Southside Elementary School parents and teachers expressed their feelings on the kindergarten-eighth grade school versus the middle school model on Thursday.
Director of Schools Tim Setterlund, as well as school board members Larry Tomlinson and Bill Robinson, were all ready to hear the concerns of those in attendance. Setterlund thanked those who had taken the time on "a rainy Thursday" to come and share their thoughts.
"This is the third meeting I've had like this, to talk about where the district is and where it may be in regards to K-8 and middle schools," Setterlund said.
He referenced the school board decision in 2007 that said that "as [the district] constructed new facilities, they would use [the middle school] model."
The school board is currently looking at the first phase of its four-phase plan, which includes the construction of a new elementary school in the area near Southside as well as the conversion of Southside into a middle school and a small addition to Carroll-Oakland Elementary to alleviate overcrowding, according to Setterlund.
"I wanted to hear from you what your thoughts are, what your opinions are," he said.
One parent asked what the cost would be for each of the pieces. Setterlund said that a new elementary school would cost roughly $15 million, the addition at Carroll-Oakland between $5 million and $11 million and roughly $4 million to convert Southside to a middle school.
If funds to build a new elementary school were approved by the County Commission, the timetable would be almost 18 months for construction, Setterlund said.
Another parent spoke up, saying he "is adamantly opposed to a middle school." He said he felt like "misinformation is coming out" in regards to the plan.
Setterlund then explained some of the benefits to the middle school model, which included "increased academic rigor and variety."
"The big advantage of middle schools is to offer more math courses, more science courses for high school credit," Setterlund said.
Another parent said "we have been fighting this battle since that decision was made. Math, science, reading [achievement] is significantly higher in K-8. I have had three children at Southside, and what I see at Southside is hard to find in research. The teachers know your child, their strengths and where they need improvement."
One parent asked why there was a need to push kids so hard, saying "it's too much, too fast."
Setterlund responded by citing research that notes the United States is "one of the few economically advantaged countries that didn't advance, but was losing ground in competing for jobs because of not pushing children.”
“We ought to have a sense of urgency about where children are when they leave high school," said Setterlund.
School board member Larry Tomlinson, who represents Carroll-Oakland and Tuckers Crossroads, said when he attended the meeting at Tuckers Crossroads "they were overwhelmingly opposed to this" but this was in contrast to Carroll-Oakland, where he said "there were many who supported a middle school."
"I can't speak for anybody else on the board," Tomlinson said, "but my goal as a board member is to do what's best for the kids."
Tomlinson also said, "most of the curriculum that is being presented now is being presented in a middle school concept."
Bill Robinson, who was a teacher for 37 years, said "some things, you can't put a value on. I've realized the value of community. Each and every child should get the opportunity they deserve.”
“There's no way to convince me that Southside needs to be anything other than K-8,” said Robinson.
Setterlund concluded the meeting saying "the strength of Wilson County is teachers that care about the children. Regardless of how this ends up, I'm going to do my best to have effective, caring teachers in the classroom."