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Schools OKs new high school cost, budget, attendance policy

Matt Masters • Jul 14, 2018 at 2:36 PM

The Wilson County Board of Education held a work session followed by a regular meeting Thursday evening, where it approved its final budget, discussed and approved a bid on new construction of a new high school in Mt. Juliet and addressed changes to policies, which included a new attendance policy.

The proposed Green Hill High School in Mt. Juliet had both support and opposition from both citizens in public comments and board members. The opposition cited price and questions about the location. There was strong support for the project as every school in the county is beyond or near capacity. School officials previously said the name Green Hill High School was merely used for reference as the school wasn’t officially named.

There were four bids submitted to build the new high school that ranged from more than $86 million to $101 million, and each came in less than the estimated $110 million. The board approved a bid from Robert S. Biscan and Co. in Franklin for just more than $86.3 million on a 6-1 vote with board member Wayne McNeese against it.

According to its website, Robert S. Biscan and Co. previously either renovated or built Gladeville Elementary School, Beech High School Nolensville High School, Hobgood Elementary School and Thompson Station K-8 School. It also lists the Courtyard by Marriott, Providence Station Building 1 and Three Dog Bakery in Mt. Juliet as previous build projects. 

Deputy Director of Schools Mickey Hall told the board during the work session when it comes to the price of the school, “Nobody sits around and says, ‘how much money can we spend?’” 

Hall emphasized the needs of a school in the 21st century and noted the lifespan of a high school is about 50 years.

Director of Schools Donna Wright elaborated on the challenges of needing a new high school. 

“It’s not an easy path, and it’s one too that it becomes disruptive to everyone initially. No one wants a school in their proximity, except everyone wants a new school,” Wright said. 

“We’re growing far more rapidly than anticipated. There is an excess of 11,000 approved home sites that are to be fully developed in the next three to five years. That, in itself, is alarming. The thing is that if I had a new school today I could fill it with 1,600 kids today, and if we don’t get relief within two years, we’re going to have to rezone.”

School officials have said it could take up to three years to complete the new high school. 

The board also passed its budget for the upcoming year by a 6-1 vote with McNeese against it. The budget will now go to the Wilson County Education and Budget committees for approval before it is ultimately approved by the Wilson County Commission. A joint meeting between the two committees will be July 23 at 5 p.m. at the Wilson County Courthouse. 

In other business, the board approved on final reading a new three-tier attendance policy mandated by the state legislature’s recent changes in state law in an effort to cut down on absenteeism and truancy. 

Though not addressed in the policy, the board changed language in the handbooks students will receive on the first day of school to allow for no more than five excused absences with a written parent note within the school year, which cuts the number in half. The previous rule said five parent notes were allowed within each semester. 

Wright previously said of the about 18,500 students in Wilson County schools, 592 of them had court involvement due to attendance.

Wilson County attendance director Stan Moss has said the new system would benefit students who are in danger of becoming truant, but he admitted the policy will place an extra burden on himself and the rest of his staff.

“When we have kids who are missing 15 or 16 unexcused days, you have to have something in place to stop this,” Moss has said. “Our goal is to fix the problem and find ways to make kids successful.”

At its June meeting, the board passed the attendance policy on first reading with a placeholder for the previously undetermined tiers. Moss said at the time it was due to school officials’ inability to properly review the new law in time to get the policy in place by the state’s July 1 deadline. 

According to the policy, if a student reaches tier one, it would be due to five unexcused absences. A parent would be required to meet with the student’s school to review the situation and develop an attendance contract with a review date. The contract will include a specific description of the school’s attendance expectations for the student, a time period for the contract, penalties for additional absences and alleged school offensives, including additional disciplinary action and potential referral to juvenile court, and regularly scheduled follow-up meetings to discuss the student’s progress.

At tier two, which would be after seven unexcused absences, or if a parent is in violation of the school attendance contract, a school employee will conduct an individualized assessment and detail the reasons a student was absent from school. This could be due to potential alcohol or drug abuse, homelessness or any number of other unknown issues.

When a student reaches tier three for nine unexcused absences, a team formed at each school will review the attendance contract and interventions. The team will adjust the plan as needed so that it meets the student’s needs and verify that all interventions are age appropriate. The director of schools or a designee will approve the finalized plan. 

Ten unexcused absences will result in a referral to Wilson County juvenile court.

The policy didn’t change absences were excused with doctor’s notes, and Wright stressed the schools would accommodate students with medical issues. Parents can fill out a chronic illness form The board passed the policy unanimously.

Wright also said the completion of a school safety assessment was anticipated. 

The board also:

• approved on a 6-1 vote the first reading of a personal professional and bereavement leave policy. McNeese voted against it. 

• passed unanimously the school support organization guidelines for the upcoming school year. 

• passed unanimously approval for a foreign exchange student at Wilson Central High School for the upcoming school year. 

• approved unanimously a voluntary student accident insurance policy.

• approved on a 6-1 vote the Wilson County Schools needs assessment for the upcoming school year. McNeese voted against it. 

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