For the first time, Wilson County Schools has combined some of the system’s student learning programs into one facility, known as the Barry Tatum Academy located on Stumpy Road in Lebanon.
Named after juvenile court Judge Barry Tatum, the facility is fully operational in the one location, effective during the 2019-20 school year.
“(Tatum’s) countless efforts of helping guide our youth and years of honorable service was the reason (the facility was named for him),” WCS spokesman Bart Barker said. The naming ceremony took place during the Aug. 5 school board meeting.
“Judge Tatum is a figure in the community that helps a lot of kids,” Modified Academic Program (MAP) principal Shaun Caven said. “He represents a lot of qualities that I like such as building relationships with young people. I’ve seen a lot of kids that have gone before him and they always come back and talk about him. They talk about what he’s done for their family and the impact he’s made on them.”
Caven said that the students (at the Academy) are “there for a good reason. But more than likely they come out better than when they went in.” He added that he’s seen Tatum “be firm, be fair and be honest (with the students).”
WCS Director Dr. Donna Wright said that she has had a considerable amount of experience with juvenile judges and the juvenile court system, as well as alternative schools.
“When you look at the lack of compassion in the juvenile court system, it’s simply because they’re working with numbers,” she said. “They don’t take the time to know what is happening with that youngster. You can just project what will be the path of that particular young person.”
She noted that, after coming to Wilson County, she saw an alternative school “that’s not like any alternative school I’ve ever seen.
She said that the students at the academy will have a “change in (schools), while they suffer their discipline. Then I hear about this judge that not only works with young people, but he finds out who they are, doesn’t look for excuses, but he digs deep enough to find out what their life circumstances are.”
She said she asks the students if they can meet a goal set forth by Tatum.
“Not one young person has hesitated,” she said. “They said, (Tatum) said I have to do that, including in some instances, they had to get their hair cut. They wouldn’t do it for their parents, but they’ll do it for (Tatum).”
She told Tatum at the meeting, “you’ve not only impacted a number of young people, you’ve set them on the right path, you’ve set expectations, you believed in them and you gave them hope that it’s going to be okay. You’ve made a difference in many, many lives.”
Tatum told the board and those in attendance, “everyone in this room, we’ve all benefitted from an education. I appreciate what everyone on this board and in this administration tries to do. I told Dr. Wright when she called me that I don’t feel like I deserve this. I’m just doing my job. But I’d really like to accept it on behalf of the teachers that are in the classroom.”
He continued, “that’s where the rubber meets the road. The future we have is dependent on the education of our kids. I am so proud to say that when I am at conferences with other judges, when I’m talking with other people, I brag about Wilson County School numbers.”
The academy serves middle and high school students in two programs, MAP and the Tennessee Virtual Online School (TVOLS), an online public school within the WCS system.
It is available to those students who “have approved hardships and need the virtual learning experience to accommodate their approved circumstantial needs,” Barker said.
According to the TVOLS website, “(students) have opportunities to improve (their) technical, communication, time management and organizational skills in a manner that students only taking traditional courses do not.”
The TVOLS student can create their own schedule, so they have access to their courses 24-hours a day, seven days a week.
The MAP is the alternative learning program for students in grades 6 through 12 in WCS.
Students who attend MAP are still enrolled in their school but are placed at MAP until they meet criteria issued by the Student Discipline Hearing Authority (SDHA), as a consequence of their actions, according to the MAP website.
The purpose of the SDHA is to allow both sides (students and educators) to give their side of a particular incident that led to the need for a hearing.
The SDHA then has the responsibility to determine whether the student can return to their school of zone (possibly on probation), be placed in an alternative setting (in the Barry Tatum Academy) or be expelled from Wilson County Schools.
For information about the TVOLS or MAP programs, go to the WCS website.