The Cherokee County School Board at its strategic work session on Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021 heard an opening of school report, including efforts being made to maintain in-person school operations.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower and his staff presented the School Board with an update on the opening, both highlighting news like enrollment growth and the Governor’s visit, and addressing COVID-19’s impact on staffing and implemented solutions. The full report is included below.
“We are closely monitoring caseloads in our schools and community and taking steps to ensure we have the staffing needed to continue in-person school,” Dr. Hightower said, noting that a new central office substitute relief plan will be implemented Monday among other measures. “From central office certified staff rotating into schools as substitute teachers to classified staff working cafeteria lines to CDL-licensed transportation office staff driving bus routes, we’re ready to bridge the gap and serve.”
CCSD 2021-22 OPENING OF SCHOOL UDPATE
The Cherokee County School District, for the second school year during the pandemic, opened on time with both in-person and Digital Learning options for students. Student enrollment has increased this school year to 41,912 students, which is 974 students over projection. Enrollment continues to increase daily, which is in alignment with historical data, with an expected peak on the 20th day of school.
Parents have shared significant positive feedback in appreciation of the opportunity to return to in-person school, as well as the continued offering of a digital alternative. There are 905 students enrolled in Digital Learning in Grades K-12, and an additional 140 high school students participating in our inaugural class of i-Grad Virtual Academy students. The CCSD Digital Learning program was overhauled for this school year to improve instruction and engagement opportunities for students.
Highlights from the opening of school have included:
- CCSD launched two new instructional programs: i-Grad Virtual Academy, a permanent online school choice for CCSD students in Grades 9-12 with the potential to expand to additional grades in the future; and the first course offering for the planned Cherokee College & Career Academy: Cybersecurity, a new Career Pathway program for CCSD open to students from all CCSD high schools.
- CCSD welcomed Governor Brian Kemp and First Lady Marty Kemp to Ball Ground Elementary School STEM Academy to celebrate the new school year and thank the Cherokee County community for working together to return to in-person learning on time last school year and again this school year.
- CCSD students continued to exceed State averages on Georgia Milestones tests, as announced by the Georgia Department of Education this week, thanks to the efforts of teachers and support staff to overcome the pandemic’s challenges to deliver the best instruction possible to every student.
- Two CCSD schools – Indian Knoll Elementary School and Macedonia Elementary School – earned the prestigious School Bell Award for excellence in education from the Georgia Association of Elementary School Principals. Clark Creek Elementary School STEM Academy earned the Association’s Education Patron Award for its outstanding partnership with EF2 Education First Fund Realty Team.
- Clark Creek ES STEM Academy also earned its second Georgia Title I Distinguished School award, earning it the opportunity for national recognition for its students’ academic progress and successes thanks to their dedicated teachers and support staff.
- Two CCSD schools – River Ridge High School and Woodstock High School – have been named National PTA School of Excellence winners for their collaboration to encourage family engagement in schools.
- Oak Grove Elementary School opened this school year with a new vision as STEAM Academy, blending arts and STEM education, and is hard at work to earn State STEAM certification in the spring.
- CCSD implemented the Parent Square system to improve school communications to parents with emails sent directly to parents’ inboxes and the option to download an app for messaging customization.
CURRENT SCHOOL COVID-19 MITIGATION EFFORTS
- Students and staff who have tested positive for COVID-19 or are awaiting a pending test must not return to school until they meet the Georgia Department of Public Health’s (DPH) Return to School Guidance After COVID-19 Illness. We expect employees and students' parents to follow doctor's instructions, including if they are told to quarantine due to a positive case in their household. Additionally, students and staff must not come to school with a fever of 100.4 or higher, and must not come to school until they have been fever-free, without the use of fever-reducing medication, for at least 24 hours.
- Parents are advised by email notification whenever a positive COVID-19 case is reported in their child’s classroom, on their bus, on their CCSD athletic team, etc. Notification is sent to the entire class/bus/team rather than only students sitting within a 6-foot radius for 15 minutes; this is a change from last school year due to the increased rate of transmission of the Delta Variant.
- Parent notifications of a positive COVID-19 case in their child’s classroom/bus/team are sent based on positive lab result, note from a physician, or parent notification of a home COVID-19 test kit. The acceptance of home test kit results is a change from last school year; this acceptance is due to the increased demand for testing in the community.
- CCSD provides DPH with a report every week of all positive COVID-19 cases among students and staff reported to CCSD. Additionally, per protocol, DPH will inform CCSD of cases that have been reported to their offices by health departments/physicians, but which were not reported by parents to CCSD.
- CCSD COVID-19 information and resources, including a report posted every Friday of all active cases among students and staff, are included on the bulletin board community resources page at https://www.cherokeek12.net/content/ccsd-bulletin-board.
- CCSD is closely monitoring schools for significant clusters of cases, which is when numerous students and/or staff test positive in one classroom or other contained group at the same time. Seating charts have been created for classrooms and buses to identify any significant clusters of cases in consultation with DPH.
- Teachers are expected to upload lessons and materials into the Canvas learning management system for the next week by Sunday evening. This new step for this school year enables an easier transition for remote learning, whether for an individual student who is sick or whose parents have decided to self-quarantine due to positive closure, as well as in preparation should a classroom require temporary closure.
- Custodial staffing remains increased for all schools, including staff specifically designated to sanitize high-touch areas during the day and to conduct after-hours sanitization of areas impacted by infections.
- School air filters (59,000) have been upgraded to the highest level possible for our HVAC systems (MERV 13).
- Plexiglass remains installed in fixed high-traffic locations such as cashier’s stations and front offices.
- Teachers, staff and students are provided with reusable masks upon request. The use of masks is encouraged when physical distancing is not possible.
- Teachers and staff are provided with plastic face shields upon request.
- Staff are provided with other personal protective equipment related to specific jobs, such as school nurses and cafeteria staff.
- All classrooms are provided with food-safe, quick-drying surface cleaner and hand sanitizer.
- Frequent hand washing and/or use of hand sanitizer and other best hygiene practices are encouraged among students by teachers and staff.
- Additional school nurses have been hired to serve as districtwide substitute nurses in addition to CCSD’s three lead school nurses who serve as substitutes as needed.
- Visitors and volunteers have been permitted in schools, but extended visits in classrooms and to cafeterias to share lunch with their children/grandchildren are not approved to begin until Sept. 1.
- Student assemblies have been held in schools the first two weeks of school, but none are scheduled for the next two weeks and large events attended by parents during school hours are not approved to begin until Sept. 1.
- CCSD athletic programs are adhering to Georgia High Schools Association guidelines/CCSD Return to Play protocols.
- The use of video conferencing via Microsoft Teams is encouraged for school staff meetings.
- Facility Use Agreements for community use of schools in the evenings/on weekends must include a COVID-19 mitigation plan prior to approval.
CURRENT CENTRAL OFFICE COVID-19 MITIGATION EFFORTS
- An additional 80 substitute teachers have been processed this week to join the current pool of 600+ trained substitutes. Additional substitute training workshops have been scheduled.
- A new plan is in place to use central office staff to substitute in schools as needed (certified staff in classroom roles; classified staff in cafeteria roles).
- Transportation has instituted a new $200 referral fee for CCSD employees, excluding the Superintendent and his senior staff, who successfully recruit a new bus driver; this measure will help with overall recruiting and most immediately to help increase its permanent pool of relief drivers.
- Meetings with school staff will be held by video conference via Microsoft Teams.
- Professional development in-person training sessions scheduled for the next two weeks have been postponed.
- Deadlines for specific school reporting requirements have been extended.
The School Board during its regular meeting welcomed its 2021-22 Student Advisor to School Board and Student Delegates for their first meeting.
The School Board has included a Student Advisor position on its board since 1999, and for the past 11 years, a Student Delegate from each high school also has been selected. These students serve for one year to give input and feedback to the School Board; the advisor role is
rotated among the district's high schools.
This year's Student Advisor is Jason Adkins of Woodstock High School. The Student Delegates are: Lillie Cate Ergle of Cherokee High School; Ty Hubert of Creekview High School; Emily Collins of Etowah High School; Brian Bradley of River Ridge High School; and Elyse Robbins of Sequoyah High School.
The School Board during its regular meeting also took the following action:
- Recognized the Georgia Association of Elementary School Principals' School Bell Award winners: Indian Knoll ES and Macedonia ES, and Education Patron Award winner, Clark Creek ES STEM Academy for its partnership with EF2 Education First Fund Realty Team;
- Recognized CCSD’s Office of Financial Management for earning the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting from the Government Financial Officers Association for its Fiscal Year 2020 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report;
- Recognized Clark Creek Elementary School STEM Academy for being named a 2021 Georgia Title I Distinguished School;
- Recognized River Ridge High School and Woodstock High School as winners of the National PTA School of Excellence Award;
- Approved the renewal of partnership agreements with the American Heart Association and The City of Woodstock;
- Approved the first reading to changes to School Board Policy: Internet Acceptable Use related to the new Career Pathway in cybersecurity;
- Approved monthly financial reports;
- Approved authorized school fundraising activities for the 2021-22 school year;
- Approved out-of-state travel requests for staff;
- Approved out-of-state and overnight field trips requests for students;
- Approved 2021-2022 School Improvement Plans;
- Approved the monthly Capital Outlay Projects update;
- Approved special lease agreements;
- Approved the State-required capital outlay funding application for the proposed construction of a replacement Cherokee High School campus and renovation and improvement of R.M. Moore ES STEM Academy;
- Approved the monthly personnel report; and,
- Approved the annual contract and memorandum of understanding with Ninth District Opportunity Inc. for the Head Start preschool program for the 2021-22 school year.