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Special meeting set to choose school site

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Looking just like a Blues Brother in dark 3-D glasses at the county commission meeting, watching a 3-D video from the county schools, is WEMA Director Joey Cooper. JOHN BUTWELL / The Wilson Post
3-D glasses grace the faces of officials watching science videos now being used by the county schools - including, from left, Commissioners Diane Weathers, Mike Justice, Jeff Joines, County Planner Tom Brashear, Commissioners Sue Vanatta and Joy Bishop, and mayor's staff members Sara Davenport and Dakota Weatherford. JOHN BUTWELL / The Wilson Post
Dr. Donna Wright gestures as she reports to the county commission on the "100th day of school" and announces a special school board meeting to choose a site for a new west-side high school. JOHN BUTWELL / The Wilson Post

Editor's Note: Wilson County Schools has changed the special-called work session and meeting times to March 7. The article has been edited to reflect the change.

County commission focuses on education

The biggest news at the Wilson County Commission meeting concerned an upcoming attempt by the Wilson County School Board to finally settle on the site of a new high school on the county's western side.

Choosing the site - which has been the subject of repeated and sometimes heated discussions at school board meetings over the past few months - will be the subject of a special-called school board meeting Monday, Mar. 7, Director of Schools Dr. Donna Wright told the county commission on Monday night.

The special-called board meeting will begin with a 3 p.m. work session at Central Office on Stumpy Lane followed by the actual meeting at 4 p.m., Wright told the commissioners.

'Six sites in running'

Under consideration will be six sites, Wright said:

  • 64 acres on Bender's Ferry Road,

  • 65 acres off West Division Street,

  • 90 acres on South Mt. Juliet Road,

  • 60 acres on North Greenhill Road,

  • 284 acres on Guinn Road/Double Log Cabin Road,

  • and 78 acres at the corner of Highways 109 and 70.

That list is somewhat at variance with a resolution passed by the board earlier this month at its regular February meeting, when the board voted 4-1 to consider only four of the sites.

But the list represents all the sites that have been offered to the board in response to RFPs (requests for proposals) or that have been offered to Wright and individual board members more recently, after responses to the formal RFPs had already come in.

Educational matters predominated at the county commission meeting, in fact, as Wright reported on the school system's progress in advertising for bids to do the work on six renovation or expansion projects that the commission has already voted to fund.

She also presented her "100th day of school" report to the commissioners - who donned dark 3-D glasses to view high-tech three-dimensional videos of the human body, erupting volcanoes, and other scientific wonders that are being taught to students at all four high schools in this three-dimensional way.

'Bid specs go out'

Bid specifications went out last Tuesday, Feb. 16, to renovate the Mt. Juliet Middle School theater and restrooms, Wright told the commission - and this week, on Tuesday, bid specs were set to go out to renovate the old Lebanon High School into a new Central Office and adult learning facility.

Bid specs to build a new elementary school in the Mt. Juliet area, on Central Pike, will go out on Thursday next week, on Mar. 3, Wright said.

They'll be followed by bid specs for six new classrooms and a gym at Gladeville Elementary on Mar. 10; a new two-story middle-school wing at Tuckers Crossroads School on Mar. 17; a new gym, two new classrooms and conversion of two existing gyms into a band room and an auditorium at Southside Elementary on Mar. 24; and a new dining room and a gym expansion at Watertown Elementary on Mar. 31.

Wright began her "100th day of school" report by recapping some of the honors to Wilson County students that were presented at the school board's February meeting, especially the 38 students who received perfect scores on "one or the other of two writing prompts" in state evaluations, as Wright explained it.

'Three perfect scores'

"Three had perfect scores in both categories - again, bringing recognition to Wilson County," Wright pointed out.

Not only individual students but entire schools in the county are leading the state, Wright added, noting that of nine schools in Tennessee that "met both targets, achievement and growth, three of those schools were in Wilson County, and we had several schools that were on the cusp of being there as well."

But the key question that school administrators and teachers need to ask at this point of the year is, "Do we have the grit to make an already good school system even better?" Wright said. "It's about providing great instruction every day for every child."

Giving a solid start "for every child," Wilson County Schools are focusing on teaching reading in grades K-2, Wright said, adding with a grin that "everyone's always amazed that our kindergartners are reading."

But such apparently precocious instruction that breaks the traditional mold goes clear up to teaching calculus in high school, Wright added.

'Major focus on ACT'

Another major focus is helping students score at least a 21 on the ACT, she told the commissioners. "A 21 will get you the Hope Scholarship worth $16,000 over four years," she pointed out, adding that the schools are working to help students attain even higher scores because they're predictors of success in college.

"There's a 60 percent washout rate that first year in college," Wright explained. "We can get them in, but we want to make sure they stay there. Every point on the ACT adds to their sustainability, helps them keep that $16,000."

Wright then introduced teacher Nina Williams of the school system's Tennessee Virtual Online School (TVOLS) and - after the 3-D glasses were handed out - Williams explained some additional benefits of the 3-D videos that students use and that the commissioners viewed.

"For students, this is fun," she said, adding that by making the curriculum so accessible to them, "we're taking students from lower socio-economic status and bringing them up to a level playing field with their peers."

'Enabling peak levels'

By getting them "completely captivated, completely immersed" in the 3-D lessons, "we enable them to perform to their peak levels," Williams continued as the entire commission briefly metamorphosed into dark-glasses-wearing "Blues Brothers" checking out the 3-D lungs, ear canals, etc., on the screen in front of them.

"This is just a snapshot of what we're doing in the classrooms," Wright summarized after Williams concluded her presentation, "not just to engage students but to bring them up to their levels, and to give you (commissioners) a return on your investment."

Following Wright's presentation, other county officials and department heads tossed complimentary comments and quips her way as they, too, made their reports. "Mine is only in 2-D, sorry," Finance Director Aaron Maynard apologized, for instance.

He did have encouraging news on the county's self-insurance fund, which is threatening to run into a deficit due to the high cost of claims. But "we haven't had anything big in February come in yet," he reported cautiously. "Time will tell."

'Ready for tornadoes'

In other reports to the commission:

Emergency Management Director Joey Cooper said that while WEMA is still prepared to respond to any winter weather emergencies like those that struck repeatedly this month, the agency is beginning to gear toward the dangers of spring severe weather such as tornadoes.

District 5 Commissioner Jerry McFarland said in his monthly historical moment that he has been to visit the Sumner County grave of Revolutionary War veteran David Wilson, for whom the county is named.

The grave is on the farm of country singer Mike Scott, and it's only marked by a small fieldstone half-buried in the ground and dead leaves - which was the only kind of marker available when Wilson died in 1804, McFarland commented.

He suggested that a more prominent marker be erected in the Wilson Cemetery on the Scott farm - although he quipped that he doesn't know why the cemetery bears that name because of the 40 graves there, only three are for Wilsons.

'Jail population hits 400'

The county's jail population has "hit the 400 mark," Sheriff Robert Bryan also reported, adding that it's a warning against reaching or exceeding the capacity of the 462-bed facility. "Many are pretrial detainees," he said, "and court officials are working to get them sentenced, so they can start doing their time."

The sheriff also expressed his condolences to the family of Lt. Bob Harrison of the Criminal Warrants Division, who died recently after a three-year battle with cancer.

The meeting opened with a prayer led by the Rev. Norman Weber, who was introduced by District 23 Commissioner Sue Vanatta. Before delivering the prayer, which originally was delivered to open the First Continental Congress, Weber also gave the commission a brief history of his childhood in Nazi Germany.

As American citizens, but with German ancestry, his family was forced to keep their national affiliation under wraps. But after Germany's liberation, their American citizenship and birth certificates earned them protection from the occupying Allied troops, Weber described to the fascinated commissioners.

Writer Connie Esh may be contacted at

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budget, Donna Wright, growth, land, location, Mt. Juliet, new high school, new schools, purchase land, Wilson County, Wilson County Commission, Wilson County Schools
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