|School Director updates Chamber|
|Wednesday, May 2, 2012|
Sumner County School Director Dr. Del Phillips was the solo presenter at the monthly government relations meeting with the Chamber of Commerce last Friday.
As to the future of education in the county, Phillips presented his vision “to create an environment where every student can succeed.” With about 28,000 students in the school system and growing at a rate of about 350 pupils per year, it requires planning and funding.
“Basically, every two years we need to build a new elementary,” Phillips said. Station Camp is where county schools are seeing the highest growth rate. Quickly approaching 1,000, it is the largest elementary in the county by far – with a new subdivision expected in the area, Phillips noted.
Phillips discussed a nine-hour working session he had had with the board on a recent Saturday (April 14). “We tried to lay out a plan on what we should do,” he said. Additions at Station Camp will hopefully be finished by June. He discussed expansions at Gallatin and Hendersonville high schools and renovations at Beech and White House.
The use of annexes buys a little time for the county. “They give space and square footage,” Phillips said. “Eventually, we will have to build a new high school. It’s inevitable.” But with annexes, “we can move it out to the future.” However, annexes are not an option everywhere. “The reason is Gallatin High and Hendersonville High are landlocked.”
As to the size of any future high school, Phillips said he is neutral. He said he had seen schools for 2,000 that seemed good and others for 500 that did not seem good.
“It’s not just necessarily the number of students being served,” he said and zeroed in on what may be the biggest need. “I was shocked in regard to infrastructure as to technology. We are woefully behind.” In addition, there is disparity in the school system both at the instructional and administrative levels. Some schools have active parental fundraising in higher-income areas to provide technology while others go without.
Phillips referred to ENIAC, the first general-purpose electronic computer. “It’s got to be in Sumner County somewhere,” he said of antiquated information technology spread throughout the Sumner school system. He said he expected to open a door and find ENIAC one day.
“We are the only place where you go to a job fair and we still hand out paper applications,” Phillips said. Nearby counties apply technology that students have grown up using daily.
“I would go into departments and say, ‘Give me this information,’” Phillips said. Employees were taken aback because they still process a lot of things by hand and were incapable of producing and printing out a quick report on something as simple as teacher absentees.
Phillips noted the county’s Private Act to modernize Financial Management had passed the day before (Thursday) in the General Assembly. It includes significant technological improvements for decision-makers with an Enterprise Resources Planning system that includes the schools and the county. “I think we are going to be able to make it happen,” he said.
The burden of technology has been on individual schools and the mix of different hardware and software creates problems in communicating across the system.
The advent of e-learning at the college level and growth of The University of Phoenix and online courses is pushing downward. “The customer demanded they change the model. It’s bled down to K-12, moving backward into K-12,” he said. There has also been a change in what degrees are offered.
Gallatin Mayor Jo Ann Graves asked about specialized schools, such as a STEM school for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Phillips responded that it would allow students to pick a school that provided a basket for the electives they wanted. As to loss of connectivity with community that some fear, Phillips responded, “They will be more connected because they are choosing to be there. If you blindly tell people they have to go there, you have all kind of problems.”
If money were not an issue, what would Phillips do to make high schools competitive?
“I always plan as if there’s not a budget problem. We can’t blindly expect people to fund without giving a reason,” Phillips responded. “Facilities are important. Technology is a big deal. We are asking teachers to teach 90 minutes with a dry erase board.
“Our students have changed. They are all digital natives with cell phones and technology. What do they get? A great teacher with a marker board. Technology is a big deal as a learning tool. That’s how they learn today. There is more pressure to have that.”
As to being competitive with neighboring counties or falling further behind in funding, Phillips said they would probably get about $3 million more from the state and county this year. “But we will probably go up $3.8 million in what the state mandates.”
To close, Phillips stated: “The neighboring counties are running off. You can’t live month to month and be at the front of the pack. At best, you will be in the middle of the pack. I didn’t move here to be in the middle of the pack. I’ve never been in the middle of the pack in my life. As my daddy said, ‘You either put the plow in the ground or go home.’”
By Jesse Hughes