State School Superintendent Richard Woods toured Portal Middle High School on Tuesday and said he saw some things that make a little school look like a big one.
Woods, the elected chief of the Georgia Department of Education, spent an hour on the Portal campus at the end of the school day. Portal Middle High was the fourth school he visited Tuesday and the only one in Bulloch County. First elected in 2014, in two years as superintendent he has visited, he said, almost 90 of Georgia’s 181 public school districts.
“Schools are back in session, and we’re wanting to go out and just kind of listen and see what’s going on to see how we can help those at the local level do their job and how we can serve them better up at Atlanta, but also how can we brag about the wonderful things that are going on, and today I think we’ve seen some great examples.”
Portal Middle High, which includes grades six through 12 and hosts a prekindergarten, has about 440 students. Principal Patrick Hill guided Woods to classrooms and conversations that highlighted the availability of career, technical and agricultural education, or CTAE, as well as art and foreign language instruction to Portal’s students.
Woods talked with agriculture teacher Dr. Tom Marshall and his horticulture classes. They visited the greenhouses where students grow poinsettias for sale in November and December and lettuce in hydroponic columns for consumption in the school’s cafeteria.
Between seeing artworks such as louvred doors students decorated in the styles of influential artists, and a mural, made of bottle caps, portraying the school and its rural surroundings, the state superintendent chatted with visual arts and drama teacher Deena Scarborough. In the floral design class, teacher Yvette Crick paused to talk before showing students, some of whom already have part-time jobs at floral shops, how to turn a piece of ribbon into a florist’s bow.
“We appreciate his support of the CTAE programs,” Crick said. “It helps students grow. Not only are academics important, but we feel like their having some opportunities to develop some skills in a business area is so important.”
Visiting the Spanish II class, Woods heard from Shannon Hattaway, the school’s most recent teacher of the year, about a desire for shared objectives in foreign language instruction.
He suggested Hattaway offer ideas to the Department of Education. Asked how teachers generally can contact him, Woods said they can log onto the GDOE website and email him directly.
Finally, he dropped by band class, where director John Gleissner had students musician play a few notes of the alma mater.
“I think Portal, even though they had said, ‘Well, we’re kind of a small school,’ with what they are doing they made a small school into a big school,” Woods said.
“The opportunities, looking at horticulture or floral design and art and the band, really those are the kinds of things that sometimes get cut out, but because of the dedication of the superintendent and the administration and the board of education here, it’s giving your kids a lot of great opportunity,” he said.
Athletic facility opens
Portal Middle High School hosts another big event Wednesday. An open house, with public tours, of the new $999,644 locally funded expansion of the school’s athletic complex is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. The addition on the back of the school includes a fieldhouse for use in multiple sports, concession stands and improved handicap accessibility for the football field.
Meanwhile, Woods plans to see 12 schools in three days this week. The Screven County, Jenkins County and Burke County schools are other nearby systems he has visited. He is scheduled to tour schools in the Augusta area Wednesday.
ESSA town hall
While in Augusta, he will hold a town hall meeting for input on how the state moves forward with federal expectations and funding under the new Every Student Succeeds Act.
Approved with bipartisan support in Congress last year and signed into law Dec. 10 by President Barack Obama, the ESSA replaces the federal education law called No Child Left Behind.
“One of the exciting things about that is that they seem to returning education back to the states and more importantly to the local level,” Woods said. “So it’s our charge to take this flexibility and develop the very best education system for Georgia.”
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.