The Cherokee County School Board during its meeting Thursday approved extending Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower’s contract through June 2024 and adopted its annual Legislative Partnership Priorities.
Dr. Hightower, a 34-year-educator, is now in his 5th school year as Superintendent for CCSD, the State’s 9th largest school district and Cherokee County’s largest employer. CCSD’s numerous accomplishments under his leadership include the successful renewal of AdvancEd accreditation; the development of the Blueprint long-range strategic plan; the launch of its nationally recognized Social and Emotional Learning program; the strengthening of classroom instruction districtwide through initiatives including rigorous curriculum design, balanced literacy and blended learning with instructional technology; safety and security upgrades throughout the District; improving the School District’s credit ratings by significantly reducing its debt; and achieving gains in student performance, including the highest-ever graduation rate using the State’s cohort model of 90.3% for the Class of 2020. The new contract goes into effect July 1, 2021.
“Dr. Hightower has inspired my continued confidence more than ever with his strength of spirit and servant’s heart over these last six months, facing challenges never seen before in public education,” said School Board Chair Kyla Cromer. “With his eye always focused on what is best for our students, he is the right leader at the right time to guide us through the challenges and the unknowns that lie ahead. The Board is happy to be able to extend his contract for another three years.”
Dr. Hightower, whose tenure already exceeds the national average for school superintendents of less than three years, said he is looking forward to further improvements for CCSD, including the development of a permanent Virtual Academy for online learning, beginning next school year initially with Grade 9-12; exploring the possible opening of a College and Career Academy for high school students interested in additional career and technical class choices; and working with committees of students, parents and employees to improve diversity, equity and inclusivity throughout CCSD.
“It’s been the honor of a lifetime to lead our School District for the past five years, and I’ve never been so proud of our employees as I have been this past year,” Dr. Hightower said. “Our teachers, support staff, and administrators together continue to rise up to overcome incredible obstacles to continue serving our students, both those learning in our schools and those learning at home. What’s been even more impressive has been their dedication to improvement during this time and the innovative solutions developed to better teach classes, serve meals, provide technology, and care for every child. I could not successfully lead without their willingness to serve, and I am grateful for all of them.”
The School Board on Thursday also approved its 2021 Legislative Partnership Priorities, an annual list outlining its stand on education issues anticipated to come up for a vote before the State Legislature. The list will be discussed with Cherokee County’s state legislative delegation at a meeting next month.
The primary concern for the upcoming session is State funding for education, which for the current school year was cut by 10% - amounting to a $23.3 Million loss for CCSD. The School Board is asking legislators to not only restore that funding, but to consider holding districts harmless for enrollment declines and additional funding for the higher costs of operating schools during a pandemic (CCSD already has invested an additional $8 Million in these expenses), and to raise funding for education to fully cover the actual cost of services, such as Special Education and transportation.
The School Board’s other priorities outlined in the report, which is online here, include: lobbying for the return of a second diploma option focused on workforce readiness skills; opposing the use of State tax dollars for private school and home school vouchers; maintaining local control and management schools, including the ability to set local school year calendars; and protecting Teacher Retirement System benefits for future educators.
During the meeting, School Board members entered into a lengthy discussion about student mask usage and whether a mask mandate would be effective. No vote was taken but the Board may discuss the issue further at the December meeting.
Chief Academic Officer Dr. Nicole Holmes shared status updates on the Senior Experience (which replaced the Senior Project/Capstone), High School English curriculum design, the launch of a CCSD Virtual Academy in August 2021 and the planning work underway for a CCSD Career Academy.
The School Board also:
- Recognized Clark Creek ES STEM Academy Teacher Karen Garland, named the 2020 Agriculture in the Classroom Teacher of the Year by Georgia Farm Bureau;
- Recognized three CCSD students named to the State School Superintendent's 2020-21 Student Advisory Council;
- Recognized CCSD's Georgia High School Association State and Regional Champions;
- Approved the final reading of updates, due to new federal regulations, to the School Board Policy regarding harassment;
- Approved monthly financial reports;
- Approved the designation and disposition of surplus property;
- Approved the adoption of health curriculum resources for sixth grade;
- Approved out of state and overnight field trip requests (all are for the 2021-22 school year);
- Approved the monthly update on Capital Outlay Projects;
- Approved special lease agreements;
- Approved resolutions to certify the closeout for the recently constructed Mill Creek MS classroom addition and the Sequoyah HS Healthcare Science lab; and
- Approved the monthly personnel report.
The next School Board meeting is Dec. 10, 2020