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Evaluation: Dr. Wright's doing right well

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Wilson County School Board Chair Larry Tomlinson congratulates T. R. Kirby of Scout Troop 434 at Monday night's board meeting for nearing completion of his Eagle Scout rank. JOHN BUTWELL/The Wilson Post

The school year is over, and Wilson County students have received their final grades.

Now Director of Schools Dr. Donna Wright has received hers, or at least her evaluation by the Wilson County School Board.

At a busy meeting Monday night during which Dr. Wright also announced the awarding of merit raises for nearly 1,000 teachers in the district and introduced new Deputy Director of Academics Monty Wilson, Board Chair Larry Tomlinson read the cover page of Dr. Wright's evaluation aloud, which said she "is to be commended for her all-around efforts to lead Wilson County Schools."

Evidence of her effectiveness was that "all areas measured in the evaluation were scored at Strongly Agree or Agree 80 percent to 100 percent of the time," read Tomlinson, who represents Zone 5 on the board.

'No one's perfect'
However, Dr. Wright's evaluation was not absolutely perfect. 75 percent of the board members said they think she needs to work more on financial management, 25 percent said she could improve her community and public relations, and one member skipped marking the category, "one area as an area to strengthen."

Goals presented for Dr. Wright to achieve were to "consistently communicate with the school board to help maintain a clear understanding of financial needs and concerns" and to "continue a laser-like focus on increasing student performance" by guiding both "school and system-wide administrators to help them achieve their goals."

Dr. Wright said she especially liked the second one. "I will really take these goals to heart," she promised the board, "especially the 'laser-like focus on increasing student performance.' I can really get my teeth into that one."

Only two 'Disagrees'
"Financial management was marked consistently as the area to strengthen," the evaluation noted. "As one board member stated, 'Financial management is an area that seems most challenging to any educational leader, especially in a district that is growing so quickly."

"Ensures that funds are spent prudently by providing adequate control and accounting of the district's financial and physical resources" was one of the only two categories in which Dr. Wright was given a "Disagree" by 20 percent of the board (one member). But 60 percent rated even that category at "Agree."

The other category receiving a 20 percent "Disagree" was "Communicates well with the Board of Education," but 60 percent marked "Strongly Agree" for that. Dr. Wright received no ratings of "Strongly Disagree."

Her strength: 'Mission, vision'
Dr. Wright's strengths also were enumerated in the board's evaluation. "There is a clear consensus," they wrote, that her "strength is Mission and Vision. She establishes and communicates a clear vision of school improvement."

Furthermore, "in collaboration with others, she uses appropriate data to establish rigorous, concrete goals in the context of student achievement and instructional programs," the board stated. For instance, "her highest score on the evaluation was using research and/or best practices in improving the education program."

Tenured teacher terminated
A far less positive evaluation was given at Monday night's meeting to Ginger K. Gaither, a tenured second grade teacher at W. A. Wright Elementary whom the board unanimously voted to terminate for "inefficiency, incompetence, neglect of duty, and insubordination" on the recommendation of Dr. Wright.

Gaither was absent an excessive number of times, including 70 days during the past school year and over 30 days each of the two preceding years, beginning in 2012, Dr. Wright told the board.

Other problems allegedly included an "overall effectiveness score" beginning in 2009 and continuing into this year "below expectations," inadequate lesson plans that "do not make sense" or were repeated verbatim week after week, resistance to coaching to improve her teaching, parent complaints about their children's performance in her class, and "parents routinely asking for their students to be moved out of Ms. Gaither's class."

'Second graders left alone'
On at least four days this school year, the teacher purportedly was over 15 minutes late to class and children were left sitting in the hallway or let into the room by an administrator. She also was charged with leaving her second graders unattended for extended periods of time on more than one occasion, having educational assistants grade student work instead of grading it herself and leaving school unannounced when a field trip was about to start and not returning.

In all, 33 specific instances of alleged misconduct were listed against Gaither, including a record of seven written reprimands dating from 2012 through last January. "I am left with no choice but to recommend her termination," Dr. Wright wrote in her presentation to the board.

"It isn't easy, but we have to be sure our children get the best possible experience in the classroom," Tomlinson said, calling for a vote on the termination.

Normally a personnel matter like this one would not be handled publicly. But when confronted with the charges against her, Gaither declined to resign, and state law says the next step is to bring those charges publicly before the board for its consideration, Zone 3 Board Member Don Weathers explained.

Merit raises for long-timers
Dr. Wright's year-end report to the board summing up 2014-15 also included news that should enhance the morale of teachers with more than 21 years of service who until now have only received cost-of-living raises, but have not been considered eligible for merit or step raises - although they could continue teaching for up to 40 years.

"This year, 356 teachers who have over 21 years' teaching will receive pay increases if their evaluations were 3 or higher," the schools director said.

Dr. Wright added that of the 1,133 teachers currently employed in the school system, 620 had received a score of 5 on their evaluations and will receive an $850 raise next year; 265 had received a score of 4 and will receive a $600 raise; and 108 had received a score of 3 and will receive a $350 raise. The only teachers not included in the raises, she said, are those who have only been teaching in the county for one year.

Faculty retention improving
Only 17 teachers left for employment with other systems this year, Dr. Wright reported, which is down from 29 last year. "But we want that number to be zero," she added.

One of the ways the board is working on the problem of losing qualified teachers to other systems is by gradually raising salaries. The current base salary for a new teacher is $39,000, the schools director said. "It was $34,000 in 2011," she added.

Dr. Wright also told the board that there were 1,320 graduates in the class of 2015 countywide, and that those students were offered over $46 million in scholarships and will be attending 60 different institutions of higher education in the fall.

She also made a brief presentation on the proposed "digital conversion" of the county schools before asking for a work session to further discuss the plan. She pointed out that technology is one of the areas the district's recent AdvancED evaluation listed as needing to be upgraded.

Benefits of conversion
Dr. Wright compared the cost of a math textbook at $125 to the cost of a Chromebook (one type of laptop computer) at $250 to $300 with a cost of $75 for content. The computer would offer current content aligned with the Tennessee curriculum for all subjects and be available 24/7, she added.

Students at Watertown High School who were all issued computers last fall were able to take advantage of having teachers available online during last winter's snow days, Dr. Wright noted.

The board scheduled the requested work session for 5 p.m. Monday, June 29. Tomlinson also suggested inviting the county commission's Budget and Education Committees to attend since a digital conversion will cost money, and the other board members agreed.

Wanted to buy: School sites
Dr. Wright also announced that the deadline for requests for property (RFP) proposals will be extended until July 9 to find locations for the school district's expansion plan to deal with the county's rapid growth.

"We have received two proposed sites so far," she said, "one for an elementary and one for a middle school, but we need more."

Writer Connie Esh can be contacted at cewrites@yahoo.com.

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