Today is Monday, August 21, 2017

BOE wrestles over new gyms

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Wilson Central's wrestling, softball and tennis teams will start raising funds to build two new sports buildings on the school's campus soon.

Assistant Principal Chip Bevis asked the Wilson County School Board Monday night for approval of the two projects.

However, the board decided that while the groups could start fundraising, Bevis needs to return with more detailed information about the total cost of the building projects before the board decides if it will support them.

Plans call for a combination wrestling / softball facility to be built in an area behind the softball outfield.

Split vote on WHS wrestling gym
The School Board also approved construction of a wrestling gym for the new Watertown High School by a 3-2 vote following discussion of the project's timing.

Zone 3 Board Member Don Weathers, who voted no, said he had agreed that if Watertown started a wrestling program and sustained it for two or three years, he would support it. But he added, "That hasn't happened yet."

Weathers also questioned why the cost had jumped from about $550,000 to $841,000. Assistant Director of Schools Mickey Hall explained that at the time when the first estimate was received, the high school was not yet built. He said that the new bid involved both removing sidewalks and replacing them with a concrete slab, and building an extra weight-bearing wall.

Hall also pointed out that it has been almost three years since the original bid was received. In the end, both Weathers and Zone 1 Board Member Wayne McNeese voted against the new gym.

Asbestos removal at Lakeview
Voting unanimously on a third issue, the School Board also approved plans for renovations at Lakeview Elementary. The renovations will include removing asbestos from all 12 bathrooms in the school and replacing the gym floor with a new rubberized one.

The original cost of the project was estimated at $150,000, but adding the work on the bathrooms raised the price to $284,572. About $186,000 of the cost will come from the General Purpose School Fund, and nearly $99,000 will be funded by money left over from West and Rutland Elementary and West Wilson Middle School projects.

The board also approved the school calendars for both 2015-16 and 2016-17. There will be some changes in the scheduled days, including no half days and allowing individual schools to set times for teacher-parent conferences in two-hour blocks whenever those schools can fit them into their schedules.

Spring break to be shortened
In the next two school years, according to the newly approved calendars, fall break will remain two weeks long, and so will winter break. But spring break will only be one week, and school will be out about a week before Memorial Day each year.

School Safety Coordinator Steve Spencer also explained changes to the school system's safety and security program. He said having come to the school system from Wilson Emergency Management Agency (WEMA), he first looked over existing plans, and found that all the schools had them.

"Some were excellent," he said. "And some were pretty generic."

Spencer added that all the plans had one thing in common - the principals and assistant principals had almost all the responsibility. "I was very concerned about that," he said. "Because while it works well in practice drills, it can be very overwhelming in a real emergency."

Model emergency plan created
In response, Spencer formed a School Emergency Planning Committee - and with the committee's help, he developed a plan that can be used by all the schools.

"We started by developing a school crisis team at each school," he said. The assistant principal is still the leader of the teams, but each member is responsible for an aspect of the problem. Office personnel, for example, are responsible for communications with emergency personnel and parents.

School nurses are the first responders for physical needs and prepping patients for emergency medical workers.

So now, Spencer said, "Every school will have the same plan so if we need to send additional help to a school, we will know what to expect."

Graduation rate leads state
School Counselor Supervisor Stan Moss also reported to the board about the school system's graduation rate. At 96.3 percent, it's one of the highest in the state, he said.

Moss compared it to the state average of 87 percent and the national average of 80 percent - and then he pointed out that Wilson County's rate is up from 89 percent in 2010.

He did say that maintaining the high rate is tough, because it isn't uncommon for new students to enroll at mid-year without enough credits to graduate. Then the school is responsible and those children are also counted as part of the graduation rate.

Writer Connie Esh may be contacted at

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