Teachers, students and classrooms make up the basics of education. But the running of a school system is so very much more than that.
Even though I’ve worked for the Gleam for 30 years now, I’d never been the “beat reporter” for the Guntersville City School Board until a little over a year ago. The beat reporter is the person who goes to all an organization’s meetings and reports on their activities. Covering the City School Board has been a real education for me. There are so many moving parts to the system, far more than perhaps the average person recognizes.
The School Board strives to hold both a work session and a board meeting each month. The work session is typically on one Monday night and the meeting follows on the next Monday night.
If you want to see where the rubber meets the road in the city schools, you should attend a work session. The highlight is often department reports when the various department heads – who also constitute Superintendent Brett Stanton’s senior cabinet – tell what’s going on their areas of responsibility.
As you hear those reports, especially if you’ve attended more than one month’s worth of work sessions, it really jumps out at you how busy the schools are. There are always multiple projects across a broad range of topics that are in progress.
I mentioned to Supt. Stanton the other day just how big it all seems to an outsider looking in and he shared some figures and some of his thoughts about it.
The Guntersville school system has about 300 employees and an annual budget of about $14 million.
“The superintendent is really no different from the CEO of a corporation,” Stanton said.
He’s exactly right. The job entails best practices for educating students, budget and finance management, human relations and just about any other management-type discipline you can think of.
There’s a tremendous “physical plant” for the system too when you consider 4 campuses and the central office.
As they say out in the country, it’s a whole lot to try to say grace over.
“There were no work sessions before I became superintendent,” Stanton shared. He’d been at Guntersville for about a year when he implemented them. Ideally, the discussion on various topics take place at the work sessions. Then the board votes on those issues at the ensuing meeting.
It can’t always take place like that, but that’s the model.
There’s so much going on in the school system at large that it can be difficult for a reporter to get it all written up and reported. Here are some of the items that came up at the last couple of work sessions just to give you an example:
The Apple Foundation – The non-profit Foundation provides the “extras” for the school system in the form of special grants for teachers for special programs. President Amanda Sellnow talked to the board awhile back and shared that the Apple Foundation had provided more than $51,000 worth of grants for teachers last year and more than $700,000 since the Foundation was formed in 2003. They will be announcing their grants for next year soon. Anyone who wants to donate to the Foundation can send their tax deductible donations to Apple Foundation, P.O. Box 921, Guntersville AL 35976.
Teaching, Learning & Testing – Chief academic officer Paige Raney gives this report. There are assessments in both the fall and spring generally and sometimes in between. A big part of the system’s academic accountability is for teams of teachers to go over the data after testing to make sure students are making progress and to see what areas need an extra boost. At the last meeting, Raney reported all testing had been completed and students had shown growth in all areas. She also talked about some professional development that would be taking place for teachers over the summer. Leadership teams will be meeting as early as next week.
Operations & Special Education – Jeff Jones is in charge of this area. He reported that about 160 students in the Guntersville system have Individual Education Plans or IEPs. This is the tailor-made plan that must be in place for any student receiving special education services. The system has an additional 250 students who are considered “gifted.” Jones said there will be some specialized professional development over the summer for special education teachers. He said the special education department had completed compliance monitoring this past year just as the regular education program had. Jones also works with the families of students who have missed a lot of school to try to head off truancy problems.
Business & Finance – Amy Sherer is the chief finance officer for the Guntersville schools. Something is always going on in her department too. She recently worked on a required budget amendment the board needed to approve. She said at the last meeting the budgeting process is starting for the system’s next budget year. Her department worked this year to make sure payroll was taken care of prior to the Memorial Day holiday weekend.
CNP & Community Education – Julia Covington is over both of these departments. CNP stands for Child Nutrition Program. It is basically the school lunchroom program. “CNP went through compliance monitoring just like the other departments this year,” Covington said. “The only real findings were a couple of policies that needed updating.”
On the community education front, she reported that the summer extended day program, Power Scholars, would meet from May 28-July 2. Because of the ABM projects going on at the elementary school, Power Scholars is meeting at Cherokee. “We have reached our goal of enrolling 100 students,” Covington said.
Power Scholars combines academic work with fun activities, including weekly field trips, for the students who participate.
Covington also reported that CNP would be buying some equipment this summer to upgrade some of the kitchens.
Maintenance – Jeff Mims is the maintenance director for the school system and it has been a particularly busy time for his department. ABM Energy Solutions has been doing projects at various schools that include paving, roof work and upgrading air conditioning controls. The track is also being reworked at Guntersville High School. At the last meeting, the finish date for the new track was put at June 24.
Transportation & Security – Like Julia Covington, Bo McRee is in charge of 2 departments for the schools. He oversees the transportation department and he oversees school security. “It’s going to be a busy summer,” he reported at the last meeting. “We already have 27 field trips we will be providing transportation for.”
He said the schools have made a “good start” on their security upgrades. New Guardian kiosks will be installed for the start of the 2019-20 school year to enhance security even further.
Technology – Sean Holmes is the school system’s chief technology officer. At the time of the last School Board meeting, he and the high school staff were in the midst of collecting students’ school-issued laptop Chromebook computers for the summer. Some parents were finding out the hard way that the insurance they’d purchased for the Chromebooks did not cover “intentional damage” done to the computers by students. Voice over IP phone systems were to be installed in the schools over the summer. Holmes is also very involved in the schools’ security efforts.
It’s always a busy meeting when the various department heads report on their projects. And it truly does give a glance into just how large and complex even a small school system can be.