RUTHERFORD COUNTY, Tenn. (WTVF) – Families of more than 50,000 students in Rutherford County wake up to the first day of school Friday morning.
It’s an exciting time for the schools principal, Jimmy Sullivan. It’s the start of his first school year on the job, having taken over the reins from former principal Bill Spurlock in July. Sullivan previously served as the district’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.
Of course, this is the first time in a long time that students and staff have had a “normal” return to school. In recent years, the focus has been on COVID-19 and virtual learning. So, Sullivan sees this year as a “reset.”
He tells NewsChannel 5 that the district can now really focus on student safety, instruction and making sure every school in the district meets expectations.
“As we move forward, we want to improve student outcomes, to make sure that across the district we have the equity that we provide for our students – so that no matter what ZIP code they live in, they are still getting rigorous opportunities to succeed,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan said another of her big goals is to build trust and transparency with parents. He wants to make sure that parents understand what is 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 this: The district is currently conducting a salary study to give them an idea of the need to improve salaries in the future so that the district can remain competitive in hiring.
At 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 percent of the district’s entire certified teaching staff. The district is also looking to hire for other positions, such as educational assistants and nutrition officers.
With the recent mass shooting at a Texas elementary school, safety is top of mind for so many parents across the country. It’s no different in Rutherford County.
Sullivan said safety is always a priority, 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 undergoing advanced training to protect students and school staff.
But it’s not just about worrying about intruders and physical security. When the children return to class on Friday, the district said the focus will also be on mental health.
Sullivan said the issue of security was personal to him.
“I actually have two kids in our school system, so it’s not just about looking after everybody’s kids, I’m also looking at it from a parent’s perspective – what are the things you can to make sure your own kids are safe,” Sullivan told NewsChannel 5. “So it gives me a unique perspective to not only look at things from a managerial perspective, but also from a real point of view. view of being human, because my own children are in the school system.”
Sullivan said communication was also a priority for him and central office staff. He promises that they will work hard to convey important information to the parents. At the same time, he wants families to know that they can contact the administration with any major issues at the start of the school year.
Friday is a half day for students. The first full day of the school year is Monday, August 8.