Don R. WeathersAge: 66

Spouse, children: wife, Diane Graves Weathers; son Darren>

Highest level of education attained: Master’s of Business Administration

Question 1: What makes you the best candidate for the position?

I served on the Wilson County Board of Education for 12 years (2004-2016) and have a working knowledge of how the board operates. I served as chairman of the board for four of those years and led the activities of the board through that time. I have a working relationship with all department heads in Wilson County government and most of the commissioners and will be able to work with them to overcome the current perceived relationship between the two. During my time on the board, I attended many training classes offered by the Tennessee School Board Association to improve my knowledge of board business and achieved Level IV (of a possible five levels) certification. I say this to inform you of my readiness to step into this position with tremendous experience of how the board functions and will be able to have an immediate impact on improving the way the board operates. Experience matters during a time of crisis and we certainly appear to be in the midst of that with the pandemic. I also have the time to dedicate to the school board activities as I am semi-retired and am still passionate about making Wilson County School System the best in the state. Overcoming the current challenges will require a lot of time from board members going forward.

Question 2: What do you see as the greatest challenge facing WCS and how would you address it?

There are many, but you asked for the greatest and in my estimation that would be the challenge of educating our children in times of uncertainty, such as the pandemic, without a loss of quality teaching and learning. We are all concerned about leaving the world in better condition than we received it and that sounds like an easy thing to do, but it is getting harder with each passing generation. The world population is approaching 8 billion people and the growth rate is accelerating globally according to a recent report released by researchers at Brown University. That same report also emphasized the point that global health crises, like the current pandemic, may be something we have to contend with more often going forward. Local challenges, like the tornadoes in March, also play into interruptions of the teaching/learning process. So the challenge becomes how do we change our education system to be able to function in a highly volatile environment to give our children and grand children the chance to keep making the world a better place than what they inherited from us? My initial thoughts are we have to have a short term and a long term approach. The short term approach would be to deal with the current pandemic and tornado damage issues, which are far from settled. These are issues that have rarely, if ever, been dealt with and require experience and tremendous problem solving skills to overcome the short term challenges we currently face. Teachers have to be supported at a level beyond anything ever before to keep them safe and prepared to meet the daily rigors of teaching in the current state. Parents have to be supported whenever possible to deal with issues associated with trying to keep their children engaged and motivated to stay on task, while trying to keep a job that pays the bills. Students have to be prepared to learn in different ways and to achieve in times of great challenge. I don’t have all the answers but I do have the experience and time to address the short term challenges.

The long term approach I have in mind would entail the formation of a 10-year countywide plan that brings together members of county government and the school system to prepare a plan for Wilson County that is totally transparent to the citizens that maximizes the services and minimizes the taxes required to fund those services by working together without redundancy on things such as technology, buildings management, budgeting, growth management and others to be defined. If we don’t start thinking in longer terms then we reduce the chance of our kids having a better place than they have now.

Question 3: What does WCS do well?

The teachers of Wilson County Schools do a fantastic job of transferring knowledge to our students despite the fact that we are in the bottom 5% of funding per child in the state. The level of dedication and passion to provide a quality education is unparalleled in the state. This is the biggest contributor to the performance of WCS being in the top 5% of achievement in the state.

Question 4: What does WCS need to do better?

Supporting teachers with their needs in the classroom, transparency and communication with parents and teachers, consider parents opinions more in the decision making process

Jonathan WhiteAge: 41

Spouse, children: Wife, Andrea; children, Katelyn 15, Riley 13, Chris 11, Gracyn 11, Nataley 9, Sam 8, Zach, 6 and Molly, 6.

Highest level of education attained: Master’s degree

Question 1: What makes you the best candidate for the position?

I will do what I say I will do; my commitments are sacred. I will vote the way I say I will and always willing to explain why. As a parent of eight children in the district, I will bring a balanced view to the board. I will advocate for the parents, teachers and Zone 3 residents; using listening sessions, emails, phone calls, etc. as a way to gather their invaluable input. I have spent my career helping shape high performing teams, building culture and achieving strategy. I also bring deep experience in executive leadership recruiting/selection, when it comes time to select a new director of schools. I will be an accountability partner to the district leadership team.

Question 2: What do you see as the greatest challenge facing WCS and how would you address it?

I believe that our current trajectory is not sustainable. What does that mean? It means that our county has transformed over the past 20 years and the growth speaks for itself. At the same time, our schools have done a phenomenal job of achieving success — becoming an exemplary school district. On the other side of that story is a budget that is not sustainable. We are facing a multi-million dollar deficit heading into next year; before addressing growth, teacher raises, improving older schools, etc. We need new textbooks and didn’t buy them this year, as an example. Kicking the can down the road only creates future problems.

Couple the above with an apparent misalignment between the district leaders, teachers, parents, residents and county commissioners, all of which are obviously well-intentioned people and have great insights, you have a problem to solve! Add to that, Wilson County is getting less and less money from the state. Our county spend per pupil is in the bottom 5% of the state and our performance is in the top 5%! High performing teams cannot sustain that performance over the long haul. The current model is not sustainable.

How would I address it? Listen first, then reply. It is no secret that this would be my first experience on a school board, but this is not my first experience dealing with these issues. Most organizations face the same dilemma. If you listen, you will learn why groups have misalignment. Once you understand the views, you can help bridge the gaps. That gap is bridged with transparency, education, empathy and accountability. If we cannot see where someone is coming from, we cannot bridge gaps. My commitment is to ensure that the residents of Zone 3 voices are heard, the children (of all backgrounds) have an advocate and the teachers are empowered to do what they do best; teach! Let’s bring understanding to how the money is being spent, ensure the impact is realized and if we need more investment, we align and support it. At the end of the day, most people agree that we need to provide a high-quality education. As long as we stay focused on that principle, we can align most people to achieve the goal! Lastly, let’s ensure that politics does not impact children.

Question 3: What does WCS do well?

The things that WCS does well is both broad and deep! It is easy to point to school performance in terms of graduation rates, test scores and the like. We all know that scratches the surface on what this district does well. It is the teacher that met my daughter where she was, as she entered kindergarten for the first time. She was sad, lots of tears and dad was a mess. That teacher took the time to let me know she was doing OK as the day progressed. It is the teacher who takes a vested interest in my daughter, who uses a prosthetic leg, and ensured she was included, engaged and supported. It is the cafeteria employee who opens a milk carton and the SRO who loves our children as their own. The coaches who push, because they see potential and the educators who invest their time in Student Council. We love WCS, live here because of the schools and want to see the greatness continue. They accomplish so much, with the money available.

Question 4: What does WCS need to do better?

A few things that rise to the top of the list, compiled from feedback that I hear, is:

• Communication: Who, what, when, why, where and HOW.

• Transparency: Why are we doing things the way we are? How is the money spent? How much of our spend is required by law, dealing with complexity, etc. vs. how much is discretionary?

• Consistency: As an example, IEPs are complex. Some people love the process and others loathe it. Consistency here would help a ton.

• Active Listening: The schools do a great job of asking for parents feedback. Let’s ensure we HEAR what they said, respond, share data and explain the decisions.

• Strategy: We have a 2024 strategy in place. Let’s rally the community by sharing the goals, progress made, etc.

• Teacher/Support team compensation: As one of the wealthiest counties in the state, our teachers should not be under compensated! Several counties surrounding the Metro pay more than we do, with a lower cost of living!

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