Williamson Co. Superintendent Gets His Wish: Freedom To Be More Like Charter Schools

Williamson County Schools - as a district - consistently out performs other systems in the state. In August 2012, Education Secretary Arne Duncan recognized Kenrose Elementary's status as an "Reward school." Credit: TN Photo Services

Williamson County Schools – as a district – consistently out performs other systems in the state. In August 2012, Education Secretary Arne Duncan recognized Kenrose Elementary’s status as an “Reward school.” Credit: TN Photo Services

Williamson County Schools could be free of some state regulations as soon as July 1st. The suburban system pushed the “High Performing School Districts Flexibility Act” through the legislature, and it was signed into law late last week.

“We certainly meet the requirements under the law, and we will be seeking some flexibility in the year ahead,” WCS director Mike Looney says.

Looney knows the law better than anyone; he wrote it and spent many days at the state capitol lobbying for its passage. It gives an entire district some of the same autonomy enjoyed by charter schools such as extending the school year and changing the teacher evaluation system required by state law.

Looney says observations by principals should be shorter and all of them should be unannounced, “rather than just a series of going into a classroom, sit down for an hour, and watch the dog and pony show that ensues.”

WCS also wants to waive rules about moving money from one account to another that require permission from the county commission.

“That’s just cumbersome and doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Looney says.

The commission, he says, is less-than thrilled with the prospect of losing some budgetary control.

To qualify for such flexibility, districts have to meet three out of five standards:

  • Graduation rate of 90 percent or higher
  • Average ACT score of 21 or higher
  • TCAP three-year average of 55 or higher
  • TVAAS (student improvement) three-year average of 1.75 or higher
  • Meets or exceeds “exemplary” status in closing achievement gap

As many as 20 school systems are eligible – including Rutherford County and Franklin Special. But Williamson County seems most eager to move forward. Looney says he will ask the school board to declare the district “high performing” at a meeting Thursday.

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