More than 50 people attended the ground breaking, where officials addressed the work of county commissioners, school board and community members from Mt. Juliet to get the project approved and into motion.
Wilson County Director of Schools Donna Wright spoke about the need for the school and the expected improvement in learning experiences as the school will help to relive the already crowded school system.
“There’s this happy medium when you look at class load and class size, particularly in high school, because again it’s one that when you look at teacher workloads, they’re teaching three classes out of four a day, but they’re looking at 130-150 kids possibly, depending on what their discipline might be. So when you get that smaller class size, not only does it maximize that instruction, as far as what the teacher can do to personalize it, but it’s also just a relief to know that you’re not going to be facing 30-35 kids each class period,” Wright said.
“Part of it’s psychological, pure and simple. And people come back and say, ‘I can remember when we had class loads of such and such’ – and that’s true – but no one understands the magnitude of the impact on a teacher who is teaching that load day in and day out, so part of it’s the impact on teachers. But the other part is looking at individual kids, where we will see more time spent on that child as opposed to looking at the masses.”
Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto echoed the need for the school in the growing county, while he touched on the importance of the debate and concern voiced about the project.
“There’s no question that growth is happening here in Wilson County, definitely on the west end of the county, but really all over. We have growth even in our high school in Watertown, so we have to continue to be ready to move forward, so I’m glad that the county commission and school board are working together and making things happen, as we prepare for our children coming in,” Hutto said.
“It’s always good when you start the progress towards a new school, but debate is good, as well. I think that the debate and the conversations that you have along the way help you to make sure that haven’t overlooked something, that you’ve crossed every t and dotted every i – the process is important. So, I don’t think that you ever want it to be a slam-dunk, where you come in, approve, and move on. I’m very thankful that we didn’t have to raise taxes for this school. I think that’s important for us to keep in mind. I’m always happy to see people work together and come together for the betterment of Wilson County.”
The new high school was a contentious topic among the public who was divided on the location, pricing and need, although many of those opposed to the school maintained they are not anti-school. The Wilson County Commission was also split on the new school, mainly regarding how to fund its construction. The commission voted 18-6 to take out $107 million in bonds to pay for the school after supporters and opposition packed commission chambers and flowed into the hallways for hours. The commission also voted to put a ½-cent sales tax referendum on the Nov. 6 general election ballot as a potential funding source. Currently, the county plans to pay for the school with growth funds, which fluctuate from year to year, but there may not be enough to fully fund it.
Commissioners Bobby Franklin, Jerry McFarland, Dan Walker, John Gentry, Terry Ashe and Frank Bush voted against the bonds. Commissioners Becky Siever, Adam Bannach, Chad Barnard, Kenny Reich, Terry Scruggs, Sara Patton, Sonja Robinson, Jeff Joines, Mike Justice, Diane Weathers, Gary Keith, Terry Muncher, William Glover, Annette Stafford, Wendell Marlowe, Sue Vanatta, Joy Bishop and Jim Embrton voted for them. Commissioner Cindy Brown was absent.
The Wilson County school board voted 6-1 to approve the decision Aug. 13 to send the funding request of $107 million for the school to the commission. The new high school will accommodate 2,000 students when it opens. More detailed information, including heat maps, property studies and impact studies, may be found at wcschools.com/page/1478.