About 30 people showed up Saturday morning at the Career Academy to ask Superintendent Demond Means whatever they wanted about the Clarke County School District. Topics ranged from site coordinators at high schools and elementary schools to the percentage of disciplinary incidents involving black boys to a new school-based clinic on the Eastside.
Here are summaries of some of the conversations:
• There’s a misinterpretation about how CCSD works with the non-profit Community in Schools. A grant from AT&T had funded four site coordinators in the three high schools, but that grant expired in December. The district wants to follow a model that puts site coordinators in elementary schools, especially Alps Road and Gaines Elementary. Means said the site coordinators would be part of a team that includes the schools’ social workers and counselors. At the high schools are college advisors and guidance counselors, plus recent college graduates from UGA who act as graduation coaches.
• A new school-based health clinic is going to open in what was the boys’ locker room area at the new Hilsman Middle School. (Since it’s well-known that middle-school boys don’t shower.) The clinic is strategically located between Gaines Elementary and Hilsman to serve both populations. Staffed by a nurse practitioner, the clinic will diagnose and treat a child’s health issues without a parent or caretaker leaving a job to take the child to a hospital or doctor’s office, and without the child missing too much of the school day. Having a clinic will make it easier for the school district to later add dental and vision screenings. The old West Broad School could also become a clinic, Means said.
• When it comes to disciplining children in CCSD classrooms, statisticians have found that black boys comprise more than half of all discipline incidents, though they represent only a quarter of the entire student body. Special-education students who are black make up 6 percent of the district population, but a quarter of the discipline incidents. Misbehaving students can disrupt an entire classroom, but suspension is not the answer. Means said he wants teachers to develop “culturally responsive” tactics for dealing with these children, while he acknowledged that teaching children in need is very difficult. Social workers are working hard to establish partnerships with families.
• The district is working with the UGA College of Education and its dean, former school board member Denise Spangler, to create an induction program for new teachers—to buoy them up during the school year, help them when they feel overwhelmed and offer ideas for doing their jobs better. In CCSD, new teachers may be fired up in July, holding on in November, exhausted in March and so defeated in May they leave the district or the profession, Means said. He is hoping to change that first-year career calendar.
• Middle school is tough. Middle school is staffed as though it’s an elementary school, and then principals hope the school functions as a high school. Does the middle school model work? Means asked, how can the district staff and program middle school so that more people are satisfied?
• It’s difficult to recruit people of color to work in Clarke County. When CCSD school officials are at a job fair, sandwiched between Fulton and Gwinnett counties, what can they say to attract teachers to Athens? The vibrant social life for young black and Latino professionals? The large numbers of like-minded, educated young people? Athens skews to white college students. That’s one reason why recruiting minority teachers is hard.