Questions on multiple topics were taken by Fayette County Board of Education Chairman Scott Hollowell and school board member Barry Marchman at a Sept. 10 parents meeting held at The Bridge Community Center in Peachtree City.
Questions and comments from the 40 people in attendance and from 300 who posted on Facebook ranged from the school system budget and disciplinary issues to mental health issues and vocational opportunities for students.
The event was broadcast by The Citizen Live and can be viewed in its entirety at https://www.facebook.com/mycitizen/videos/417784262197155/
The parents meeting event was moderated by the Fayette County Republican Party’s Steve Brown.
Hollowell and Marchman at the outset of the meeting noted that they did not represent the entire school board.
An audience member said something that concerned him is when expenses go up and without seeing performance metrics following accordingly.
“Are we getting anything for the budget increases and are you guys doing enough to make sure that the superintendent has metrics for the community? Because if you don’t there’s a gap. Can we have visible metrics that link increasing expenditures to the performance of the school system?” he asked.
Hollowell responded, saying, “We have adopted a new strategic plan which is on the website. We are also getting to the point where every school will have a school improvement plan on their website. There are lots of metrics in the strategic plan. We do go over them at every board meeting.”
Hollowell said if the University System of Georgia would contribute its fair share, after shorting the Teacher Retirement System $600 million, the budget would look a lot better.
Marchman also commented, referencing a recent letter to the editor in The Citizen, where he expressed concerns about the budget and what metrics were being used to justify the expenditures. He said student achievement is in the 80-90 percent range and, in terms of children reading at or above grade level, some grades and some schools are at 50 percent, Marchman said.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” said Marchman.
Though it was not noted at the meeting, Marchman was the lone vote on the school board to oppose the 2019-2020 budget adopted in June and the lone vote against the millage rate, now set at 19.25 mills. Marchman believed the millage should have been rolled back beyond the quarter-mill adopted by the other board members.
A Facebook question related to school system tribunals for disciplinary issues asked how can tribunals be an honest process when the teacher is serving on the panel or having to rule on charges issued by a higher-ranking school principal. Would not teachers countering their superiors be intimidated?
Marchman responded, reading a statement from the school system, saying student safety is the top priority. The tribunal process follows state laws, he said.
Another question asked how students are performing with the Georgia Milestones assessments.
“We do very well,” said Hollowell. “We’re seeing growth.”
Another Facebook questioner asked if Common Core math is being phased out.
“I don’t think Common Core really applies to our county,” Hollowell said. “Because Common Core is a minimum set of standards and our standards are above the minimum. And I know the state kind of revised the standards a couple of years ago, and I know Gov. Kemp is going to take another look at it.”
Asked if foreign languages can be offered to all interested students, Marchman that could be done, though the technology is not in place to do so.
Also from Facebook, board members were asked if vocational courses would be brought back to schools.
“It never went away,” Hollowell said. “Our vocational opportunities are better now than ever. We have (offerings such as) the Center of Innovation (for coursework such as certified nursing assistants and culinary arts) and worked-based learning. We have a lot of opportunities.”
Marchman also noted that a portion of Sandy Creek High School was converted to a movie studio to train students in various aspects of the film industry.
Asked from the audience about the state of cursive writing being taught in schools, Hollowell said, “We teach a little of it in second or third grade.”
In the area of technology, a Facebook parent commented that teachers are inconsistent in using Blackboard and Infinite Campus and staying on top of homework and subjects being covered. It’s much more difficult than it should be, the commenter said.
Others commenting said there are too many methods of communication. This is too difficult to track. Can these be consolidated in any way?
“We are five years into a system that was supposed to consolidate everything, but it’s not doing it as well as we hoped,” Marchman said. “So our technology staff are evaluating new learning management systems.”
In terms of mental health issues in schools, Hollowell said school counselors have training in those areas, though they are focused on the academic success of the students. When needed, students requiring mental health counseling are referred out to professionals in the community on a pro bono basis.
Asked about acquiring property for potential school sites and how that process works, specifically in terms of the potential site for Booth Middle School, Hollowell said there are very few 30-acre sites available in Peachtree City.
“There was somebody else interested in that land. So if we didn’t get it then, we weren’t going to get it,” Hollowell said.
The school board tries to plan ahead for property acquisition for future school sites, Marchman said, adding that residents would likely not appreciate an imminent domain approach by the school board to secure land for school sites.
The parents meeting was sponsored by ClubZ In-Home Tutoring Services. For more information visit www.clubztutoring.com/peachtreecity