Despite COVID-19, Williamson schools still growing

williamson county school bus
Posted at 3:50 PM, Nov 02, 2021

FRANKLIN, Tenn. (WTVF) — Surprising growth and mental health for students became the talking points for this year's State of the Schools in Williamson County.

Both districts superintendents didn't dwell on COVID-19 and rather focused on what each district accomplished despite the challenges of the pandemic. Each districts superintendents explained their struggles and successes for the state of the schools event, hosted by Williamson, Inc.

Here's how each district is doing.

Williamson County Schools grows unexpectedly

Superintendent Jason Golden wasn't anticipating growing by 1,800 students this school year.

Instead, the school leader of one of the steadily growing districts in the state thought it would take awhile to better its numbers in light of the pandemic's impact on enrollment figures.

"We have 42,000 students," Golden said. "WCS is as large as its ever been. Two years ago when the governor asked for schools to close, public schools dropped in enrollment. We were no different. We thought it would take three years to get back to where we were. Instead, we grew by a high school."

In light of this growth, Williamson endured its own struggles for staffing. Golden gave the example of the district needing 18 elementary school teachers, which is an unusual problem for the district to face. Of the 3,000 plus teachers, he said staffing was at around 95% capacity, but that remaining percentage still hurt the overall district. The district is also short by 80 staffers for special education assistants.

"Our starting teacher salary at $40,000 and imagine the housing marketing," Golden said. "Government doesn't respond super quickly to market changes. We are so proud of our teachers, but county government is feeling it as well. It's a lot. It's nothing new for this community. People are coming because they want to be here. One other market condition we have seen is a segment of workforce who chose to take a break during COVID and many haven't chosen to come back. It's important for our community to rise up and bring them back."

Franklin Special zeros in on mental health

Sometimes, even Superintendent David Snowden needs a mental health break.

That's when he finds himself walking across the street from the central office across the street to one of his schools to pet a four-legged employee.

Focusing on mental health for his students, the district employed eight dogs to each of its schools for therapy measures. Sometimes, what they do is as simple as getting a child to walk into the classroom.

"That's where we have the story of Starr," Snowden said. "Starr (the dog) bonded with a student who didn't want to go into the classroom. When she did, she would yell and scream. She got better during the year, and the principal was excited. The first day of school, the first grader didn't want to go. The child sees Starr. The child followed Starr into the classroom. No yelling and screaming. That's one example of how we know our therapy dogs make a difference."

Snowden said the district also had mental health and support therapists. Mercy Healthcare has been able to put therapists in each school for students struggling with anxiety, depression and conduct disorders.

Accomplishments for Franklin Special

Reward schools for 2020-2021 for FSSD:

  • Franklin Elementary
  • Liberty Elementary
  • Moore Elementary
  • Poplar Grove
  • Franklin Intermediate

Liberty Elementary is also a National Blue Ribbon School, which is an honor from the U.S. Department of Education. They will receive their award by the end of the week.

Accomplishments for Williamson County Schools

  • 72 National Merit Semifinalists
  • 24 reward schools
  • 14 National Blue Ribbon Schools