At this year’s Speak Up for Education, some principals told parents how increased flexibility in how money is spent and teachers are assigned will be put to use in school improvement plans.
For example, Langston Chapel Elementary School is already trying some flexibility. The school is using money that had been earmarked for hiring three additional teachers to instead employ 16 certified teachers as long-term substitutes who work as the second teacher in a classroom for a set number of days.
“I got to pilot it, so this would be under part of the waiver conditions of what we’re looking for in the future,” LCES Principal Dr. Shawn Haralson told parents.
Speak Up for Education is the Bulloch County Board of Education’s annual joint meeting with the appointed councils of the 15 schools, with all other parents invited. Not counting children who were signed in for the provided free child care, 218 people signed in the night of Feb. 26 at Julia P. Bryant Elementary School.
The 2015 Speak Up also served as the public hearing for the Bulloch County Schools’ application to become an Investing in Educational Excellence, or IE2, school system.
In return for school-specific plans to improve learning, the district will receive waivers from state rules on such things as class sizes, teacher certification, salary schedules and spending controls that tie funds to specific purposes.
Each school must either score in the top quartile on the College and Career Ready Performance Index, or CCRPI, or close the gap between its current score and 100 percent by 3 percent annually. As parents heard in the opening assembly, and again in classrooms where groups from each school met separately, 3 percent of the gap is less than three full points of the total score.
In 2014, Langston Chapel Elementary had the second-lowest CCRPI score, 57.1, among Bulloch County’s nine elementary schools.
After enrollment growth, LCES is also operating at 99 percent of its building’s capacity, prompting short-range changes in transportation zones to provide relief next school year.
Its student body is one of the county’s most diverse. After each statement Haralson made, Marisela Hernandez, mother of an LCES kindergartner, translated the ideas for Spanish-speaking parents.
Haralson explained that the school earned three teaching positions because of its enrollment numbers but that those teachers would have reduced overall class sizes by only about two students per classroom.
So he submitted a plan to Superintendent Charles Wilson and Chief Financial Officer Troy Brown and was able to hire certified teachers as long-term subs to go into every kindergarten through second-grade classroom.
While the regular teacher is teaching most of the students at the regular pace, the additional teacher meets with a smaller group of students to address specific needs. This happens all day, with the extra teachers working in rotation with different groups, as few as three or four children at a time, Haralson said.
“This is definitely where we want to go,” he said. “We have seen children in the past four and a half weeks that have known zero sight words that know 25 now.”
With the state’s focus on “growth” in CCRPI scores, this kind of improvement could quickly add up, he told parents.
In the classroom next door, Stilson Elementary School Principal Pam Goodman told parents about the school’s improvement planning. Stilson’s CCRPI score last year, 69.1, was in the middle for the elementary schools, between a low of 56 at Mattie Lively and a high of 83.8 at Brooklet.
Stilson Elementary has scheduled its physical education, art and music teachers and media specialist to provide targeted instruction in math, reading and language arts during Intervention and Enrichment time.
For example, physical education teacher Bob Ware, who has a degree in math, works with fifth-grade students. Media specialist Kathryn Hodges, with certification and experience as a classroom teacher, works with fourth-graders.
Kindergarten through second grade have Intervention and Enrichment in the morning; third through fifth grade, in the afternoon.
This does not require a waiver, but Goodman suggested that waivers could be used in the future.
“We may have to do some creative thinking as far as how we are scheduling our classes, how we are using our personnel in our school, how we’re using our resources and what we need to have as far as materials go. …,” she told parents and teachers. “Part of that flexibility will be that we will have more control of our funding at our school.”
Portal Middle High School, with CCRPI scores of 78.6 for its high school and 75.2 for middle grades, ranked among Bulloch County’s highest performing schools in 2014. But these schools will still need to show improvement.
2015-16 will be the baseline year for the five-year contract with the state, so last year’s scores are being used just for planning.
Portal Middle High’s tentative plan includes, among other things, working with Ogeechee Technical College, East Georgia State College and Statesboro High School to provide more career and technical education choices and rigorous courses. The school is also looking at having teachers serve as advisers.
The school’s leadership team has yet to decide which waivers may be used but is considering certain areas, PMHS Principal Dr. Karen Doty said in an interview.
“One is with our middle school scheduling. One is with certification,” she said. “A lot of times, it’s hard to find teachers for certain subject areas. Math is especially hard to find, so if we couldn’t find a math teacher but there is a professor at Georgia Southern who didn’t have a teaching certification, we might hire them part-time to teach our kids.”
Groups representing various schools also talked about other things, including potential scheduling and zoning changes, the new Georgia Milestones tests, and echoing last year’s topic, the Common Core State Standards.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.