Williamson County Schools and the 12-members of the school board have scratched quite a bit off their list of things to do in the past year.

In looking into the future, the district will create a new strategic plan. It will continue construction on a K-8 school in Thompson’s Station and potentially start building another elementary school in Brentwood.

The district will also look at purchasing land in bulk along with redrawing lines to prepare for a rezoning in 2018. To prepare for all of that, Superintendent Mike Looney is looking into the future, but he’s also reviewing where Williamson schools has been.

When you look at being superintendent this year, what do you consider your biggest accomplishment?

“One of the things I do is I don’t let students drop out without them coming to see me. The greatest accomplishment I can think of this year is I’ve prevented some of them from dropping out by presenting unique ways to support their needs.”

What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve dealt with as superintendent this year?

“I am looking at my answers through the lens of how it directly impacts students. The unfortunate deaths of some students because of vehicle accidents has been hard, and it’s been emotional challenge for me of it dealing with it.”

“The bigger question is how do rally the community to help with a cultural shift around safe driving? I am declaring war on this issue. I am just tired of seeing kids get buried. We have a task force that’s going to kick off for the upcoming year. We are going to be putting something out InFocus on that topic that will talk about safety globally including safe driving for the holiday.”

The legislature will reconvene in January, and you and the board closely watch what happens with education bills. What your message to legislatures before the arrive on the hill?

“For one, do no harm. From the trenches it feels like we are combating harmful legislation often. I truly believe it’s not intended to be harmful, and oftentimes it seems like the legislature is getting advice from one perspective rather than from a broader constituency. Just do no harm.

“Our school district if left alone by the state will prosper and we know what to. We are good at it, and our students will succeed. I want to play teaching and learning offense and not defense with the legislature.

“Secondly, if you look at the most recent state report card that was published the per pupil expenditure shows where Williamson County Schools stands. For one we don’t have our independent taxing authority and I don’t want it. I do want adequate funding. The inadequacy is because of the state funding formula and not the local support. We need legislative relief for equitable funding. I just think it’s absurd that our PTOs have to raise money for things that are essentials for schools. They should be raising money for more appropriate things PTOs fund. They tend to not fund capital projects, and some PTOs provide personnel. PTOs are supposed to be added value in the classroom. They are not supposed to have to pay for a teachers aide or secretary or computer lab assistant.”

Your high school teachers at least have some end of course data, but your third through eighth grader teachers don’t have any because the suspended testing. You’ve been very outspoken about state testing data. How will use what you’ve collected to help administrators next semester?

” I don’t mean this disrespectfully to the department but there was no value added to last year’s data. We are honestly looking at it and filing it away. We know more about our students than the state’s end of course data can tell us. Our teachers know to follow the scope and sequence. Until the state produces an assessment that is valid and reliable, we will keep marching to the beat of our own drum.

“If you look at the EOC results and the ACT results, that’s an inverse relationship. That doesn’t mean that the state tests were bad but it speaks to whether they took it seriously, and our students didn’t. We have smart and intelligent kids, and they know when something is a waste of time. We got the results that we were told to expect. 

“I will make a prediction. Our students’ test results next year will stand in contrast to this year’s results. We are going to teach exactly the same thing, but the students are going to try on the tests this year. I want someone to explain to me why they are going to be different when there is 25 percent growth on results next year. I respect the department. I just think last year was a perfect storm of errors and mistakes. I am not begrudging anything at this point and time. It didn’t accurately reflect what students know and do, because of the comedy of errors. This year will be different. We are motivated. Our teachers are on tasks and we expect the test to go well.

“I am optimistic and I haven’t lost a minutes sleep over last year’s results and I don’t want want our teachers to, either.”

What are you looking forward to most this year?

“I am excited about the board’s commitment to formulating a new strategic plan. I am excited about where they are academically. If you look at the non-state testing – like the ACT – our students shows significant readiness to do well on those types of assessments. I am excited about CTE program. I am excited about the expansion of the arts, and athletically we are reaching unprecedented success. It’s an exciting time to be in Williamson County Schools. Our board seems to be resolved to focus on issues that matter and that makes work a pleasure.”

What challenges will you face in leading the district into 2017?

I think it’s managing the external pressures. The state and federal governments continue to intrude into local school district affairs. It’s also about maintaining my passion but being somewhat dispassionate about the false claims that public education doesn’t work – that it’s an outdated model and needs to be privatized. All those things that are baseless but true in someone’s fantasy world.”

The district is the best in the state. You’re a goal oriented person. How do you continue to make the district better when its already at the top?

“It’s easy. All you have to do is go to a classroom. I can go any day of the week. Whether it’s more resources or changing a small thing of what we do and how we do it – it’s about the pursuit of excellence. Every kid deserves a great teacher equipped with great tools, and they should have the most successful experience as possible.

“I think that’s the best part about my job. I get to see that in action. I get to see that evolution of our students in their learning progression. That invigorates my desire.”

We’ve talked about success, and you have mentioned failure. What do you think you’ve failed in doing this year?

“On a professional level, I frequently fail to convince others on the periphery of our work how important our work is. I want other people to be as obsessed about students as I am. But there are other drivers in their lives, and it’s hard for me to relate because of my lens.

“You know, I was thinking about a mother in my office recently. Their child is in desperate need of a male mentor. Finding those kids and connecting them with the types of adults that needs to be in their lives to fill a void – I am often unsuccessful and not as successful as I want to be.”

By this time next year, what do you want crossed off of your list?

“From the student level – it’s easy to get lost, and the focus turns away from kids if you think big picture. While I have lots of aspirations for the district, what do we do to impact a student in a meaningful way. Can I save another student from dropping out; get another scholarship so they can save money to go college? Can I counsel a student to follow a career pathway that they aren’t sure they have the skills to do? Can I support an employee in need? Can I help a leader grow professionally? Can I fail less? Can I learn more?

“For us, we have to continue to sharpen the knife and not be satisfied.  You are celebrating with one class, but it’s how are we helping kids now? It’s sort of like being a football coach. That’s one of the reasons I love Nick Saban. He wins a national championship, but he will have already started talking about next year by the time he’s won.” 

Emily West covers Franklin, education, and the state legislature for the Franklin Home Page. Contact her at emily@franklinhomepage.com. Follow her on Twitter via @emwest22.

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