferred to another school at the end of the year.
"Everybody for every course has to be certified in that area now, which has changed over the last five years. I used to be able to get some small electives that I can't do anymore because people aren't certified to do that."
Setterlund also commented regarding those questions, adding, "the challenge, if we talk about a student who wants to, in their high school preparation, take more foreign language, we're not doing anything here to prepare them for that. We're unable to provide those specific highly qualified, licensed teachers to do that in this model.
"If we wanted to offer, say Spanish I, how many eighth graders could we generate interest from to take Spanish I, well, maybe 20. How many do I have to have to justify hiring a teacher for that, 100 plus," Setterlund said.
One parent addressed the small community mentality that he feels helps the students succeed in their studies.
"How about morals, doing the right thing, being a good example? And being exposed to good examples, that my older son is to his little sister. He wouldn't have that opportunity in middle school. We have these different opportunities that you talk about, but at the expense of losing the intangibles."
Waller said "this is a small sampling, when you get Carroll-Oakland and Southside involved you get three times as many. Parents don't want a middle school. The demographics here are much different.
"I told Mr. Davis last year, if you want this middle school great, if you think that this east side of the county is gonna be this booming suburban area, when we get there, the revenue will be being generated to justify that expense.
Setterlund addressed this concern as well.
"The notion that a middle school is going to cost a whole lot of money that we don't have to spend if we don't do the middle school isn't really a valid one. We've got to have classroom space anyway. We've got to build classroom space to fit what we currently have enrolled, especially Carroll-Oakland.
"If there are concerns that you have as parents that we can address and we can make decisions that help students grow and learn, then that is the right thing to do," Setterlund concluded.
There will be two more forums regarding this issue – the next at Southside Elementary School on Dec. 10 and one at Carroll-Oakland Elementary School on Dec. 17.