|MJHS busting at the seams|
|Tuesday, August 4, 2009|
By TOMI L. WILEY
MT. JULIET -- Wilson County schools officially started back on Monday, and rapid growth in the western section of the county is already causing some growing pains – with Mt. Juliet High, after just the first day of school, already nearing capacity in its second year in the new school.
Wilson County Director of Schools Mike Davis said Monday evening that most of the county’s student growth is in Mt. Juliet, specifically Rutland Elementary and MJHS. He said that while the “hard numbers” of enrollment won’t be available until the end of this week, early numbers for MJHS are nearly 1,900 students in a high school with a core capacity of 2,200. He added that there are already around 10 “floating teachers,” which are teachers with no assigned classroom who move from room to room per period to teach.
“And therein lies the problem – they have to find classrooms that are empty,” Davis remarked late Monday afternoon. “They may have to go from one end of one wing to the end of another one to find an available classroom. It creates issues.”
Davis said he’d spoken with MJHS Principal Mel Brown, who he said is making the situation “as palpable as possible.” Davis said he visited several Mt. Juliet schools on Monday, including West Elementary, which is up 30 students over last year, and Mt. Juliet Middle School.
Davis said that MJMS, which is now located in the old MJHS located on North Mt. Juliet Road and is utilizing that school’s annex building for classes, was on Monday already out of chairs and desks and topping 1,400 students enrolled.
“Mt. Juliet is definitely seeing the majority of growth in the county,” he said. “We’re already probably going to need another teacher at Elzie Patton (Elementary).”
Elzie Patton was established in 2008 in order to alleviate growing student enrollment in Mt. Juliet’s other elementary schools. He added that West Wilson Middle School in Mt. Juliet had 969 students enrolled just as of Monday, which is “up quite a bit,” around 100 students, from last year.
Davis noted that apartments located in Providence began leasing this week, “so there will probably be even more students” trickling into the system in the coming weeks.
“The economy may have slowed but student (enrollment) growth continues,” Davis said, estimating another 1,000 students crowding into schools in the coming years. “Five years from now something significant will have to happen in the west end of the county.”
Davis noted that Lebanon High School, which has had its share of reported problems recently, is up some 80 students compared to last year, topping out at more than 1,600 students. He said that while Lebanon is in need of a new high school, he does not “see a whole lot of impact of that on the west end.”
“If we can get a new high school there of the appropriate size we should be able to take care of their needs for the next 10 years or so,” the director said. “The issue now is getting the wheel tax passed to pay for it.”
In the meantime, though, Davis said MJHS “will have floating teachers for now” and may have to look to expanding the school in the future. He said he wished MJHS had “one more floor” to accommodate a 10-year growth as well.
“That would have been a good plan,” Davis said, “to have a fourth, unfinished floor to work with in years to come. It’s obvious they built it too small.”
When asked why MJHS wasn’t planned and built larger from the beginning, Davis said he had “no idea. I wasn’t here during that process.”
Davis said MJHS “had a really smooth opening” on Monday, considering the congested traffic in the morning and a full parking lot.
But Davis said he doesn’t consider the explosive growth and crowded halls of west Wilson County schools the main challenge – it’s the State standards of education that pose problems this year.
“It’s what we’re teaching, the pacing guides, the benchmarking of what is being taught against the benchmarks set by the State, the mastering of what’s being taught and then re-teaching what’s not being mastered by the students who aren’t mastering it,” Davis said. “We’ve added more to the plate without adding to the size of the plate, you could say. There are many more requirements this year, and those requirements are difficult.”
The second challenge in Davis’s opinion is the fact that county schools have changed their testing company from McGraw-Hill to Pearson, and educators “don’t know about those tests.”
“We’re not familiar with Pearson’s testing system and unsure how that will play out.”
The third main challenge, he said, is the inevitable downfall of a student with the H1N1 flu. He said he hopes parents and educators “don’t panic” when that happens.
“It’s not if but when a student will contract it,” Davis said. “We’ll deal with it appropriately, but I just hope everyone doesn’t panic.”
Davis added that, as of the first day of school, there are 252 more students on the books than the first day of school last year, and “the hill is going to be higher.
“We’ll come up with a plan to deal with the challenges,” Davis said. “I just hope the county commission doesn’t take any money away from us because we’re going to need every penny to deal with the growth.”
Editor’s Note: Tomi L. Wiley is the editor of The Chronicle of Mt. Juliet.