Franklin Mayor Steve Barnett, Franklin Community Schools Superintendent David Clendening, Franklin College President Kerry Prather and Johnson Memorial Health President and CEO Dr. David Dunkle speak during the Franklin Chamber of Commerce November luncheon Thursday.


Collaboration is key for a community to thrive, Franklin’s leaders say.

Mayor Steve Barnett, Franklin Community Schools Superintendent David Clendening, Franklin College President Kerry Prather and Johnson Memorial Health President and CEO Dr. David Dunkle talk regularly together as leaders in the city of Franklin.

The four of them spoke on a leadership panel at the Franklin Chamber of Commerce’s November luncheon. They talked about goals for the future and how their collaboration helps better each organization and the city of Franklin as a whole.

Barnett, during the panel, said although all four of them have different roles as leaders of their respective organizations, all of them are intertwined. From the city partnering with the schools for school resource officers, to working with Franklin College to attract higher-paying jobs, to promoting health care and Johnson Memorial as a local hospital.

“When we get together, what we do is, we talk about, this is what we do, what do you think about this?” Barnett said. “Every time we have a business come here, we talk about the college, our schools and our hospital … we talk about our own roles here, but we also happen to help each other a lot as well.”

Each leader shared goals and challenges they are facing and will face in the future. Barnett talked about the emphasis on improving Franklin’s infrastructure, specifically focusing on main roads on the north side of Franklin, such as Hurricane Road and Yandes Street, which just started construction.

Infrastructure is always a challenge for a city, Barnett said. Discussions about Yandes Street — which is a massive project removing and replacing the historic brick street with new brick and sidewalks — began in 2017, and work is just now starting digging up the road.

“I hope we keep that vision going. Work on our infrastructure, concentrating on our small town feel. I keep telling people we never want this to go away,” Barnett said.

For Clendening, he wants Franklin schools to be a school of choice in the area, for its excellence and educational experience for students.

He recognized the school is currently facing a challenge with a teacher shortage, as many schools are today.

“We still have teaching openings from day one, and that’s a loss to our students,” Clendening said. “I think in the future, we’re not going to be seeing kids choose education as a career opportunity, and we need great people to lead our students.”

Another future challenge for Franklin schools is handling growth, he said, with new homes coming to Franklin.

On the higher education side, a goal and challenge for Prather is growing enrollment at Franklin College, he said. The college is focused and “pulls out all the stops” on enrollment. But that will continue to be a challenge as the higher education world becomes more competitive and Franklin College competes with state schools as a more expensive, smaller private school.

“That’s just a tough place to be in our sector of higher education where we’re delivering the most expensive version of higher education,” Prather said.

Prather, though, also said the college is focusing on growth in its STEM and technology programs, and the college continues its partnerships with Johnson Memorial for the health science graduate programs and its exercise science undergraduate program. He added he wants to be more involved with the city in economic development opportunities.

Dunkle said his goal is to continue on focusing to promote a healthier Johnson County. He also wants to see people support Johnson Memorial and use its services. He added that local hospital systems have lower health care costs compared to larger organizations in the state.

“I want to work closer with businesses to bring health care costs down, improve access to better health care, to again make a healthier Johnson County,” Dunkle said.

Like with teachers, workforce retention is a challenge in the health care industry, as well.

With recruitment and retention, he emphasized the importance of collaboration with local leaders to create a great community where people want to work and live.

“I need a great city to attract talent,” Dunkle said. “We have more open positions than we’ve ever had in history.”

He emphasized again that everything he, Barnett, Prather and Clendening do is intertwined in some way. JMH, for example, has partnerships with both Franklin College in its health programs and the new athletic annex that just opened. The health system also operates the school nursing services at Franklin Community Schools.

JMH is the top employer in Franklin. Barnett said the hospital is the reason the city’s average wage is higher than the rest of the county, because of the number of jobs in the medical field.

“That’s an asset for the city of Franklin … we have a good strong economic driver here,” Barnett said.

Clendening and Prather both commended the community and businesses for allowing students to collaborate with them in a number of ways. Clendening mentioned how the schools partner with businesses such as Innovative 3D Manufacturing to provide internships.

“They reached out and said, ‘Let me help you. Let me help the kids,’” Clendening said.

Prather also said many students at Franklin College get hands on work opportunities with the businesses around Franklin because of the connections to the community.

He and his wife recently started a tradition where they take incoming freshmen to The Historic Artcraft Theatre at the beginning of each school year. The event is the start of getting students acclimated into the community, he said.

“They get to walk through the streets for the first time to get an introduction to where the businesses are, and Mayor Barnett comes to talk to them about the fact that they are now citizens of Franklin and that makes them feel welcome,” Prather said.

Barnett also commended the businesses of Franklin, for being good partners to help the city, the schools and JMH thrive as well.

“This is what makes Franklin great. It’s really not us. We’re just doing our jobs. We have a great community to work with,” Barnett said.