Testing talks planned

School policies spark debate
Mar 8, 2014

The Wilson County Board of Education had plenty of items on the table at its Friday meeting.

Of particular interest to board members were discussions on testing policies, transfer policies and a proposed differentiated pay plan.

When Interim Director of Schools Mary Ann Sparks recommended approval to a change in the system’s testing policy, board member Wayne McNeese asked for a work session on the topic.

“I want to make sure that all the testing we are doing is necessary,” he said. “With PARRC coming online, if that happens, how many tests like that do we subject our students to? Seems like that list is growing day in and day out.”

Board chair Don Weathers asked McNeese, “What would you like to accomplish in this workshop?”

McNeese said he would like to know more information regarding Common Core standards.

“I’ve been going down this path that we really didn’t have a choice about Common Core….now I know there’s some people that have opted out. I want to dig into is Common Core the thing we need to do and if it is, let’s go forward and quit debating, but I want to know that for sure.”

Sparks suggested doing a work session that addressed both Common Core and testing policies.

Board member Larry Tomlinson said he agreed with McNeese.

“The hardest thing for me to get my hands around with Common Core is ‘who do you believe?’ You talk to some people and they say its okay, and then you talk to other folks and they tell you its the worst thing that happened to us since social media.”

The measure was deferred until the board’s next meeting so that a work session could be scheduled prior to voting.

“I think a full-fledged presentation of all the facts, pros and cons, as Mr. McNeese asked, of Common Core and all the testing, would hopefully get us over that hump,” said Weathers.

Another policy that solicited spirited discussion centered on transfer policies for the school system. 

The proposed changes read, in part, “A student whose parent or legal guardian is employed by the school system may be permitted to attend a school other than the school for which he/she is zoned by submitting an out of zone request any time after employment by the system. If the parent or legal guardian ceases to be employed by the school system, the student shall transfer back to the school for which he/she is zoned at the next break in the school year.”

McNeese said, “It seems to me, I know there’s some [teachers] that’s been with our system 15 to 20 years and are retired and not going anywhere else to teach, but they’ve been at a particular school for a long time or coming up through the chain, does that mean they’ve got to go back to the original school that they’re assigned to?”

“I don’t know that many of our teachers who’ve been here that long have children that are still in the school they were in when they zoned them. The examples I do have are people that have left our system to work for another system but still want their child to be in a school that’s not zoned for them,” Sparks said.

“We have not considered retired teachers. We have considered anyone who has left our system period. This is not just teachers, this involves employees that come and go as well,” said Sparks.

McNeese then asked if there could be a provision for teachers who have retired that do have a child or children still in the school system.

“I’d like to see some provision, if they retire within our system with 15 years of service that we give them the benefit of letting that child stay where they have gone up.”

This was also deferred until the April meeting.

The requirement from the State of Tennessee for school districts to submit new pay plans for teachers was another point of contention. Tomlinson said several people he had spoken with were worried they were going to lose money under the new proposed plan.

“I didn’t think anybody was going to lose money. Why are some of our teachers saying it, what are they basing their comments on?” said Tomlinson.

Sparks said, “State law says no teacher can make less than they make this year. No one is going to lose any money. [This plan] also raises the base [pay]. Teachers that are at 20 years experience or more on our current salary schedule no longer make an increase every year. This allows them to start earning money again.

“This is a good system, good for our teachers. Over a 30 year career, this pays over $300,000 more than our current salary schedule for our teachers.”

Weathers agreed with Sparks on the merits of the plan.

“The thing about this plan is, it’s a leap forward for us to start rewarding teachers that really perform well and work hard,” said Weathers.

The last item on the agenda for the meeting fell under new business. Weathers presented a proposal for search criteria for the new director of schools. The plan called for a period of March 10-28 for resume submittals with a proposed date of April 19 to conduct open meeting interviews.

“I picked April 19 as a date to do interviews, I hope that date works for everybody. If it doesn’t then we’ll change that date but we need to keep it the week before and no later than the week after to make this schedule work.”

Board member Bill Robinson asked Weathers, “I understood that when we appointed [Sparks] interim that she could not be a candidate. Is that true, untrue, can we undo that?”

 Weathers said the board could vote to allow Sparks the opportunity to submit a resume if she chose to by amending its policy that says a person selected as interim director cannot be considered for the permanent position.

“That doesn’t mean she has to?” asked Robinson.

Weathers replied, “It’s up to her. If she wants to be included, she can be by submitting her resume.”

The board voted unanimously to approve giving Sparks the option to be considered for the director’s job should she wish to submit a resume. It also unanimously approved Weathers proposed criteria. The board’s next meeting will be April 7 at 6 p.m.

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