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Issue 15


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An Open Letter from Superintendent Looney

Dear Williamson County Parents, Students, Staff and Community Members:

As the 108th General Assembly of the State of Tennessee enters the final weeks of session, the fate of several significant education bills remain undecided.  While there is plenty of noise surrounding a handful of issues, all proposed education legislation warrants our attention and public debate.  Williamson County Schools has a rich tradition of educational excellence; as a result our leadership is critical during these tumultuous times.

Issue: Standards and Curricula

The debate on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) took center stage last week after attempts to repeal the CCSS failed in the House Education Committee.  In a surprise move, the full House approved an amendment to a bill delaying further implementation of the CCSS for two years.

We have always been required to implement curricula standards mandated by the State.  As with all standards, there are some we really like and others not so much.  However, at the end of the day, the standards quite simply represent the minimum content that students in any particular grade must master in the area of reading and math.  I have read the standards multiple times and have not identified a single standard which is harmful to students in Williamson County.  Claims that the standards are the end-all-be-all are not true and fears of an ensuing Armageddon for public schools are not rational. Standards are standards are standards.  What the CCSS will do is guarantee that all students get equal access to the same minimum standards regardless of zip code.

Recommendation: Don’t believe the CCSS are a silver bullet or setback for us.  Stay the course.

Issue: Student Assessment

Another aspect of the debate in Nashville relates to the use of standardized testing.  I do have significant concerns relating to our National and State proclivity to overvalue the assessment of students. I am concerned about the cost of preparation and our readiness to administer the exam developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). I’ve been a vocal critic of tying student assessment results to teacher licensure etc… In addition, I’ve advocated for the State to provide a “hold harmless” period so that students and teachers are not penalized for a dip in performance which typically accompanies shifts in curricula.

Recommendation: Move forward with PARCC, but provide a “hold harmless” period for students and teachers.  In addition, the State must provide additional funding for technology to fairly administer tests.

Issue: Textbook Selection

Another bill, sponsored by Representative Casada, purports to empower parents in the textbook selection process.  However, nothing could be further from the truth.  HB 2249 as amended actually steals local control from school boards and provides false expectations to loosely organized groups with self-serving agendas.  While the textbook selection process is indeed flawed, Mr. Casada’s bill fails to address the current short comings in the process but rather panders to a specific vocal constituency.

Recommendation:  Extend the time for selecting textbooks so school districts and parents have adequate time to provide input.  Maintain local control of the textbook selection process without intrusive legislation.

Issue: Guns at School Events

SB 0142, otherwise known at the Guns-in-Parks Bill, has huge implications for Williamson County.  Most Americans, including this retired United States Marine, prize our constitutional right to bear arms. However, there are times when carrying a gun is not in the best interest of the public. For example, I am unable to carry when I visit the Legislature in Nashville. It is against the law to carry a weapon while on school grounds; hence the problem.  Our schools use public parks as venues for events. Managing two conflicting laws would prove to be a nightmare for school and law enforcement officials. In addition, if enacted, the law could result in confusion and the commission of a felony for having a gun in a park at the time of a school event.

If enacted, Williamson County Schools will not allow student events to occur in parks where guns are permitted. Rather, we will likely find alternate venues or cancel events.  If we are unable to use Cheek Park or Granny White Park because of two conflicting laws, we might have schools share school-based facilities. For example, Brentwood High baseball/softball would play games on the Ravenwood Fields, and Franklin on the Centennial Fields.

Recommendation:  Allow local governments the option of opting out or provide funding for school sports facilities.

Issue: Providing School Districts Voice

There are dozens of other bills relating to education that are equally important, but I will close by focusing on HB 2293 which ostensibly would provide the County Commission with controls in the event a school board decides to hire a lobbyist. Last year, WCS spent .00001 of its budget on lobbying.  This totals $30,000. Of course the reason for hiring a lobbyist in the first place was to protect the school district from Federal and State intrusion in local affairs and to advocate for the students, teachers, and parents Williamson County Schools serves.

Recommendation:  Allow local school boards to be accountable to their electorate without Federal or State interference.

Respectfully,

Mike Looney

Director of Schools

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