Written by:  Amelia Morrison Hipps
August 3, 2015

LEBANON, TENNESSEE — Wilson County had the most schools recognized as a Reward School for both achievement and growth than any school district in the state of Tennessee.

Three out of the nine statewide schools that earned both designations – W.A. Wright Elementary, Gladeville Elementary and Mt. Juliet High School – are Wilson County Schools. All rose to the top 5 percent for annual value-added growth, while also ranking in the state’s top 5 percent for overall achievement.

“We are honored to recognize these Reward Schools for leading the state in progress and performance,” Gov. Bill Haslam said at an event held at W.A. Wright Elementary, a school recognized for both its high overall achievement and strong growth, a Title I school with 42 percent of its students are on free or reduced lunch.

Two other Wilson County Schools – Lakeview and Mt. Juliet elementary schools – were also named Reward Schools for ranking in the top 5 percent for their achievement or performance scores.

Overall, 25 percent of Wilson County’s 20 schools were named a Reward School.

“What a great way to start the new school year,” said Dr. Donna Wright, director of schools, who is beginning her second year at the helm of the system with almost 17,500 students. “It’s been a wonderful year, and it’s a validation as far as all of the hard work our teachers and administrators have put forth. It didn’t happen by accident, very intentional, very deliberate, and the work’s paying off on behalf of our boys and girls.”

Wright said she’s told teachers and administrators several times that “not only is it an exciting time, but just think about how we figured it out last year, and now that we’ve sort of got a handle on it, what is this next year going to look like? It’s already creating a lot of excitement.

“We’re moving forward with the elementary school. The middle schools did exceedingly well, too. I think we’ll hear a lot from them next year,” she continued. “And as our high schools move back into a schedule that gives them more classroom time, I think we’re going to see incredible results there as well.

“As I look at the end of my first year, it’s been a good year,” Wright said.

Wilson County Board of Education Chair Larry Tomlinson said, “It was an outstanding day for Wilson County. It just shows what all we have going on here.

“It shows what a good job our students, teachers, administrators and our parents are doing. I think it may serve as an incentive for some of other schools to work hard and reach that same plateau,” he continued. “It’s one of the reasons Wilson County is becoming a destination for people wanting to live and work here.”

Principals react to the News Ledge
“I’m thrilled. The Reward School status is awesome, but most of all it’s a great way to start off the year to recognize your teachers and staff for being so outstanding, working so hard, being so dedicated to the students,” said W.A. Wright Principal Jill Giles.

“I couldn’t be more happy. It’s a great way to start off the school year.”

Principal of Gladeville Elementary Monica Fox said, “We are so proud of our students, our teachers and our staff. It’s a great place to be in Gladeville. They always think about the kids and do what’s best for them. It’s all about student learning and review of AARP Medicare supplement insurance.

“Thanks to all of the faculty, staff and students for this accomplishment,” Fox continued. “One of our priorities last year was goal setting. Students monitored their own progress and created action plans to reach their goals. I couldn’t be more pleased.”

Mel Brown, principal of Mt. Juliet High School, said, “Anytime you have a year of consistency being established and to have it for achievement and growth, it’s a ‘Wow!’ because it’s so hard.

“To our teachers, administrative staff, students, parents – it’s a community effort. It’s the accomplishment of hard work and working together. It’s something we all will be proud of,” he said.

Tracey Burge, principal of Lakeview Elementary, commented that being named a Reward School was like a “…proud momma moment.

“It’s outstanding to be a reward school. Just knowing that the students, teachers, parents, everyone involved to get the students where they need to be are receiving this recognition is like a proud momma moment. I look forward to showing off and sharing it with my faculty, staff and students and letting them know their hard work paid off,” Burge said.

Sandra Grisham, principal of Mt. Juliet Elementary School, said, “I’m tickled to death for our students, our teachers and staff. This is something I think our teachers should have earned before now. I know how much time and effort and care they put into their teaching. I’m so excited to go back and share that with them this afternoon.

“This is just a honor for MJES. We are a good school. We know we’re a good school. This validates that we’re a great school now,” Grisham said.

Haslam, McQueen offer praise
“Tennessee teachers and students are working harder than ever, and it’s paying off,” Haslam said. “Students are learning in new and challenging ways, and teachers are pouring their hearts into their work and helping students make incredible gains.”

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen, who joined Haslam at W.A. Wright for the announcement, said, ““We believe these districts are models for our work across the state. They all face different challenges and have different best practices to share. We look forward to learning from them throughout the school year.”

The 170 Reward Schools for 2014-15 span 59 districts across Tennessee and include 93 schools that serve mostly economically disadvantaged populations. This year’s list recognizes 76 schools for overall academic achievement and 85 schools for annual value-added growth.