County school board members briefed on construction projects, safety and virtual education

Ryan Anderson/Daily Citizen-News

The new gym at Westside Middle School is nearly finished, pending completion of some flooring, and "it should be ready by the end of the month," said Judy Gilreath, superintendent of Whitfield County Schools. The former gym had to be torn down so the new gym could rise in its place, as school administrators wanted a gym connected to the rest of the school building. 

The members of the Whitfield County Board of Education heard about progress in virtual education, safety and security updates, and construction projects during their meeting this week.

"We've provided a lot of training for teachers to teach online," since essentially all teachers are instructing traditionally and virtually due to the new coronavirus (COVID-19) that led approximately 30% of Whitfield County Schools students to opt for virtual instruction, at least to start the year, said Superintendent Judy Gilreath. "We also bought some software to help them."

Little SIS, for example, can "provide support staff, coaches and school leaders (with) insight, visibility and fine-grained administrative powers over defined sets of classes in Google Classroom," according to the school system. That includes being able to see a snapshot of a teacher’s classroom, join a teacher’s classroom as a co-teacher or student for a specified time period, or change the primary teacher of a classroom.

The system has purchased a license for Screencastify that makes creating, editing and sharing videos easier for all staff and students, according to the system. The program also offers the opportunity to create audio files and animated GIFs.

Safety and security

Richard Knox, the system's safety coordinator, presented safety updates.

The system continues to partner with the Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office for school resource officers, school detectives and school safety specialists, according to Knox. Each building also has a school safety coordinator, and they meet monthly.

Protection from COVID-19 is also a crucial part of school safety during the pandemic, and the system has provided two masks per employee, as well as a mask for every student, Knox noted. The system has also added gallon containers of hand sanitizer with pumps for classrooms and hand sanitizer dispensers throughout buildings. While the system isn’t mandating that masks be worn, it is strongly encouraging them.

Construction

The new gym at Westside Middle School is nearly finished, pending completion of some flooring. The gym has an additional classroom, a weight room and a concession stand.

"It should be ready by the end of the month," Gilreath said. The former gym had to be torn down so the new gym could rise in its place, as school administrators wanted a gym connected to the rest of the school building.

Testing

The composite score for Whitfield County Schools students on the SAT increased in 2020 to 1,027 from 1,025 last year and 1,024 in 2018, according to Audrey Williams, assistant superintendent for accountability and assessment. The number of test takers was down in 2020 to 346 from 360 in 2019, but in line with 2018's 342.

Currently, the Georgia Milestones End-of-Course test counts for 20% of a student’s final grade in a course requiring such tests, but on Oct. 1, State Schools Superintendent Richard Woods "recommended the initiation of rulemaking procedures to change the weight of the End-of-Course test from 20% to .01% for the 2020-21 school year," since schools switched to total virtual learning in mid-March of the last school year because of the pandemic, and some have yet to return to in-person classes, according to the state Department of Education. The State Board of Education denied the request, instead proposing to change the figure from 20% to 10%.

Residents are invited to participate in a survey on the matter that is open through Nov. 16. The survey can be found at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/3TWWTMZ.

Spending

The school board members approved several purchase orders related to the new North Whitfield Middle School, which is slated to open for the 2021-22 academic year, including $110,504 to North Georgia EMC for site lighting for new construction, $55,211 to Telenet Inc. for security equipment, and $53,192 to Telenet for speakers, cables and other materials.

The system is utilizing Educational Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax V (ESPLOST) funds for those purchases, Gilreath said. In Georgia, systems don't receive full state funding for major capital projects, such as constructing new schools, so local sales taxes like ESPLOST are the main revenue source for those efforts, and all of the newer schools and renovations in this system have been financed primarily by an ESPLOST.

The school board members also approved $257,172 for reimbursement for services to NorthStar Educational and Therapeutic Services for the 2020-21 academic year.

"We share (NorthStar) with Dalton Public Schools and Murray County Schools, and we all pay an amount every year for their services for students with the most serious emotional difficulties," Gilreath said. "They have a lot more psychologists ... than we do in the schools, so they can give more intense counseling."

The school board members approved an agreement with Gordon County Schools to carry Whitfield County Schools students to the Georgia School for the Deaf in Cave Spring for the 2020-21 academic year. Whitfield County Schools will reimburse Gordon County Schools $20,500.

"We have two or three deaf children who have chosen to go to Cave Spring," Gilreath said. "We carry them to the Gordon County line, then Gordon County takes them to Cave Spring; we do this every year, and the price is the same as last year."

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