By COLLIN BROOKS
The vision for Washington County’s school system, referred to as “The Washington Way”, will soon be more clearly defined when a comprehensive, year-to-year plan is presented during a joint meeting between the Washington County Board of Education and the Health, Education and Welfare Committee on Nov. 17 at 4 p.m.
Washington County Director of Schools Kimber Halliburton informed the HEW committee in a meeting on Thursday, Nov. 3, that they would be presented with a document that lays out the system’s future in a prioritized format during the joint meeting later this month.
Halliburton — along with two Ridgeview students and Ridgeview principal Kelly Harrell and teacher Alana Street — were present at the HEW meeting to request funding for additional audio enhancement systems in 474 classrooms across the county.
During the BOE meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 1, the board gave Halliburton permission to request installation of the systems in all 530 classrooms across the school district, which came in at an estimated cost of more than $1 million. That number decreased to $948,000, or $2,000 per classroom, after 34 classrooms in the soon-to-be-replaced Boones Creek Elementary and 22 round (open floor) classrooms at Jonesborough Elementary were subtracted.
The Director of Schools told the committee they could break that payment down over three years at $316,000 or, she felt confident that the audio enhancement company would accommodate stretching that into four years. No action was taken on the request, and the HEW committee tabled the discussion until after the scheduled joint meeting, so they could gain a better understanding of school system’s overall funding priorities.
Not having a detailed map of the school system’s long-range plan was one of the main issues that Commissioner Gary McAllister had with the request.
“It sounds like a great program and I have no qualms about it,” he said. “My question would be financially. If we did want to support this, where would it come from?”
Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge answered that question by saying that Washington County Finance Director Mitch Meredith will look at the capital projects fund and see how much money the system has at their disposal.
“That is about the only place that you could take something like this from,” Eldridge said. “But it’s important to know where this falls in context of all the priorities. Is this going ahead of something else? In addition to everything else? If you could give us some flavor on this, I think that would help Mitch (Meredith). Because I think right now, he would say that all the capital dollars are committed.”
In October’s meeting, the BOE approved audio enhancement systems — which include surround sound speakers, a teacher microphone and student microphone — to be installed in 26 classroom (two in each school) on a 90-day trial basis. Those systems were installed last week, according to Halliburton. If the school decides to keep the trial systems, that will cost $52,000 which Halliburton said would be included in the larger total number she is requesting on Nov. 17. If that request isn’t approved, she said she has plans to approach the committee for purchase of those early systems as a separate funding request.
Having the audio enhancement in classrooms is a top priority for the county, according to Halliburton, and Street echoed her sentiment. The Ridgeview 3rd grade teacher has had the system in her classroom since school started in August, along with a ClearTouch Panel, but she said the speakers and microphone were the most integral piece.
“My classroom has been totally transformed this year and all of those tools have helped to enrich the classroom,” Street said. “But of all of them, I think the audio is most important, because children can hear me wherever I am in my classroom, even with my back to them.”
Street said that a parent told her that their son felt like he was doing better in school because he can always hear his teacher and never has to struggle with what she might be saying.
If full funding isn’t approved, Halliburton said that she will outfit the classrooms in Kindergarten, 1st grade and 2nd grade with the technology first, because that is where it will be most effective.
“Those are the kids that would have the most significant hearing issues because they are still developing and also because that is where phonics is taught,” Halliburton said.
Regardless of the order, Halliburton said that installing these speakers will transform learning in Washington County classrooms.
“This is the most critical piece of technology that we add to classrooms, that is not just my feelings, that is my belief,” said Halliburton, who referenced the experience of teachers at her former school Waverly-Belmont, located in Metro Nashville.