Mixed Emotions Expressed During Middle School Forum

TONY STINNETT, Courier Co-Editor

Citizens of the Woodland Community were mixed on their views regarding whether Cannon County Schools System should change its current K-8 grammar school format to adopt a middle school structure as the Middle School Forums continued last week.

The Woodland forum, held Tuesday (Feb. 1) at the Woodland School Gym, was the third of seven scheduled throughout the county, following stops at Woodbury Grammar (Jan. 24) and East Side (Jan. 31). A forum also was conducted at the Cannon County Courthouse Saturday (Feb. 5).

The final three forums will be held at West Side (Feb. 15), Auburn School (Feb. 22) and Short Mountain (Feb. 24). All forums are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.

Director of Schools Barbara Parker said the seven-person Middle School Study Group will consider all information from the forums when making its recommendation to the Cannon County Board of Education.

“After we have completed the seven forums the study group will come back together to review all of the comments to make a researched, educated, publicly informed recommendation to the Board of Education, and the Board will decide how we proceed with this,” Parker said. “The idea of (the forums) is to discuss whether Cannon County wants a middle school or not.”

The Woodland forum included a cross-section of citizens who had varying opinions on the issue. Of the 18 persons who addressed the Study Group, the majority either favored a middle school format or were indifferent and indicated they would support whichever decision the Board of Education made.

“I was crushed and torn as a kid when they consolidated our school (Livingston),” said Chad Eades. “Then when they did it we had more resources to pull together and more opportunities. I’m really on the fence. I love the community schools we have but, at the same time, we lack resources.”

Former Woodland teacher Melody Daniel also was indecisive but echoed the sentiments of others.

“Cannon County does a great job with our school system and I appreciate the job you do,” Daniel said. “I am in support of whatever decision is made (by the Board).”

Detractors pointed to larger class sizes, potential closing of existing schools and possible loss of jobs for current teachers in Cannon County.

“If it is working you don’t change it,” Woodland teacher Alice Whittle said. “You change it for a specific reason. You don’t need the new curly light bulbs; the old ones work. I think most of us made the transition to high school just fine. I think you are putting more transition in the system and you are going to lose more kids through the cracks.”

Not all students are making the transition from Cannon County’s current grammar schools to Cannon County High School successfully based on recently released numbers from the Tennessee Department of Education’s 2010 Report Card. The report shows Cannon County High School was placed on target for a 2009 graduation rate of 72.7 percent — almost a full 20 percent below the state goal of 90 percent.

Cannon County High School English teacher Jennifer Bratcher, who has two children attending Woodland School, told the audience she favored a middle school system because students across the county are being taught differently depending on which grammar school they attend.

“When I first started teaching English, my first couple of years I could pinpoint where the students went to grammar school in the first two weeks,” Bratcher said. “I could tell where they were because of how different each school is teaching these children. It is not necessarily better or worse, but it is different.

“I have been for a middle school so you can get those teachers in there together and let them start planning together. Once they get to high school I really think it will make that transition a little easier. We need to get all these schools in these grades on the same page. There is a huge difference from school to school as to how they are taught.”

West Side Principal Robert Sain, a member of the study group, said a middle school format would provide additional opportunities and allow opportunities for teachers to be more specialized in what they are teaching.

“Instead of having to teach two or three different subjects they can focus on a specific subject,” Sain said. “They have to be qualified specifically for that subject.”

The middle school format would also enable all sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders to be in the same classes and learning the same curriculum across the board where there is less opportunity for confusion once they enter high school.

Existing teachers also were concerned about their positions and how the hiring process would unfold if a new middle school was approved.

“If any schools are closed, ideally you want to keep your teachers but that would depend on whether there were positions in the county for them to have,” Parker said. “Legally, once you close a building those positions are abolished. Just because you are tenured or more experienced than others does not necessarily mean that those teachers have priority and can just go take someone else’s job. That’s just the legality of it. We have a lot of tenured teachers in this county and ideally we want to keep those teachers.

The Study Group will conduct its next forum Tuesday (Feb. 15) at West Side Elementary at 6 p.m.