PHOTO: Williamson Inc.’s Matt Largen (left) moderated a panel discussion that featured Hallie Heiter, Kari Miller, Cherie Hammond and Phil Oldham. / Photos by John McBryde
By JOHN McBRYDE
With discussions on entrepreneurship, autonomous vehicles, robotics and STEM, the theme of Tuesday morning’s 2019 Education Summit hosted by Williamson Inc. could have been titled something like “Looking to the Future.”
The annual event, which this year featured Tennessee Tech University as its presenting sponsor, was keynoted by summaries of the 2019-20 school year from the heads of the Franklin Special School District and Williamson County Schools.
FSSD Director of Schools David Snowden talked about the importance of relationships for success in the district’s eight schools, as well as exploring the what, why and how approach to education. WCS Superintendent Jason Golden presented what he called “bragging points” for the 48 schools he oversees and also discussed some of the challenges the district faces.
But through the two different panel discussions of the Summit held in Jackson Hall at the Factory of Franklin, there was certainly a spotlight on where education in Williamson County is going and all the means by which it’s getting there.
Williamson Inc. President and CEO Matt Largen moderated the Education Summit and got it started with the panel discussions, one on entrepreneurship and the second on the training of tomorrow’s business leaders.
Participating in the first were Kari Miller, director of the WCS’ Entrepreneurial and Innovation Center; Hallie Heiter, the entrepreneurship program director at Battle Ground Academy; Cherie Hammond of the Catalyst Network; and Phil Oldham, president of Tennessee Tech.
On the second panel were Chris Allen, who oversees the robotics program at Brentwood Academy; Brent Greene, teacher of autonomous vehicles for WCS; Patty Littljohn of TechFit with FSSD’s Freedom Middle School; and Missy Poloski, who oversees STEM/IT for WCS.
The whole purpose of the new EIC that opened in August on the campus of Franklin High School is to prepare students who might be interested in starting a business, launching a product or offering a service, and it’s considered a one-of-a-kind program throughout the state and even the country. It operates as a public-private partnership, and the Catalyst Network was formed by area business leaders to invest in the EIC.
“We want to make sure this isn’t just a good space but an extraordinary space,” said Hammond, who is on the Catalyst Network board. “We have a pretty heavy lift over the next three to five years, about a $2 million lift. …
“Because this is new and cutting edge, we’ve been able to engage folks that don’t normally volunteer with the schools. This has given a big piece of our community the opportunity to engage.”
BGA has a similar offering for its students in grades 9-12 with the entrepreneurship program, one that also relies on help through partnerships and volunteers.
“I’m just one person, and I only have so much experience,” Heiter said. “And even though my concentration is business school was entrepreneurship and I eat, breathe and sleep this — I love teaching entrepreneurship — I’m not going to have every single skill set or industry knowledge to be able to equip my students to be able to go after what they want to go after, so I’m always looking for people [to volunteer] who are passionate about what they do.”
The other panel got quite technical in its discussion, exploring the world of robotics, STEM and a competition known as TECHFIT (Teaching Engineering Concepts to Harness Future Innovators and Technologists). And when asked by Largen about the next iteration of the WCS’ autonomous program, Greene captured the attention of the whole room.
“Well, I can’t really tell you right now because it’s a secret,” he responded. “My kids are working on something right now that is going to revolutionize not only the school system and how it operates but also how the city of Franklin and eventually the entire county will operate and move. That announcement will be made in the coming months.”