Wilson County Schools Director Dr. Donna Wright updated county residents on the situation of West Wilson Middle and Stoner Creek Elementary schools after a reported EF-3 tornado struck Wilson County early Tuesday morning.
“I was hearing the descriptions very early this morning that it would look like a war-zone,” Wright said on a video posted to the WCS Facebook page. “I’m even more stunned when you turn slowly and take in not only the schools, but the neighborhood across the street, it does look like a war zone. The devastation is even more than you can imagine.”
She said that while the buildings are probably destroyed, “in all of this, I’m so thankful that we weren’t in school. And there were no children sitting in this building when it happened. (That) would have been the case 12 hours earlier. It’s just pure devastation and knowing the power of the storm, we can replace buildings, but we didn’t lose anyone, and I take comfort in that. We can rebuild, so it will be OK.”
Wright said that several school staff members lost their homes in the storm. She said she’d heard of injuries and was trying to track down the names of those who have been reported as injured.
She added that at the current time, the system is assessing the damage and making sure everyone “is accounted for. We appreciate the offers of help, but we don’t know what to ask for of even where to start.”
With spring break starting next week, “that buys us some time,” she said. “And then, how do we finish out nine weeks of school? That will be first and foremost because of the students assigned to (WWMS and Stoner Creek Elementary). We always have contingency plans, but this far exceeds (those plans).”
She said the system will “be communicating that out because we will have a plan. (We will) try to make it as smooth of transition, whatever that plan might be. When the plan comes together, parents will be involved to make sure this works.”
She added that “we have had several people reach out to me and offer assistance,” she said, adding that she has heard from the Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn and State Rep. Susan Lynn.
West Wilson Middle and Stoner Creek Elementary schools in Mt. Juliet were heavily damaged by the tornado.
The two schools share a campus on N. Mt. Juliet Road about a mile from I-40.
Wilson County Schools spokesman Bart Barker has updated the community in videos posted on the WCS Facebook page.
“This is beyond heavy damage,” he said. “This is probably a total loss. We’ll have to see how all of this plays out. Other schools, minor to (no damage).”
Barker added, “on plans, on certain things, moving forward. I promise you those questions will be answered. Today is a day to digest. To reflect but be thankful.”
He added that he doesn’t know when these days will be made up, or if they will be made up.
The Tennessee Department of Education’s Chelsea Crawford, Assistant Commissioner for Communications and Engagement, sent an email stating that “the schools accumulate 13 stockpile days on average and three to four of those days are used for professional development days. The remainder are for inclement weather or illness days, when teachers and staff report, but students do not.”
Crawford said that schools must have 180 days of classroom instruction.
“However, in cases of severe weather, there is a waiver option permitted by the law in severe cases,” she said. “At this time, since we are still so early on, we are going to work with impacted districts on a case by case basis. The department is committed to doing whatever we can to help each district affected by the storms.”
Barker did not know, on Tuesday, the number of stockpile days the system had left this school year.
Barker said that, “while we certainly don’t ever hope for a tornado to come through, we are extremely fortunate this did not happen in the middle of a school day. I don’t want to presume that there would be loss of life if it happened during the day, but it could have been much worse.”
Barker said that WCS is aware that some students’ homes have been damaged or destroyed, and it took that into account as well.
“It’s like a snow day,” he said. “You just can’t say this school is out and this school will be open.”
He added that WCS will assess the damage and the cleanup process while taking into account other issues, such as where the displaced students will go to school, that will be needed when the schools reopen.
“The most respectful thing for us to do as a district was to close the schools,” he said.
Lebanon Special School District
Lebanon Special School District Director Scott Benson released a statement Tuesday afternoon saying that, “after consulting with local authorities and out of safety concerns associated with the impact of the storms, LSSD will be closed the remainder of this week. SACC will be open the rest of the week at Castle Heights.”
He added, “although we did not have any damage to our school buildings, we do have many families that have been significantly impacted, and our community and our first responders will need a few days to start the recovery process.”
Benson said that with spring break next week and a stockpile day on March 16, “we will welcome our students back to school on March 17. Over the next few days we will concentrate our efforts on supporting those in need in our community.
Mt. Juliet Christian Academy
Mt. Juliet Christian Academy is also closed until further notice due to storm damage. School officials made the announcement Tuesday afternoon.
“Due to significant damage to (MJCA) from the tornado, MJCA will be closed (until further notice),” according to the announcement. “Please continue to watch your texts and emails for more information regarding classes resuming. We are praying for all affected by the storm.”
The school hosted a work day on Tuesday, asking for help with cutting trees and clearing debris.
“We need all hands on deck to clear the parking lots and property of trees and debris,” the announcement said. “(There will be) no building access. Bring chainsaws, gas, heavy duty trash bags, rakes, gloves, work boots and water. We will be providing more information as we continue to assess the damage.”
Friendship Christian School
Tuesday afternoon, Aaron Sain with Friendship Christian School announced that FCS will also be closed Wednesday.
“Many of our students live where it is dangerous to travel and may still have no power,” he said in the announcement. “We will make a determination about future closings on a day to day basis for the rest of the week. Parents, please check your email for more details. Stay safe.”