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BOE enters 2019 with new member
Redesigned websites for all schools launched
BOE Newkirk Sworn 01.12.19x (1).jpg
April Newkirk, with her left hand on the Bible, is sworn in as the new Bulloch County Board of Education member from District 4 by Probate Judge Lorna DeLoach, right. Accompanying Newkirk are her husband, Nick, and their children, from left, Nolan, Nathan and Nicholas. (AL HACKLE/staff)

With its organizational meeting last week, the Bulloch County Board of Education officially entered 2019 with one new board member, 17 newly redesigned websites and some thoughts toward the calendar for the school year after next.

April C. Newkirk was sworn in as the new BOE member from District 4 during a 6 p.m. ceremony before Thursday's 6:30 p.m. meeting. Elected last May 22, Newkirk then had to wait more than seven months to join the board, since Georgia's nonpartisan general elections, such as those for school board, coincide with the party primaries. She succeeds Steve Hein, who represented District 4 for eight years and did not seek re-election in 2018.

"I'm ready to get in there and see what needs to be done," Newkirk said. "I'm ready to pick up where Steve left off. He did a tremendous job, and I'm excited to pick up as far as representing the district and the kids here."

As an instructor in Georgia Southern University's College of Education, Newkirk teaches elementary school teachers. She completed a two-day Georgia School Boards Association new-member training session last fall.

Bulloch County Probate Court Judge Lorna DeLoach administered the vows of office separately to Newkirk and returning District 2 BOE member Mike Sparks, District 5 BOE member Glennera Martin and District 6 BOE member Jimmy "Jay" Cook Jr. Martin won re-election over a challenger last May, while Sparks and Cook were unopposed.

As other members remarked, with Newkirk's arrival there are now four women and four men on the school board. Some remembered when there was just one woman on the board.

After opening the meeting, the board's first action was to choose its chair and vice chair for the year. On nominating motions and seconds from other members, Sparks was unanimously reappointed as chair and District 7 member Heather Mims as vice chair. They were first chosen for those roles in January 2018.

New websites

The Bulloch County Schools arrived in 2019 with newly redesigned websites, as school system Public Relations and Marketing Specialist Hayley Greene announced.

"We've launched the new websites for not only the district but all 15 schools and the Transitions Learning Center, so it's 17 sites total," she said. "It's a culmination of about 10 months of work, and it's not only a redesign of our homepages for all of those 17 sites but also a move to a Version 2 of our platform."

The school system uses a content management system provided by a vendor called School Loop, which provided the upgrade plus training for all the webmasters for $3,800, Greene said. The same address, www.bulloch.k12.ga.us, still opens the Bulloch County Schools homepage.

Principals and webmasters have autonomy in choosing the campus news posted on the school sites, Greene noted. Individual teacher webpages were linked to the schools' new sites without having to be changed, she said.

A major reason for the update was a recent federal ruling requiring all websites for public kindergarten through 12th-grade schools to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, particularly for people who are visually impaired, Greene said. The sites are now ADA-compliant for people who use reader software.

"We also improved the browsing of our sites," she said. "All of our sites are now what we call fully responsive, so regardless of how you're accessing the sites, whether on a laptop, … a cellphone or a tablet, that screen is going to be fully responsive and resize itself."

Calendar 2020–21

The board also heard an update on the work of the School Calendar Committee from Chief Financial Officer Troy Brown. Since the board adopted calendars for both the current school year and the upcoming 2019–2020 term in early 2018, the committee is now planning the calendar for 2020–21.

The school councils, made up of parents and other community members, teachers and staff members at each school, were asked for input on creating options for the calendar. A survey will again be used to ask all school employees which option they think is best for students, Brown said.

Parents and other community members who attend the school system's annual Speak Up for Education event, Feb. 28, can also take part in a discussion of the school calendar, Superintendent Charles Wilson said. Speak Up, the countywide forum on school issues, will be held at Statesboro High School and will take the place of what would otherwise be a 5:30–8 p.m. Board of Education meeting.

In the allotted time, participants will be able to attend two of the several topical sessions offered. Social media, social and emotional learning, school safety, literacy initiatives and things parents can do at home to support their children's academic success are topics he announced, in addition to development of the calendar.

Sex education

With no major policy or business decisions to make at the organizational meeting, Wilson asked staff members to report to the board on various topics. These also included updates on classroom technology purchases and the ongoing development of proficiency scales for measuring students' mastery of course content.

The board also heard an update on the sex education curriculum, in response to a request that members made after approving a new sex education policy in November. More about this will be reported in a separate story. 

Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.