Ever since I can remember, I have looked forward to the beginning of a new school year with both excitement and anxiety.
As a student, I was excited about the new red-plaid dress I always got for the first day of school, the clean new composition books and a new box of crayons with no missing colors.
My anxieties were always centered on the social aspects of school: Who was going to be my new teacher? Would my best friend still be in my class? Who would sit next to me? Now, as the chairwoman of the Columbia County school board, I find that I still greet the new school year with excitement and anxiety but my focus has shifted.
Among my anxieties this year are: Will River Ridge Elementary be ready in time to greet the eager students and teachers? Will the remodeling at Evans High School be complete? Will all the other maintenance projects that the system employees work on during the summer be ready? And finally, my greatest concern is student transportation.
I still get excited about the first day of school. There is no more red-plaid dress in the picture. There are plenty of other reasons to look forward to a new school year. I would like to share some of the new happenings in the system for this year.
Some of our schools will begin the year under the leadership of new principals and assistant principals. The selection of a new school administrator is an arduous process. They were chosen with the input of the individual school councils. We find that this procedure helps to build strong bonds within each school community.
Our board divests a great deal of responsibility to these professionals. Their leadership sets the tone for the entire school. Educational research has shown that a principal can be the most effective tool to increase student achievement for the entire student body. Across our 28 schools, the administrators work diligently to ensure that teachers are following the Georgia and Columbia County approved curriculums. They set the standards for achievement. If you are not already a familiar with your school leaders, I urge you to make an extra effort to change that.
Students will find several new people at their school. Retirement, a new elementary school and growth in the county have led us to hire approximately 225 new employees. It was a pleasure to welcome the new teachers at their orientation last week. They are smart, eager and excited to be joining our system.
Just as I worried whether my friends would be in the same class when I started a new school year, Columbia County students will also come back with this question. With the growth that our county is experiencing and the rezoning of some of our elementary schools, it is likely that they will meet new students in their classes. As chairwoman of the school board, I am grateful that voters approved of the special purpose local option sales tax referendum last March. The tax money that the school system is collecting is enabling us to build schools to keep up with the population explosion. Since 2000, we have opened five schools, and have another one under construction.
Beginning this year, parents will have another option besides rummaging through schoolbags and mealtime interrogations to know how their middle and high school age child is succeeding in school. I-Parent will allow them to use any computer with Internet access to securely log in and view their grades. This can bring and end to any surprises on progress reports and report cards. It will allow parents to encourage their children to keep ahead of problems.
I suggest that parents also become very familiar with our new attendance policy. In 2004, the Legislature directed the state Board of Education to have each school system draft a new attendance policy to improve school attendance. Our new policy was created by a community committee and adopted by the school board. It is much more stringent than ever before. One highlight is that students will be considered truant after three unexcused absences in a semester. They will also be limited to only five parent-excused absences per semester. We have also removed prior approvals for the most part.
You can see there are many new happening for Columbia County schools as we begin the school year. Our school system has always been blessed with parents who care about and are involved in their children's education. This makes us stronger.
The school board members appreciate that support. We invite you to our meetings. They are the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month. We enjoy your phone calls and conversations. Your input helps us with our job of setting policies for the orderly running of the schools and setting standards for student achievement.
Regina Buccafusco is the chairwoman of the Columbia County Board of Education.
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