Wilson County Schools will begin searching for land to build new schools as growth in the county is forecast to continue, while the board has adopted a school calendar that expands fall break and the mask requirement will continue for another month.

Director Jeff Luttrell told the board at its Monday meeting that requests for proposals will go out for two plots of land and that he hopes the board can select sites by the end of the year. He has met in recent weeks with the county planners and Wilson County Mayor Randy Hutto, as well as the district architect, Kaatz Binkley Jones & Morris of Mt. Juliet.

Jason Morris of KBJM outlined for the board during last week’s work session where the growth is most rapid. For example, in the Gladeville Elementary School attendance zone, there are more than 300 new housing units approved or near approval. That school is at 99% of its classroom capacity of 800 students. Near West Elementary School, which has approximately 30 more students enrolled than its capacity of 800, there are more than 600 new housing units planned.

“Our growth in the county is still running at a very fast pace,” Luttrell said.

The district will look for land in two areas. The first area is bounded by Interstate 40 on the south, the Cumberland River on the north, the Lebanon Special School District on the east and West Elementary School on the west. The second area around Gladeville.

Luttrell pointed out that the demand for land in Wilson County is intense, and that the longer the district waits not only will the cost rise, but the availability will decline.

In outlining the process, Luttrell said once the district has identified the parcels it wants to purchase, the county will be asked for approval. Hutto and the county commission continue to be supportive of the district and the challenges it faces dealing with the growth, he said.

2022-23 school calendar

During Monday’s meeting, the board voted to expand the current five-day fall break to seven days next year. Board members dealt with several issues in making its decision, including the need to coordinate with the Lebanon Special School District’s two-week fall break, the impact on learning of 10 days away from the classroom, and the needs of split families.

Luttrell recommended keeping the current calendar, which is one week off for fall break and one week off for Thanksgiving. He said that under the current block schedule, 10 days away from the classroom is too many.

Board members Jamie Farough and Kim McGee were both in favor of the two-week fall break. Farough pointed out that WCS used to have a two-week fall break and managed to still be an academically successful district. She also said that the two-week break was popular with teachers and may help in recruitment and retention.

Luttrell pointed out that LSSD is a K-8 district and that the academic demands on high-school students and the fact that many are enrolled in advanced placement or dual credit courses makes comparisons difficult. In addition, he said that a two-week fall break plus a one-week Thanksgiving break means three weeks off in less than three months of school. He also pointed out that it creates an imbalance in instructional days between the fall and spring semesters — 86 in the fall versus 94 in the spring.

After Luttrell’s preference of keeping the current calendar failed on a 3-3 vote (Farough, McGee, Carrie Pfeiffer against, Bill Robinson, Linda Armistead and Larry Tomlinson for) and a motion to extend fall break to two weeks failed on a 4-2 vote (Farough, McGee for), the board unanimously agreed to a compromise of fall break that runs from Wednesday, Oct. 5 to Monday, Oct. 17.

“I look forward to the day when this is the biggest controversy we have,” Luttrell said after the vote. “I’m good with it.”’

Mask mandate

The board also unanimously voted to extend the mask mandate another month until the Nov. 1 board meeting. Opt-outs will continue to be allowed under Gov. Bill Lee’s executive order. Luttrell said that districtwide attendance rates have been in the 92-93-% range for the past month, much better than the sub-90 rate seen in September.

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