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Excellence in education

Beth Allison

Between grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on educational growth, many administrators and teachers alike have been trying not to fall too far behind.

Multiple schools in the Lebanon Special School District weathered that storm and have been recognized for their achievement by the Tennessee Department of Education.

Sam Houston Elementary School earned reward status following its performance on a year-over-year accountability scale.

Reward status is the top distinction a school can earn in Tennessee and is based on performance of all students on each indicator, as well as performance of historically-underserved student groups across all eligible accountability indicators. A school must have an overall performance rating of 3.1 out of 4 to qualify. Sam Houston scored a 3.6

Beth Allison, the principal at Sam Houston Elementary, credited her teaching staff and students for hard work that helped achieve the distinction.

Scoring breaks down student populations into subgroups, such as race, economics and individual education plans (IEPs) for students with learning disabilities that need accommodations.

“It drilled down into all that to see where the subgroups fall and how much we grow each group of students,” Allison said.

The principal indicated that it has not been easy.

“The past couple of years with COVID, we have seen a huge learning loss with kids,” Allison said. “All schools are dealing with that and trying to get students back on track to where they need to be.”

According to Allison, obtaining those high marks in spite of the forces against it required a group effort.

“We have teachers that meet together weekly in collaborative planning, with their grade levels,” Allison said. “We also meet every other week and drill down to each kid and see what their deficit area is, where they need the help and how we will help them master that skill they are lacking. It’s almost like every student has an individualized plan. It’s not one size fits all like it used to be.”

If a student is lacking in a certain area, the school employs a multi-prong approach.

“We have lots of ways to address it,” Allison said. “One is through response to intervention (RTI), and that is where every student in the school goes for 45 minutes to a specific group and work with a teacher on that specific skill or deficit area. Everybody is assigned a group with a specific skill, and we base the group off whatever the kids need.”

Jones Brummett Elementary also met the qualifier with a 3.9. As the school was only in its first year of existence in 2021-2022, it did not meet other eligibility requirements for the distinction of reward status. Scores for the other five schools in the district showed substantial progress and were closing in on the qualifier for reward school distinction.

Jones Brummett Elementary School principal Becky Siever indicated that as a first-year school, the administration and staff made it their “No. 1 priority” to ensure that all students and families feel accepted and supported.

“We merged students and teachers together from the other four schools in our district, and it was important that we all felt a part of our new school,” Siever said. “At Jones Brummett Elementary, we have a house system, and I feel that contributed to the students feeling comforted at a new school.”

Students and staff are assigned to one of five houses, and points are awarded for student behavior, attendance and academic growth, with a house champion named every nine-week period.

Siever said that her staff has been celebrating the high score, but also pointed out that their work is never done.

“We feel like we will continue to put our students first in all decision-making,” Siever said. “Every day, we ask ourselves, what is best for our students, and that is what shapes our instruction and our culture. We plan to continue doing what we do best, and that is motivating our students to want to come to school and leave feeling supported, accepted and challenged to be the best they can be.”

A glimmer of hope

When service members go missing, it leaves their families with a mixed bag of grief and hope.

More than 50 years after his father went missing in Vietnam, a Lebanon man is optimistic that investigators have found clues that might confirm his father’s whereabouts.

Members of the Wilson County military community converged at the veterans museum on Friday, which was National Prisoner of War (POW) and Missing in Action (MIA) Remembrance Day.

Among them was Bill Burkart, who was just 9 years old on June 13, 1966, when his father, Col. Charles W. Burkart, Jr., a United States Air Force pilot, went missing.

Burkart shared his story and his latest glimmer of hope that his father might one day be found.

“We have located his crash site and hope to begin an excavation of the site next year,” Burkart said.

Although he was only nine years old, Burkart still vividly remembers the day he learned of his father’s disappearance.

“The day we found out he went missing, I was at some friends’ house,” Burkart said. “My mother called and said that they would be sending an Air Force car to come to pick me up. I knew what that meant. I knew that my father had been killed ... at least, that is what the assumption was.”

When Burkart discovered his father’s condition was not confirmed, hope came flooding back in.

“I learned there was a short (emergency) beeper heard over the site later in the evening, but they could not discern if it came from his aircraft,” Burkart said.

According to Burkart, the Vietnamese could have the same equipment and mimic a lost plane signal to lure unsuspecting search parties.

It encouraged him that the military did not know if his father was actually dead.

“It’s my father, maybe we have a chance if he escaped, and we’d get him back,” Burkart said. “But that did not happen. It’s been over 50 years.”

Since Burkart’s father was flying at night, the military did not know where the plane ultimately went down. However, in the post-war period, investigative teams sent out into the area have inquired with villagers about possible crash-site locations.

“They have these uncorrelated sites,” Burkart said. “They had one they had investigated a couple of times, and they kind of assumed by where it was that it belonged to another incident. They found blades from a jet engine using metal detectors and determined that it was my father’s aircraft.”

A second discovery at the site, an underarm life preserver, would prove even more promising, and it yields the implication that at least one airman, if not both, were among the wreckage.

Burkart is in a national organization for the families of missing-in-action service members.

“They decide what sites they will excavate,” Burkart said. “The greater likelihood that they will find remains, the more likely they will excavate it. They want the operations to be successful. So, before they found the crash site, we were at the bottom. Then, they find the crash site, and we move up a little bit. Now that they know at least one of them is in the crash site, that moved us up to the top of the list.

“We are supposedly the next ones on the list. They will send a recovery team there to look for remains, and we are hopeful that they will find a tooth, maybe his dog tags, anything that will help us to bring closure to know where he is.”

Burkart indicated that southeast Asian governments are more receptive to search parties, like the one looking for his father, than they used to be.

According to data from the U.S. government, as of October of 2020, 1,585 Americans remain unaccounted for from the conflict in Vietnam.

Burkart is optimistic that the crash-site investigation of his father’s likely final resting place will help bring that total down by two airmen.

Not your typical summer camp

Growing up anywhere comes with challenges, even if one is raised in a safe neighborhood surrounded by schoolhouse friends.

Still, when you’re taken into captivity by enemy soldiers at the age of 4, those challenges take on a whole new meaning.

Bill Leslie has lived in Lebanon since 1976, but he spent three years in a prisoner of war camp in the Philippines during World War II. When Japanese soldiers captured him and his family, he was — in fact — only 4 years old.

“I hate to use the word captured, because we were not on the run,” Leslie said. “They came to us.”

Leslie and his family were not enlisted but were making lives for themselves in the Philippine capital when the war broke out. Japanese forces marched into the city in January of 1942.

“They came to our home and took us out at gunpoint,” Leslie said. “There was a Japanese interpreter, two Japanese soldiers, and a Japanese officer. They told my mother that she had 20 minutes to pack.”

Leslie indicated that his mother asked why they needed to bring so many items when the Red Cross had established a three-day expectation for such apprehensions.

“The interpreter shook his head and said, ‘No long time,’ ” Leslie said. “He was right.”

Leslie’s mother, Nancy, was born in the Philippines to a man who had served in the Spanish-American War. She packed as much food as possible, mosquito nets, and medicine.

“There was a whole convoy of trucks that were full of POWs,” Leslie said. “These were people that they picked up on the streets. I felt sorry for them, because they didn’t even have a toothbrush.”

Since the convoy was packed, a Japanese officer allowed Leslie’s father to drive his car, along with his family, so long as they remained in line with the group. They went to a big sports stadium in Manila and were registered by the Red Cross. That is when they officially became “prisoners of war.”

“There is a little semantics here,” Leslie said. “They call civilians internees, and they call the military POWs, but once you are taken prisoner, you are all POWs.”

Getting to ride in his father’s car as opposed to a truck was the last bit of luxury Leslie would enjoy for several years.

“I’ve always joked with my mother that we rode to the prison camp in style,” Leslie said. “We were at the stadium for two days before they put us in Japanese trucks and took us to Santo Tomas. It was our home for the next three years.”

Life in the camp was brutal, and the days dragged on.

“There was a lot of tedium, because it was the same routine every day,” Leslie said. “There was starvation, a lack of decent living quarters, and overcrowdedness. Disease was rampant.”

Leslie indicated that hundreds of POWs, many he knew, would not survive the camp.

“The mortality rate in our camp was about 15%,” Leslie said.

Leslie was never tortured, but his brother was physically reprimanded for not bowing correctly to a Japanese guard, and his mother was subjected to the same punishment for not teaching her son how he was supposed to bow.

“She was roughed up a little bit,” Leslie said.

On another occasion, Leslie’s father was forced to endure an unusual punishment.

“The Japanese did not like people looking out the window,” Leslie said. “Just before liberation, my father and I watched planes in the air. There was dogfighting in the front of the building. A Japanese plane went down, and my father started cheering. That was all one sentry could take, and he fired several shots at us. Then, they came and got him and took him to the front gate, where they made him look at the sun for five hours.”

Even for a seven-year-old, Leslie remembers liberation day well.

“It was eight o’clock on a Saturday night,” Leslie said. “I was in bed already. There were a lot of people yelling and screaming. I wake up to someone yelling my mother’s name. It was a man named Carl Mydans, who had been a prisoner in the camp. He was repatriated in 1943.”

Mydans was a war photographer for Time Life magazine.

“Mydans came in on the tanks,” Leslie said. “The name on that tank was the Georgia Peach.”

The following few scenes still stand out to Leslie, all these years later, for their puzzling nature.

“My father and I were laying underneath the rear axle of a truck,” Leslie said. “The Japanese had taken hostages in the education building. There was a lot of shooting going on. We were lying on the ground in a building about 50 yards apart. It is hard to explain, because they were having a party on our left, and on our right, they were shooting. It was a weird situation.”

After liberation, the Leslies made their way back to the U.S. and lived in San Francisco. Leslie served in the Marine Corps and the Army as an adult, but his profession in printing is what brought him to Middle Tennessee.

“In San Francisco, I worked as a printer for about 15 years, and then, we came here in 1976,” Leslie said.

His first job was working for the Lebanon Democrat. He’s been in Lebanon ever since.

Mt. Juliet Planning Commission discusses Tomlinson Pointe
  • Updated

The Mt. Juliet Planning Commission amended Tomlinson Pointe, a subdivision on Curd Road, during its meeting on Thursday.

The planning commission forwarded a positive recommendation on this amendment to the Mt. Juliet Board of Commissioners.

The planning commission amended it to have all facades contain no more than 10% fiber cement siding on all 218 houses at Tomlinson Pointe. They also required 50% of the homes to have 100% brick and/or stone and 50% of the houses to have 10-50% brick and/or stone.

The commission also required Tomlinson Pointe to not have a two-house plan and for the elevation be sited and built either next to or across the street from one another.

They also required this subdivision to include high-visibility lots with 100% brick and/or stone.

Last year, the planning commission approved a final master development plan for Tomlinson Pointe, located south of Lebanon Road, between Curd Road and Beckwith Road.

Toll Southeast LP Company, Inc. — a Pennsylvania-based home building company and Tomlinson Pointe’s developer — felt that the new conditions would provide more variety to the elevations and streetscape for this development.

Mt. Juliet Planning Director Jennifer Hamblen said that she got to see some of Toll’s developments in Atlanta and was impressed with the houses that they developed there.

Hamblen said that they were interested in developing a subdivision in a way that is similar to Jackson Hills, which is located near Golden Bear Gateway.

Mt. Juliet Planning Commission Chairman Luke Winchester feels that having some of Tomlinson Pointe’s homes built out of 10% brick is a bad idea, because it imposes an undue burden with Mt. Juliet’s Building and Codes Department.

Commission member David Rast also worried that if some houses get built with only 10% brick, the planning commission is going to get the same request to build new homes this way.

Winchester told Michael Burton, Toll’s vice president of land development, that he would rather see some of these houses built with 50% brick.

Burton said that while it is better for some of the homes to have 50% brick, it costs a bit more than what they envisioned based on what they saw with Jackson Hills. He added that Toll has not looked at 50% brick as an architectural option for some of the development’s lots and that they would have to look at other architectural options for these houses.

Winchester said that Toll can manipulate the architecture on some of those houses as long as they are not built out of 10% brick.

Burton felt that building the houses with 25% brick is an achievable amount for its architecture and that 10% of Tomlinson Pointe’s homes will be built that way.

Commission member Scott Hefner said that while he was not fond of having 10% brick on some of the homes, he would be eager to discuss with the developers over the homes’ architecture before the city commission’s next meeting in two weeks.

Winchester also said that the city commission can voice its concerns over the houses’ architecture in Tomlinson Pointe once it goes over the amendment.

Wilson County Sheriff Robert Bryan stands next to Debbie Paré, a representative of the Wilson County SCAN team. SCAN of Wilson County will receive the 30th annual Sage Award on Oct. 3.