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Teachers put in 5 prep days + 1 training day
Bulloch schools set to welcome 10,500 students Tuesday
W 072717 BES OPEN HOUSE 04
New Brooklet Elementary School fifth grade teacher Jeneane Brown, center, welcomes new student Emily Padget, 10, mom Heather, and grandmother Vicki Davis to her classroom during Thursday's open house.

By the  time classes start  for about 10,500 Bulloch County Schools students Tuesday, their teachers will have been at work six days, including the first of four added countywide teacher training  and cooperative planning days throughout the year.

In fact, the 2017-18 school year includes just 176 class days, down from the traditional 180, under the calendar adopted by the Board of Education back in January. Under state waivers the school district can do that now, and converted the other days for planning or professional development, keeping teachers at their contractual 190 days.

“Pre-planning” workdays for teachers began last Monday and extend through this Monday. So, except for Friday being the  countywide training day, teachers had five days for the traditional prep work such as decorating classrooms and making sure books and equipment are in place. But even during those days, teachers spent some time planning together in teams called professional learning communities, or PLCs.

“We work together, collaborating to make sure that we are prepared for our children,” said Krista Branch, a fifth-grade math teacher at Brooklet Elementary School. “We work on classroom management techniques, we start our PLC process, start the lesson planning process.”

Branch has taught at Brooklet Elementary for five of her seven and a half years as a teacher. Interviewed during Thursday evening’s school open house, she explained that the teachers in a PLC keep track of data such as unit test results and note students’ deficits and areas they are strong in, planning an approach to each unit of lessons.

One thing her PLC worked on last week was how to organize “student data notebooks.” This year students in fifth grade will be guided in using these to track their own progress and set personal goals.


System-wide training

Branch was looking forward to Friday’s professional development day, where teachers from across the county met at central locations for shared training sessions geared to their grade-level or subject.

The school system central office, Julia P. Bryant Elementary School, Statesboro High School, Southeast Bulloch High School and Mattie Lively Elementary School hosted the sessions from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

As a fifth-grade math teacher, Branch was slated to meet with sixth-grade math teachers in a “vertical alignment” session about expectations for students.

“So we’re going to see where do they need to be in fifth grade, where do they need to be in sixth grade, and are we preparing the kids adequately to get there,” Branch said.


‘Guaranteed curriculum’

This coordination is part of an effort to create what school leaders call a “guaranteed and viable curriculum.”  This implies that what can be learned should be the same, should lead to the next level and should be taught with some consistency throughout Bulloch County’s schools.

“It means we’re making sure that all the students in this district have access to the same curriculum, including what they’re learning during the year and the levels of engagement, so we’re ensuring that quality of delivery for our students,” said Superintendent of Schools Charles Wilson.

The drive for a guaranteed and viable curriculum was one of two reasons for adding more teacher training days, he noted. The other, cited by administrators when the board adopted the calendar, was a need to prepare for state-mandated changes, including new standards in science and social studies.

For both reasons, the additional training days were presented as an alternative to pulling teachers from their classrooms on regular school days for planning or professional development sessions. Substitute teachers have to be called in that case, but not for training days when students are away.

With four planning days behind her, Branch was asked during the open house if she was ready for school to begin Tuesday.

“I will be ready – on Tuesday,” she said and laughed before agreeing, “I still need Monday.”

In a classroom across the hall, more than a dozen people, including children and their parents, were lined up to meet fifth-grade English-language arts teacher Jeneane Brown.

Although new to Brooklet Elementary, Brown has 13 years teaching experience. Most recently she taught eighth grade for one year at Screven County Middle School in Sylvania, but her teaching career started in Miami. After leaving Florida, Brown also taught in Pennsylvania. Most of her experience has been in middle schools, but she taught adults English as a second language for two years.

The preplanning week was vital to a good start on the year, she said.

“It’s a vital time for us to come together as a community, the community of teachers, faculty and staff, and just really bond as well as get our rooms  ready and just be ready for our most important customers, who are our students,” Brown said. “So we’re really excited to have that opportunity. It’s an honor.”

Earlier in the day, Brooklet Elementary School Principal Mike Yawn said the most important factor in starting a new school year is giving teachers time to get ready.

“As long as you give teachers time, they’re the most resourceful group of people that I’ve been around,” he said. “They’ll take a building that in the summer everything’s packed in the hallway and looks like the whole place is moving, and before you know it, the halls are clear and decorations are up and they’re ready to receive the kids.”

Newly assigned to Brooklet Elementary, Yawn was William James Middle School’s principal the past nine years. He has 23 years experience as an educator, including 13 in administration.

But this is his first time at an elementary school. Yawn described a high level of enthusiasm among personnel who work with the youngest children.

“I think the joy of elementary school that I’ve never experienced is just the amount of smiles that are around on the staff’s faces and the willingness to work with a team and do the work that it takes to get prepared,” he said.


‘New’ principals

Rotating three principals for this school year, Wilson also reassigned Julie Mizell from Sallie Zetterower Elementary School to lead William James Middle School and Marlin Baker from Brooklet Elementary to lead Sallie Zetterower Elementary.

Wilson based the change on the “fit” of these principals to different schools with changing conditions, he said in an interview.

“I looked at dispositions, personalities, needs of schools, and with the opportunities and the challenges we have, I made the decision that I thought could benefit every one of the schools as well as providing the opportunity for those leaders to grow.”

Southeast Bulloch High School also has a new principal, Stephen Hoyle. He has 25 years experience as an educator and was assistant principal at Stilson Elementary School for five years before his Board of Education-approved promotion.

“All of them have stepped up and are willing to lead, and that’s what it’s about, leadership capacity across the district,” Wilson said Thursday.

The estimate of 10,500 students is based on an enrollment count of 10,550 in the 15 schools last March. First-day attendance is often lower, with more students expected to arrive over the next two weeks.

Parents and students can visit the website and access an online Back-to-School Toolkit. It has information about new student registration, school supplies, school start times, dress codes, bus routes, the student handbook and more.




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