During their meeting Monday night, the Whitfield County Schools Board of Education members heard updates on math scores, construction projects and cybersecurity.

Karey Williams, assistant superintendent, noted that while the school system has poured resources into literacy in recent years — and seen positive results — math scores have also improved, especially at the elementary level.

This year, on the state’s College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI), county elementary schools scored 72.7 in math, up five points from 2018, and above the state average of 71, Williams said. Those elementary scores can be attributed at least in part to various recent initiatives by the school system, including establishing a belief system about what is truly essential in math education last year, working this year on a framework to set common instructional techniques across elementary buildings for grades kindergarten, one, and two, and developing common math units for grades K-5.

"We need to build kids up beginning in kindergarten," Williams said. Ideally, that foundation in math will only gain strength, "like a tidal wave," as students age into middle and high school, she said.

And the school system isn't focused solely on enhancing math at the elementary level, either, she said. For example, in middle schools, the school system is using common assessment reviews and — and with the aid of the Northwest Georgia Regional Educational Service Agency (RESA) — math design collaboration to enhance critical thinking, while also emphasizing increased rigor in high school honors classes and spiral review (reviewing prior units while teaching new units) in college prep classes.

The school system recently received scores for 2019 SAT takers, and more county students took the test this year, while the cumulative score also ticked up, said Audrey Williams, assistant superintendent for accountability and assessment. This year, 360 county high school students took the SAT, 18 more than in 2018, and the average score was 1,025, up from 1,024 last year.

Whitfield County Schools also closed the strategic planning survey last week after leaving it open for roughly a month and collecting input from more than 1,000 respondents, 78% of whom were staff members of the school system, she said. Next week, administrators will meet to discuss the results and begin plotting the next strategic plan.

Also during Monday's meeting, the board of education approved a $140,000 change order related to construction of a new Westside Middle School gym.

The project was broken down into two phases, the first of which was demolition, and that is now complete, said Mike Ewton, assistant superintendent for operations and student services. The change order reduces the cost of that finished phase by $140,000 and transfers that $140,000 into the second phase — construction — for "contingency allowance."

Ewton also offered a construction update to the board.

At the new Valley Point Middle School, which is set to house students beginning next fall, the final windows are being installed this week, and all the roofing is on, he said.

"We're in a good spot for them to be able to get a lot of work done during winter time," Ewton said.

Tim Shaver, director of technology, briefed the board on steps his department has taken to prevent cyberattacks.

Shaver and his team have installed "a market-leading firewall," upgraded more than 100 servers and "firewalled off" HVAC controllers to minimize access to those vulnerable systems, Shaver said. When Target was hacked in 2013, exposing the personal data of more than 70 million people, "they came in through the HVAC system," he said.

Cybersecurity threats are growing daily, and schools are becoming a prime target, especially for identity theft of children, which can prove quite lucrative for hackers, he said. Already this year, more than 500 schools nationwide have been impacted by ransomware attacks.

The next county school board meeting is Dec. 2 at the central office. The regular meeting is at 6:30 p.m. with a board work session at 5:30 p.m.

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