Cherokee Retired Educators Association member Dr. Susan Padgett-Harrison, center, who was joined at the meeting by fellow Association member Bonny Keheley, far right, speaks during the School Board meeting following its approval of a proclamation in honor of Retired Educators Day on Sunday, Nov. 1.
The Cherokee County School Board on Thursday heard an update on potential State funding concerns for next school year.
During its pre-meeting work session, School Board members began the planning work for its annual Legislative Partnership Priorities, a list of top issues it would like to see addressed by Cherokee County’s State legislators during the General Assembly Session. The report typically is shared by the School Board with the Delegation at a meeting in early December prior to the legislative session’s start in January.
As part of that planning work, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower and his staff updated the School Board on issues anticipated to come up during the legislative session that could impact the School District. The School Board over the next two weeks will share its suggestions with staff, and a draft report will be presented for approval at the November meeting.
Chief of Staff Mike McGowan during his work session presentation focused on three funding concerns: the 10% State educational funding reduction passed on to school districts this year, which cost CCSD $25 Million, and the uncertainty as to whether it will continue for next school year; the impact of lower student enrollment due to the pandemic, which could result in a $6 Million decrease for CCSD in State educational funding for next school year; and the rising costs related to operating school during a pandemic, which so far have cost CCSD more than $8 Million for expenses ranging from additional custodial staffing, cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment to increased staffing and technology costs for Digital Learning services to installing 59,000 upgraded air filters and replacing water fountains with water bottle-filling stations.
Dr. Hightower had the opportunity, along with several other Superintendents, to speak with the Governor this week about these rising costs.
“He was very attentive,” Dr. Hightower said. “These issues are on the Governor’s radar.”
The School Board during its work session also heard an update on CCSD’s continuing Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) initiative to provide more support for the well-being of students and staff.
The initiative, in its second year, now is under the guidance of Dr. Ben Lester, former Principal of Teasley MS who was appointed in the spring to oversee CCSD’s student support services including SEL. The focus this year is to build on the SEL foundation set last year by Dr. Debra Murdock, who now serves as Chief Operations Officer.
“This work is more important than ever before,” she said, adding that she is thankful for the School Board’s continued support of SEL, noting that CCSD’s initiative is viewed as a model by school districts across the country. “We’re a trailblazer in this work.”
Last month, CCSD rolled out new SEL-embedded curriculum for grades 6-12, with work by a design team to begin next month on creating similar curriculum for grades PreK through fifth. In August, CCSD launched its CCSD Redemption Plan, which provides students the opportunity to reduce out-of-school suspensions and other disciplinary action by participating in positive behavior activities including counseling sessions and community service, while also making academic progress and meeting strict attendance requirements.
A second year of the successful Parent University program in partnership with Cherokee County Council of PTA is planned, with issues including student mental health and culture and inclusivity being eyed as session topics. Several additional SEL pilot programs are underway at schools to test different models focused on increasing positive behavior and student wellness; and the CCSD Wellness Committee focused on supporting the health and wellness of employees will reconvene this month. Both Board Chair Kyla Cromer and Board Member Kelly Poole expressed appreciation and praise for CCSD’s SEL work so far and the further improvements underway for this school year.
During the work session, the School Board also heard an update on ongoing construction projects, including the agriculture science lab building at Creekview HS, which is set to open next semester; and the additional classrooms at Woodstock MS and a second gym at Woodstock HS, which both are on schedule to be completed next August. The School Board also reviewed the new system for annual employee evaluations, which have been updated to align with CCSD’s Blueprint long-range strategic plan for continued improvement.
The School Board also:
- Recognized, during School Board member announcements: the recent ribbon cutting for the Mountain Education Charter High School campus hosted at Etowah East to offer an evening high school program choice for students; the extension of USDA funding to provide free meals to all students through the end of the school year; Tippens Education Center for hosting the School Board monthly luncheon; and that Ellie’s Day, named in honor of CCSD student who passed away, is on Oct. 20, and everyone is encouraged to plan acts of kindness and wear yellow.
- Recognized CCSD’s 2020 Support Staff Employees of the Year Honorees;
- Recognized CCSD’s 2020 Partner of the Year Honorees;
- Approved a proclamation in honor of Retired Educators Day and heard remarks from Cherokee Retired Educators Association member Dr. Susan Padgett-Harrison, who was joined at the meeting by fellow Association member Bonny Keheley;
- Approved the first reading of updates, due to new federal regulations, to the School Board Policy regarding harassment;
- Approved monthly financial reports;
- Approved the monthly update on Capital Outlay Projects;
- Approved the release of easements for a sewer outfall line no longer needed at Free Home ES back to the former property owner;
- Approved the monthly personnel update; and,
- Met in executive session to consider a student discipline, personnel and real estate matters.
The next School Board meeting is Nov. 19, 2020