Runaway Growth: A History of Development, Schools, and Wealth in Williamson County, Tennessee

Author: ORCID icon
Holt, Hunter, Education - School of Education and Human Development, University of Virginia
Alridge, Derrick, ED-EDLF Department, University of Virginia

This historical case study analyzes the development of Williamson County, Tennessee and its two public school districts. Over the last fifty years, this once-rural county has experienced rapid population growth and economic development, which residents termed “runaway growth.” During this period, the county became one of the wealthiest in the United States, leading to forms of rural and suburban gentrification. Through archival, newspaper, and interview research, this study explores the origins and educational consequences of “runaway growth” to extend understanding of political economies into exurban and formerly rural places. The research examines this impact through county planning and development, district policy and governance, and school curricular choices, demonstrating how ideas and language around growth and wealth influenced the county from top-down decision-making to what was happening in classrooms. Amidst an influx of development, investment, and wealth, the county district had to continually construct new schools, rezone, and manage finances. Yet, this impact went both ways, as the school districts also played an active role in the county’s development. This dynamic created a tension in the county between managing the benefits of growth and educational opportunity, exposing varying political intentions of the county’s local businesses, leaders, and rich residents. Overall, the study argues that “runaway growth” not only created the opportunity for these actors to maintain educational resources but also enhance their own political power as smaller communities were transitioned into exurban and suburban wealth.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
history of education, urban studies, political economy, school reform, school funding
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Issued Date: