MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WTVF) — The families of more than 50,000 Rutherford County students are waking up for the first day of school Friday morning.
It's an exciting moment for Director of Schools, Jimmy Sullivan. It's the start of his first school year on the job, having taken the reigns from former director, Bill Spurlock in July. Sullivan was formerly the district's Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction.
Of course, this is the first time in a while that students and staff have had a "normal" start to the school year. The past few years, the focus was on COVID-19 and virtual learning. So, Sullivan thinks of this year as a "reset."
He tells NewsChannel 5, now the district can really focus on student safety, instruction, and making sure that every school in the district meets expectations.
"As we move forward we want to increase student outcomes, make sure across the district we have equity that we're offering our students -- so that it doesn't matter what zip code that they happen to live in, they're still getting rigorous opportunities to be successful," Sullivan said.
Sullivan said another big goal of his is to build trust and transparency with parents. He wants to make sure parents understand what is being taught in schools, and where to go to get information about their child's education.
He also wants to build a better relationship with teachers so they know they are supported by the district and the community. Another layer of that: the district is in the middle of conducting a salary study to give them an idea of whether pay needs to improve in the future so the district can stay competitive in hiring.
As of the end of July, the district had 96 certified teacher openings. Sullivan said that's not bad compared to other nearby districts, explaining that number equates to about 2.5% of the district's full certified teaching staff. The district is also looking to hire for other positions, like educational assistants and nutrition managers.
With the recent mass shooting at a Texas elementary school, safety is at the forefront for so many parents across the country. That's no different in Rutherford County.
Sullivan said safety is always a focus, but they've put even more emphasis on it this year.
School Resource Officers from the Rutherford County Sheriff's Office spent the last week of July taking advanced training to protect students and school staff.
But it's not just worrying about intruders and physical safety. When kids go back to class Friday, the district said there will also be a focus on mental health.
Sullivan said the matter of safety is personal to him.
"I actually have two kids in our school system, so it's not just looking out for everyone's kids, I'm also looking at it from a parent perspective of -- what are things you can do to make sure your own kids are safe," Sullivan told NewsChannel 5. "So that gives me a unique perspective to not just look at things from a managerial standpoint, but also a true human being standpoint, because my own kids are in the school system."
Sullivan said communication is also a big focus for him and the staff at the central office. He promises they'll work hard to get important information out to parents. At the same time, he wants families to know they can reach out to the administration about any major issues as the school year gets underway.
Friday is a half day for students. The first full day of the school year is Monday, August 8th.