“We have a lot of opportunities that other counties don’t have,” he said. Along with his speech, Davis showed videos of students responding to questions about what makes Wilson “The Place to Be.” One of the elementary students pointed out “it has the greatest schools” while another simply answered “it’s our home.”
There are 22 schools in the county school system with 15,630 students enrolled. Davis said the student to teacher ratio across the county is 13 to 1 and pointed to rapid growth as both a benefit and a challenge.
“We are growing at a tremendous rate. We have about 350 to 400 new students on average each year,” he said.
Of the system’s 2,549 employees, 1,217 are certified and among its teachers, 10 have Ph.D.s, 32 Ed.S. degrees, 345 master’s degrees and 517 bachelor’s degrees. Davis said they placed 77 teachers on tenure at the most recent board meeting, and pointed out most of the county’s teachers are just beginning their careers.
“We have a young population of teachers; we hired about 100 new teachers a couple of years ago,” Davis said.
With changes to tenure moving through the state legislature and bills to affect teachers’ unions, Davis said one of their biggest challenges moving forward is having competitive teacher salaries.
He said county teachers are ranked 77th out of 95 counties in Tennessee in terms of average salary. Davis quickly pointed out that Wilson County is the second-wealthiest county in the state, but has one of the lower ranks for teachers’ salaries.
“I don’t like to look at these as challenges, I look at these as opportunities,” Davis said, including rapid growth in with those challenges along with teacher salaries.
He said if the school system does not offer competitive teacher salaries, other neighboring counties such as Rutherford or Sumner will be more attractive places for teachers to find work, instead of Wilson.
In 2008, Davis said a 26 cents increase in property taxes allowed the county schools to retain many support employees that include school nurses, cafeteria staff and more. Of the system’s $117 million budget, local funding accounts for 40.1 percent of that total.
Davis commended the work that local governments have done for the county schools in the past several years. Wilson County Commission has approved approximately $150 million in the past three to four years to improve county schools facilities.
A new Mt. Juliet High School was opened in 2008, and a new Lebanon High School is under construction, both a part of the $150 million OK’d by the county. Mt. Juliet Middle School, which is contained in the old MJHS, has around 1,400 students enrolled.
“We have, I believe, the largest populated middle school in the state,” Davis said of Mt. Juliet Middle.
With so many students, Davis said they’ve expanded their technology capabilities to offer a Distance Learning Program, which allows students at one school to take part in a class that is offered at another school by online video conferencing.
LHS math teacher Barbara Hallums won the Silver Award for Excellence in Distance Learning Technology this year from the United States Distance Learning Association.
Davis listed numerous local businesses that partner and lend support to the county school system including the Lebanon/Wilson and Mt. Juliet/West Wilson Chambers of Commerce, CedarStone Bank, Wilson Bank & Trust, Wilson County Motors, University Medical Center and countless others.
“Partnerships like these make Wilson County the place to be,” Davis said. “We have people that come into the schools, write a check for $1,000 and say, use this to get your teachers anything they need.”
In addition to local businesses, Davis said they partner with civic organizations and churches to benefit school children as well. Immanuel Baptist Church in Lebanon donated $9,000 to help the county schools fund their Backpack Program that provides meals to students after school whose families are in need.
Davis said the county schools have a mission to educate and improve the lives of students across Wilson in many ways and not only during the regular school day.
“We have a mission and we have to stay focused on that,” Davis said.
Staff Writer Patrick Hall may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.