Wilson County schools officials held a public forum Tuesday night at Mt. Juliet High School to discuss the Wilson County 2020 initiative.
"This is the first of many forums," said engagement committee member and parent Lauren Breeze. "The district wants to be sure that you, as parents and stakeholders, know what's happening and why."
The floor was then turned over to Director of Schools Tim Setterlund, who discussed a number of achievements for the school district this year and gave some of the data to compare how the system has progressed. The two hottest topics of the evening were the proposed move to a seven-period schedule instead of the current block system and the debate over middle schools verses kindergarten-eighth-grade schools.
Setterlund began his presentation by addressing a few of the requirements for the new Common Core standards.
"Because of Common Core, we will be changing the way we test," Setterlund said. "It is called the PARRC assessment."
Students will be given the test twice, once at 75 percent of the course and then at 90 percent of the course, said Setterlund.
"With the current technology we have available in our schools, it will take us three weeks of rotating devices around our buildings. We will disrupt school for three weeks at 75 percent completion and again at 90 percent.
"If we remain on block schedule, we will do that twice a year, once in the fall semester and once in the spring semester."
Setterlund also said the seven-course schedule "is the right thing to do, because we can't afford to give up that instructional time just to test."
He transitioned into some of the differences that students would experience in a seven-course schedule. He pointed out elective courses and activities, such as band and yearbook, that would be viewed differently.
"When we make the change to the traditional schedule, we'll offer seven credits a year; each course will be one credit. They end up with more free blocks to take other classes. By making those adjustments, we can increase opportunities students have to take these courses."
One parent attending the forum said, "I really believe we're doing some great things in Wilson County, so why change? We talked about the successes of the academics and having great scores on our tests. Changing the schedule, I don't see how that really improves those tests again. Seven periods, we're actually spending less time with each student even though it’s spread out over the course of the year."
Angela Parks, another parent, added her thoughts, relating the experience her children had in the block schedule system.
"I do feel personally that block scheduling gets them more ready for college. If you have seven classes, they're going to be bombarded with homework, and I don't think in 45 minutes you can teach anyone to do anything."
The other hot topic was the discussion of a middle school model for all of its new construction, which started debate in 2007.
"There is no compelling research that shows that a K-8 model or a middle school model drastically improved the achievement of eighth graders," Setterlund said. "The truth is, to be honest, there is no compelling research that shows learning is better in one than the other."
He said in the middle school model "we can improve, or can offer a richer academic program to students because we put larger groups of same grade level students together. We can offer high school credit courses in that environment…we can offer Algebra I. Our goal is to increase that to include biology and even foreign languages.
"In a small K-8 the economics just don't work out. There aren't enough students who are ready and interested in taking Algebra I, biology, foreign language, to justify employing a teacher within that building to teach that course. Our goal has to be to provide the most enriched academic experience that we can to our students.”
Kelly Waller, whose children attend a K-8 school, said, "none of the benefits of K-8 schools are mentioned here, so I'll mention some. There's less absenteeism, less bullying. They have higher self esteem, which leads to higher grades. There are benefits.
"I made an informed, conscious decision to move to the east side of the county so that my children would be in a K-8 school."
In closing, Setterlund told the audience "your input is valuable and will be considered and addressed."
He said all of the comments and questions received Tuesday would be addressed on the system's website at wcschools.com.