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Board Business Briefs: School Board Reviews Blueprint Goals

Board Business Briefs: School Board Reviews Blueprint Goals

Woodstock Middle School seventh-grader Sawyer Swift listens as the recognition is read honoring him as the Cherokee County winner for the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District's 20th Annual Water Essay Contest.

The Cherokee County School Board on Thursday, Jan. 13, reviewed a progress report on accomplishing Blueprint strategic plan goals and heard operational updates including the planned expansion of CCSD’s school choice program.

School Board members, during their pre-meeting work session, heard a presentation on plans for CCSD to offer a permanent digital learning school choice option for additional grades beginning next school year.  (Note: CCSD now is livestreaming pre-meeting work sessions, and the recording from Thursday is posted online here).

The current Digital Learning pandemic response program will be discontinued after the end of this school year; the new i-Grad Virtual Academy launched this year for Grades 9-12 will be expanded for the 2022-23 school year to include Grades 4-12.  The initial enrollment will be limited to 500 students.  CCSD is expanding this school choice option in response to the needs of a specific population of students who prefer and succeed through online learning, CCSD Chief Academic Officer Dr. Nicole Holmes shared in her presentation.

Enrollment in i-Grad Virtual Academy is application based, and students will be selected based on their ability to succeed in digital learning.  Applications for the 2022-23 school year will be posted online on Feb. 1 and emailed to all CCSD parents, with a March 1 due date, which is the same timeline for CCSD’s broader school choice reassignment program.  

i-Grad is a permanent school choice; students are withdrawn from their school and enrolled into i-Grad, and seniors graduate from i-Grad.  Students are asked to make at least a one-year commitment to i-Grad as part of the application process.  Students mostly work remotely, but are expected to attend some in-person assessments and learning activities.  The in-person site for Grades 6-12 will be the i-Grad campus, which is part of the ACTIVE Academies campus in Canton; the in-person site for Grades 4-5 will be Holly Springs Elementary School STEM Academy.  

Another school choice program set to expand for the 2022-23 school year is the Cherokee College & Career Academy (C3), which offers high school students the opportunity to participate in unique Career Pathway programs not offered on their school’s campus.  The program, which is housed at the ACTIVE Academies campus, this school year launched with classes in cybersecurity.  Students travel to C3 for morning or afternoon career classes and spend the remainder of the day at their school’s campus attending core classes.  

Next school year, additional programs will be added in unmanned aircraft systems and flight operations, with opportunities for students to earn FAA certification in small unmanned aircraft systems and pilot ground operations.  Dr. Holmes said, based on initial surveys, at least several hundred students are interested in participating.  Selection of the programs was based on industry needs, and Cherokee County’s regional airport offers excellent partnership opportunities.

“That’s huge,” School Board Chair Kyla Cromer said of the alignment.  “Not every county has an airport like we have.  It’s a great thing we’re starting here.”

The School Board, during the work session, also reviewed the annual progress report on accomplishing goals outlined in CCSD’s Blueprint five-year strategic plan.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower said the report shows how CCSD continues to make progress, despite the pandemic’s challenges, on achieving improvements, from student academic progress to the organization’s overall efficiency, that stakeholders identified through the community based development of the plan.  The full report is posted online here. 

The report card shows that CCSD is on track or ahead of schedule on all measurable goals, with the exception of those that cannot be accurately measured due to the pandemic’s impact on gathering information … such as the decline in families completing free and reduced price meal forms since meals are provided at no cost to all students this school year due to USDA grant funding.

The dashboard design reflects progress on goals not yet met, such as the goal of raising the graduation rate to 93% by 2024.  The current rate of 90.8% has increased more than 15 percentage points since 2012, exceeds the State average and ranks second-highest in metro Atlanta, and which reflects 66% of the five-year goal.

While the pandemic did negatively impact some goals, it also had positive impacts on others, such as the goal to increase parent usage of the Canvas learning management system to review their child’s assignments and academic performance.  More than 34,000 parents are using Canvas, which surpasses the five-year Blueprint goal two years ahead of time.

The state of school staffing is outstanding, according to new data presented to the School Board during the work session.

CCSD’s workforce has grown to 6,497, including 4,958 full-time, 124 part-time and 1,415 substitute and temporary workers.  The total includes 2,884 teachers.  The workforce growth is due to the addition of 125 teachers above and beyond enrollment growth, which was funded with federal CARES Act pandemic grants, and increasing CCSD’s substitute pool by 400 for a total of approximately 900.  

The School Board’s investment in multiple pay raises and bonuses contributed to the strong staffing report and to the ability to maintain classroom coverage with substitutes during the current COVID-19 surge.  Additionally, so far this school year, there have been 35 resignations of certified staff (teachers, counselors, administrators, etc.) for a variety of reasons including relocation, decision to stay at home, career change – which is five fewer than at this point last year.

During the work session, the School Board also heard:

•    A report on technology improvements, including significant infrastructure upgrades planned for the coming year and the recent replacement of 8,500 school laptops with Chromebooks for student use; 
•    A report on the current COVID-19 caseload in CCSD schools and the success in opening schools in person and on time this month, as opposed to the majority of metro Atlanta school districts that shifted to virtual learning; and,
•    A report on educational issues anticipated to come up during the state legislative session, including the Governor’s proposal to end “austerity budget cuts” and fully restore state educational funding, as well as a proposal to provide raises for teachers and one-time bonuses for teachers and support staff.

During the regular meeting, the School Board:

•    Re-elected Robert “Rick Steiner” Rechsteiner as School Board Vice Chair for another one-year term in the role;
•    School Board Chair Kyla Cromer noted School Board member Mike Chapman’s announcement this week that he does not plan to seek re-election.  Mr. Chapman began his tenure on the School Board in 2002 and was elected by his fellow board members four times to serve as chairman and five times as vice chairman.  “We have appreciated serving with you,” Ms. Cromer said, noting they would save their farewells for the end of his term in December.  “We still get you for the rest of the year.”  
•    School Board members Kelly Poole and Patsy Jordan both complimented all of the students who participated in this week’s CCSD Spelling Bee, as well as the teachers and administrators who coordinated the event.  The winners will be recognized at a future School Board meeting.  Read more here about the winners; [CONTENT_REVIEW InternalLink]
•    Recognized Mill Creek Middle School teacher Ann-Margaret Somers for being named a 2022 Georgia STEM Scholar.  Read more here [CONTENT_REVIEW InternalLink]
•    Recognized Woodstock Middle School seventh-grader Sawyer Swift as the Cherokee County winner for the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District's 20th Annual Water Essay Contest.  Read more here [CONTENT_REVIEW InternalLink];
•    Approved monthly financial reports;
•    Approved a bond resolution and purchase agreement for upcoming construction projects including the replacement Cherokee High School and replacement Free Home Elementary School.  CCSD is borrowing less than authorized by voters, which will keep bond debt lower than planned and not extend the debt repayment timeline.  Due to the district’s excellent financial management, bond premiums net an additional $7.5 million in funding for school construction at no cost to taxpayers, and low interest rates (1.39%, which is the lowest paid by CCSD in at least a decade) and a seven-year borrow, as opposed to 10 years, will avoid $2 million in interest;
•    Approved out-of-state travel requests for employees;
•    Approved out-of-state and overnight field trips requests for students;
•    Approved the monthly Capital Outlay Projects update;
•    Approved special lease agreements; 
•    Approved the adoption of a resolution, required by the state government, announcing plans to phase out usage of the current Free Home Elementary School once the new replacement school is constructed;
•    Approved the monthly personnel report;
•    Approved appointments to the student disciplinary hearing tribunal panel for the second semester; and,
•    Approved the Superintendent’s organizational chart for the 2022-23 school year.