Welcome to the start of a new school year!
Our schools and departments were busy during the summer preparing for the start of another school year. Every school was thoroughly cleaned and refurbished, and several received renovations and upgrades to better support our curriculum.
There is something inherently healthy and revitalizing about having the opportunity to start fresh with each new year. Regardless of what has happened in the past, students, parents, teachers and staff alike can look to the new year with renewed hope, excitement and optimism for better things to come.
Parents, thank you for your enthusiasm and attendance at the Back to School Festival and our open houses. We had record attendance at these events and, yes, even a record attendance for the first day of school. Our student enrollment is well over 20,100, securing our position among the 20 largest school systems in our state.
Prior to the beginning of each school year, we project the student enrollment and the number of classroom teachers required at each school. Growth and development can substantially impact student enrollment. Our actual enrollment came in at 140 students more than our projections.
Consequently, it was necessary to adjust for unexpected growth at certain grade levels and collapse classrooms in one school while adding additional classrooms in another. We try to minimize disruptions during the first week of school, but apologize for these unexpected situations.
It is interesting to note that our largest growth area this school year was not in the Greenbrier High area with the many new subdivisions; rather, it was the Evans High School zone. This is most likely attributable to the volume of high-density housing now occurring in this area. Obviously, significant change in these more-established school zones places a burden on these facilities.
While it is no surprise that the accelerated student growth over the past couple of years is placing demands for new schools and facility improvements, it also presents many challenges for our Transportation Department. The first week of school, almost 200 professional transportation em-ployees safely transported 11,000 students to and from schools.
In addition to the increased student ridership, our Transportation Depart-ment also had to consider road construction and the heavy traffic congestion that is common around school zones. Our goal is to provide safe and efficient transportation to all students who desire to ride the school bus.
We will continue to monitor the routes to ensure that all riders are properly seated and that arrivals and departures are occurring in a timely manner. These changes often take time, and we ask for your patience as we gather the necessary data to make route changes. Bus stop information and maps are available at www.ccboe.net/ transportation/. Also, look for daily bus changes on our Web site and by calling 541-2723, extension 5.
The successes of our schools continue to be a real source of pride for our community. Nevertheless, we can never become satisfied with the status quo, but must be constantly seeking ways to improve and reach even higher levels of achievement. Similar to the third- grade promotion requirement, this year's fifth-graders will be required to achieve a proficient score on the reading and math portions of the CRCT for promotion to sixth grade.
Additionally, high school students will be required to take state-mandated End-of-Course Tests in specified subjects, with the grade on this test counting 15 percent of the student's final average. Information on these new tests can be obtained through the guidance department or the school administration.
The fundamental idea behind the Federal No Child Left Behind Act (NLCB) is that of its namesake. Inarguably, our goal is to educate each and every child successfully. Having said that, we also recognize that all students are not equally endowed for academic success and many will require additional time and assistance.
The NCLB Act categorizes students into sub-groups based on similar characteristics and holds educators accountable for the success of all students. Georgia's single state accountability system, under NCLB, sets specific criteria for systems and schools to make AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) with these cohort groups. Those systems and schools not meeting the criteria are identified as being in Needs Improvement. It is this labeling that appears somewhat contentious and unfair.
The Needs Improvement label does not accurately portray the overall success of a school or system. Instead, it simply identifies a sub-group of students who need to improve performance in a specific area. The difference of a system or school making AYP or not making AYP, and being labeled Needs Improvement, can be the result of the shortfall of one or two students in a sub-group. Ninety-five percent of the students could be high achieving, yet the labeling is based on the performance of only a few.
Therefore, one should not be overly alarmed by the Needs Improvement label. Rather, I would encourage one to take a deeper look with the school to better understand its overall performance record.
Our school system remains our county's greatest asset and we must work cooperatively to maintain the quality education that our children deserve. I encourage you to visit our schools, see first hand what is happening and how you can become involved.
(Thomas A. Price is superintendent of Columbia County schools.
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