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Southern Middle Tennessee Today News for August 14, 2023

All news stories are aggregated from various sources and modified for time and content. Original sources are cited.

We start with local news…

2% 3rd Grade Retention (CDH)

Approximately 20 students will repeat third grade in Maury County Public Schools, following a mad rush to get students up to speed in literacy, following a state mandated retention law that went into effect this summer.

Over the summer, almost 500 third graders, or half of the third grade student body, went through a vetting process to determine whether they would advance to fourth grade or be retained.

After rigorous intervention measures during MCPS summer school, also known as STAR, which stands for Super Thinkers And Readers initiative, approximately 97.7% of third graders were promoted, while 2% were retained out of just less than 1,000 students.

"It is slightly above our typical retention, which is somewhere between 1-1.5% in a grade band," Ventura said.

However, the high rate of promotions despite the rate of underperforming third grade students is a relief, Ventura said.

"I think it's a testament to the hard work put into our summer learning program, STAR. They were smart and focused about addressing literacy deficits in third grade, which contributed to the pass rate," she said.

Approximately 50% of Maury County third grade students retook a literacy portion of TCAP in June for a chance to gain a higher score for advancement, while third graders still struggling had yet another chance to improve by attending a summer program capped by an end-of-summer test.

Students must have shown adequate growth by the end of the summer, scoring at least 5 percentage points higher on a post-summer school test than their baseline score, counting as either their initial TCAP English language arts score or their retake score.

Statewide, of the 26,239 third graders who retook the TCAP literacy test, 12.77%, or 3,350 students, scored proficient, moving to fourth grade with no additional steps. Meanwhile, just over 11,000 third graders avoided retention through appeals and other summer retakes.

Rep. Scott Cepicky, R-Culleoka, who supported the new legislation, or the 2021 Tennessee Literacy Success Act, said he believes the law, or intervention, did what is was designed to do — help kids reach proficiency.

"The bill had very positive outcomes for the kids," Cepicky said. "It was the greatest number of movement from the below category to the approaching category that we have seen in the last 12 years. Now, there are less kids multiple grades behind than we've had also in that time period.

"We are seeing a 40% literacy rate for third graders ― the first time we have hit that number in 17 years."

Those still struggling will receive a fourth grade tutor.

Third graders underwent a rigorous summer reading intervention program to try to get students up to grade level across the state, which ended with yet another literacy test in which students must have achieved five points higher than their early summer retesting.

"Less than 1% of third graders struggling were retained, and 80% of those were by parent request," Cepicky said.

Amid the options for advancement, MCPS hosted its largest summer program ever, drawing 1,400 students trying to boost their literacy skills across all grade levels.

Despite a majority of underperforming students, third grade TCAP scores for the 2022-23 school year released early in May showed a 3% increase in literacy compared to the school year before. Ventura said she was encouraged, although the district will continue to work to improve.

The literacy proficiency range during the 2021-22 school year was 33% in third grade, according to Ventura.

The same year, the State Report Card shows that just 30.1% of all Maury County students in grades 3-5 achieved ELA proficiency or exceeded proficiency.

Third grade retention exemptions in 2023 applied to some students, including English language learners, students with disabilities and those who had been previously retained.

AMuseum Exhibit Opening (WKOM Audio 1:33)

A new exhibit opened this past weekend at A’Museum Children’s Museum in Columbia. With more on the exhibit is WKOM/WKRM’s Mary Susan Kennedy…

Brown Elementary Names Principal (Press Release)

Maury County Public Schools Superintendent Lisa Ventura is pleased to announce that Mr. Nick Davis has accepted a position with Maury County Public Schools as the principal of Joseph Brown Elementary School. Davis has over a decade of education experience, earning his bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from Middle Tennessee State University. He earned a master’s degree in administration from Bethel University in 2012. Mr. Davis spent his first 13 years in education in Lawrence County, where he started as a classroom teacher for eight years, three years as an assistant principal, and two years as a principal. In the 2018-19 school year, his school was a State of Tennessee Reward School for academic achievement and growth, which Davis attributes to the hard-working students, dedicated staff, and supportive parents. All of which he was incredibly proud to be a part of.

Mr. Davis shared,” I would like to extend my gratitude for the opportunity that has been afforded to me by Superintendent Ventura to serve the students, their families, faculty, staff, & the entire Brown Elementary School community as principal. It is both an honor and a privilege to serve in this capacity within MCPS. Brown Elementary is rich with history & significance in regard to the City of Columbia. To say that I am eager to work alongside the awesome Brown Bears Family would be an understatement. Educating children takes a village and is certainly not for the faint of heart. However, when faculty, staff, parents, and community all come together as one and are fully committed & dedicated to giving our children our very best each day, the results will be remarkable. I am ecstatic about joining MCPS, but even more excited about joining the Brown Elementary Family in particular. I can’t wait to see what great things are to come this school year! -Proud to be a Brown Bear!”

“Mr. Davis is an exceptional educator with a love and passion for education. His values, dedication, and commitment to excellence will make him an asset to the students, parents, staff, and community. Welcome aboard, Mr. Davis!” stated Superintendent Lisa Ventura.

Superintendent Ventura is happy to share that the former principal at Joseph Brown Elementary, Mr. Robert (Bobby) Busch, has accepted a job with the central office as the Maury County Schools Student Services Coordinator. Mr. Busch has 25 years of experience at MCPS. He has served in many capacities, from music teacher at Highland Elementary, Music and Theater at Mt. Pleasant Middle School, coordinator for Horace O. Porter Alternative School, and principal at Joseph Brown Elementary School. Mr. Busch stated “I am excited to use skills that I have learned to assist in success for all students in my new role at Central Office.”

AAHSMC Hosts Smithsonian Exhibition (Press Release)

The African American Heritage Society of Maury County is excited to have been one of six organizations statewide selected to host the Smithsonian exhibit, “Voices and Votes: Democracy in America.” The exhibit is a part of Museum on Main Street program, a collaboration between the Smithsonian Institution and Humanities Tennessee. Voices and Votes is based on a major exhibition currently on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History called American Democracy: A Great Leap of Faith.

This traveling exhibit, presents a visual and interactive history of democracy. Across generations, visitors will see diverse and inspiring Americans who faced challenges and were determined to have their voices heard. Our democracy demands action, reaction, vision, and revision…every one in every community is part of this ever-evolving story. “While the Smithsonian exhibit will focus on the national stories of democracy in America, a companion exhibit, Voices of Maury County, developed by the Society will focus on some of the citizens who fought for democracy in this county,” said Jo Ann McClellan, the Society’s president

“Since the Society does not, yet, have a museum space, we are very excited to host this exhibit at the Maury County Public Library,” said McClellan. The exhibit will open August 19 and close on October 1, 2023. This will be free and open to the public.

About the African American Heritage Society of Maury County

Founded in 2012, the African American Heritage Society of Maury County is a 501(c) 3 nonprofit organization. It is a membership-based organization and is open to anyone interested in furthering the objectives of the Society.

The Society has worked to add to the African American narrative to the rich history of Maury county. The projects included adding the names of over eighty African Americans, who lost their lives during the American Civil War, to the Maury County War Memorial; and the placement of five Tennessee Historical Commission markers commemorating significant sites, events, and people, including the Maury County Colored Hospital, which operated for more than thirty years.

Since 2013, the AAHSMC has sponsored a quarterly lecture series, where subject-matter experts and professors of history at Fisk, Middle Tennessee State, Tennessee State, and Vanderbilt Universities discussed on specific topics determined by the Board of Directors. To date, the Society has published eight history calendars that featured the people and places significant to Maury County’s African American history.

The Society has collaborated with MTSU/Center for Historic Preservation, the MTSU/Albert Gore Library, and the Tennessee State Museum on historic preservation projects.

Learn more about the African American Heritage Society of Maury County by visiting

City Seeks Grant for Bear Creek (Press Release)

The City of Columbia took a step towards enhancing its road infrastructure by submitting a grant application for the 2023 Statewide Partnership Program. The application seeks funding to undertake the project of widening 7.2 miles of Bear Creek Pike, stretching from Nashville Highway to Interstate 65.

If successful, this initiative would mark one of the most substantial investments in road infrastructure that the city has witnessed in a generation. The project holds immense significance for the City of Columbia and its residents, as it aligns with a long-standing priority and vision for enhanced road connectivity and accessibility. Bear Creek Pike's expansion to a four-lane highway from Florence, AL, to Columbia, TN, subsequently connecting to Interstate 65, underscores its regional importance. City Engineer Glenn Harper commented, “This segment of Bear Creek Pike provides a regional connection to Interstate 65 and is a priority for the City of Columbia due to the impacts that increasing traffic will create regarding safety, congestion, and economic opportunities.” The widening would bring notable efficiencies to the daily commute for countless residents who utilize this route.

Mayor Chaz Molder stated, “I am pleased the City of Columbia, and our City Council have agreed to the most significant partnership investment in city history—$10 million dollars over 10 years to show Columbia’s commitment to the project.”

The timing of this proposal dovetails perfectly with ongoing infrastructure projects. Currently underway is a $29 million enhancement project for the Interstate interchange at I-65 Bear Creek Pike. Furthermore, City Manager Tony Massey noted, “The City has committed $4.5 million for enhancements for the Bear Creek Pike intersection and Nashville Highway intersection.” By integrating these planned improvements into the broader Bear Creek Pike widening project, two major corridor improvements will be achieved.

Molder went on to say, “I am hopeful, if not confident that, with the support of our state legislative delegation, and our community as a whole, that TDOT will fund this application to widen Bear Creek Pike which will have a generational impact on that corridor and our road infrastructure as a whole.”

The City of Columbia eagerly anticipates the response to its grant application and remains committed to propelling the city's progress through strategic investments in its roadwork. With the support of both local and state stakeholders, this endeavor could reshape the future of transportation in the region.

Spring Hill Bond Renewal (MainStreetMaury)

The Spring Hill Board of Mayor and Aldermen met alongside the city’s planning commission last week to discuss ways to improve the city’s efficiency in regards to growth and development.

Over the last several years as construction costs have increased, the city has realized a loss on performance bonds for developers, which sparked a discussion on how to safeguard the city from such losses.

One suggestion was adding a bond renewal/accelerator that would allow the staff to look at future bonds and require developers to increase their bond amounts based on the Construction Engineer Index – a standard we also use to increase our impact fees currently.

In order to enact this change, the city’s Unified Development Code would need to be amended, and it would not be applicable to the nearly 160 bonds the city currently holds.

“When we issue bonds, sometimes they may sit for several years as the developer builds out. As we just found out with Bellagio Villas, sometimes the costs go up if we have to call them and repair things ourselves and we don’t have enough money to cover the repairs,” Spring Hill CIP Manager Missy Stahl said.

City Administrator Pam Caskie said the city will be on the hook for about $500,000 with the Bellagio Villas development as costs for repairs and maintenance far exceeded the bonds put up.

“This year, the construction index went up 30%. If you have a normal 2-3% inflation factor in there – you’re still way behind. If you’re talking about bonds issued in 2020, we’re way behind. They’ll cover half of what it’s supposed to be covering,” Caskie said.

Board members suggested several different options on how to keep bonds current, including annual evaluations. What threshold triggers an evaluation – whether it’s the length of time the bond is held, the valuation of the bond or both – is something the board will discuss and then amend the UDC accordingly.

Stahl suggested city staff be able to increase the bonds if necessary without board or planning commission approval due to the high volume of bonds the city typically holds. In order to do that, however, Stahl said another city staff member could be necessary – even if only part time.

“If this is something you guys choose to do, we’ll make it work. It would be beneficial to the city,” she said.

Caskie added, “We’re going to have to eat close to a half million (dollars) or more on Bellagio Villas. Do the staff calculations – if all we did was avoid another one of those, we’re money ahead.”

While the idea seems like a no-brainer, both Commissioner James Golias and planning commission chair Liz Droke said she would be worried developers could simply refuse to update the bond.

The city does, however, hold a few pieces of leverage in those situations – including the ability to withhold Certificates of Occupancy or releasing their bond.

“We have the leverage – I think – to be able to play hardball if (developers) decided to play hardball,” Caskie said. “If you’re going to play hardball, you always want to win.”

Legislative Lunch (Press Release)

Join Maury Alliance for a Legislative Lunch featuring Congressman Andy Ogles for a stimulating discussion around the current issues facing our business community and nation. This exclusive event offers the opportunity for you to engage with one of our federal representatives and gain valuable insights into current legislative matters. You may submit questions in advance by emailing them to

The event will take place on August 15th from 11:30-1:00pm at Puckett’s in downtown Columbia located at 15 Public Square. The cost is $25 for Maury Alliance Members and $30 for non-members.

And now, Your Hometown Memorials, Sponsored by Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home…  

Mrs. Rose Ann White Saunders, 80, retired preschool teacher for Columbia Academy and employee of Mail Call, died Thursday, August 10, 2023 at her residence in Columbia. Funeral services will be conducted Monday at 1:30 P.M. at Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home. Burial will follow in Neapolis Cemetery. The family will visit with friends Monday from 11:00 A.M. – 1:00 P.M. at the funeral home.

…And now, news from around the state…

Former Senator Heading to Prison (Tennessean)

A federal judge on Friday sentenced former Tennessee state Sen. Brian Kelsey to 21 months in prison for campaign finance violations, a case Kelsey once referred to as a "witch hunt" before pleading guilty to two felonies last fall.

In an unusual decision earlier this year, Kelsey attempted to take back that guilty plea, proclaiming his innocence in a May hearing that left a federal judge unconvinced and provoked prosecutors to push for a longer sentence than they initially sought.

Kelsey, R-Germantown, pleaded guilty to illegally shuffling money from his state campaign account through several political action committees to pay the American Conservative Union for political advertising spots benefiting his failed 2016 congressional campaign.

U.S. District Court Judge Waverly D. Crenshaw, Jr., also ordered Kelsey to three years of supervised release after his 21-month sentence.

Henry C. Leventis, the U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee, told reporters Friday the sentence sends a strong message that "federal election laws are not to be trifled with."

"His actions were willful, deliberate and directly contrary to advice he was given by political advisers and an attorney," Leventis said. "These were not isolated errors in judgment. Brian Kelsey's crimes were calculated, they were complex, they were multifaceted and they denied Tennesseans the right to transparency, which would allow them to make informed decisions about their vote."

Kelsey's friends and family packed the courtroom on Friday, with several testifying to in support of his character.

While Kelsey, 45, was initially scheduled for sentencing in March, he filed a Hail Mary-motion shortly before the hearing to request to change his plea. Kelsey, in court filings and in a May hearing, argued stress in his personal life led him to make a rash decision to plead guilty last fall, even though he privately maintained he was innocent of the charges.

Kelsey, the one-time chairman and gatekeeper of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, said he did not fully comprehend the consequences of pleading guilty to a criminal felony and was of unsound mind when he accepted the plea deal due to personal stressors.

Federal prosecutors and the judge didn't buy the Georgetown-trained lawyer was naïve to the circumstances, with prosecutors calling him a "highly sophisticated" criminal defendant and the judge refusing to allow him to rescind his plea.

Ahead of the Friday sentencing hearing, prosecutors tapped an obstruction of justice classification to bump up Kelsey's proposed sentencing range, from which they recommended the judge give Kelsey's the maximum possible sentence.

"I am sorry that I made this mistake, and I will always regret it," Kelsey said in a statement following his sentencing. "I am sorry for letting down my constituents and the public."

Kelsey will likely report to federal prison in October. He requested to serve his sentence in West Virginia.

Final Story of the Day (Maury County Source)

RAPHA Marketplace opened in June to offer small business owners a place to sell their goods by serving as a collective shopping experience. RAPHA is housed in a converted home that was built in 1830 and is considered one of the oldest historical houses in Spring Hill. RAPHA Marketplace is located at 5322 Main St, Spring Hill.

“RAPHA is a unique marketplace experience that promotes beauty, creativity, friendship, compassion, community, love and healing,” says its Facebook page.

What makes all of their merchandise special is that it supports people in the local community, like JD, owner of Lucky Dog Woodshop. JD is wheelchair bound due to a spinal cord injury, but he has not let that stop him.  He has an incredible talent for woodworking, and he uses that talent to produce many unique pieces, including the beautiful crosses that hang in the entry at RAPHA Marketplace.

They have more than 45 vendors with merchandise on sale at RAPHA. Other vendors include S&J House, Bethany Laura Home, Gypsy Soul Eclectics, Wild Roots Boutique, and The Sparrow Collective.

Learn more by following RAPHA on Facebook.


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