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The September School Board meeting is the second entirely in-person board meeting that has taken place since February. During this meeting, we saw the return of guest speakers and presentations...
Jeanette Omarkhail from the Hamilton County Education Association spoke during the delegation session, and there was also a Future Ready Update presentation, which we will touch on later. This board meeting also contained some staffing changes that will be taking place soon in the central office. As mentioned in last month’s blog, Marco Perez will be filling the District 2 School Board Representative seat previously held by Kathy Lennon. During this meeting, we were also introduced to some new staff replacing current staff members. Keith Fogleman is retiring this month and will be replaced by Penny Murray. To learn more information about upcoming staffing changes in HCDE, continue reading here. Finally, this meeting saw some title change for the school board members as Tucker McLendon was elected as the School Board Vice-Chair, while Joe Wingate was re-elected as the Board Chair.
Dr. Johnson started the Future Ready Update by stating how we have been “deeply emerged into COVID-19” and will still be in the foreseeable future. However, he remarked that it is vital to update the board on other areas of our school system. Penny Murray and Keith Fogleman gave the presentation of the updates. Hamilton County has started an HCS Heros campaign, where our best teachers and staff are recognized. Keith then presented the update of the TNTP (The New Teacher Project). With the grant money from Smart City, they came in, assessed Hamilton County’s technology and processes, and saw where they needed improvement. After a couple of months, the report and recommendations came in, and the board will look over the numbers. Future readiness is the goal and I think HCS is making great strides towards being future ready.
One of the Consent Agenda’s critical things this month was a grant application for funding as a part of the CARES funding program. This funding plans to promote technological equity for families during the COVID-19 crisis. This grant provides money to cover the installation fee of EPB wifi or to pay for data hotspots in areas where it will take some time for wifi to be installed by EPB. With school fully taking place online for many students and sporadically taking place online for all students, internet access is necessary for students in Hamilton County in 2020. However, not all citizens of Hamilton County can afford access to wifi. In the past few years, HCDE has made tremendous strides towards technological equity with the implementation of 1:1 Chromebooks for all Middle and High School Students. I’ve personally seen the way that access to technology has improved our classrooms as we can do so much more now that we couldn’t before. I can’t wait to see what other ways we will find to promote Hamilton County Schools’ technological equity in the following months.
The 2020-2021 school year has been an interesting, albeit challenging one thus far, which is why the discussions surrounding the school board in this most recent meeting was more than welcomed. When the topic of adding extra days appeared, as a student, I was pleasantly surprised. I had not felt like the school board was listening to parents, students, and teachers’ demands, but the addition of days off felt like a breath of fresh air. As of now, the calendar has changed to give a full week off for Thanksgiving break. This had been something I heard parents wishing for since I was in elementary school back in the early 2000s, so seeing it happening has made a lot of parents I know pleased. That means that students are out of school the week of November 23rd through November 27th. Also, fall break has now been extended by one extra day off on October 9th. I know many students are excited for the time off, especially with how emotionally taxing this school year has been on both at home and in-person students. The school board’s reasoning behind these new days off was to give teachers, and by extension, students, time to rest. It seems that the school board is finally realizing how taxing this year will be.
This year, some changes have been made to the 2020-2021 school calendar to serve as somewhat of a relief for teachers and students during these stress-inducing times. School Board member Rhonda Thurman mentioned possible issues that may arise from the new schedule, including parents having to plan around and “pay for child care” during the half days of instruction and the full days off from school. Inconveniences for the parents are certainly an essential factor to take into account. Teachers’ perspective was also addressed as Board Member Perez stated, “I think the opportunity to get a break is important.” He asked, though, “if this extra time for teachers will help with their planning,” which is an interesting thought to consider. Now, juggling the needs of parents, teachers, and students is no easy task. As Dr. Johnson spoke on this issue, he stated that when developing the calendar, they considered parents and thought, “well, this is already a half-day, let’s make it a whole…”. Understanding that there is no clear solution for this problem leaves space for different answers and the new adjustments to the schedule may be one of them.
Dr. Nakia Towns, chief of staff for all of HCS, stated that stress “manifests itself physically.” If teachers are under enough pressure, they will be out on actual “sick days.” This plan could provide a built-in way to reduce unplanned teacher absences and somewhat lower the possibility of putting their mental and physical health at risk. It makes me happy to see mental health being highlighted in such a relevant way as the county undergoes the tough challenge of scheduling during these unpredictable times. Everyone performs their best when they feel their best, so if a mental health day is necessary for our teachers and students to feel a little bit more sain, we should at least consider it. At the beginning of the meeting, it was mentioned that the teachers should be paid more, but currently, there’s no money in the budget for that. Giving teachers these extra days to recoup and feel better is a great way to help invest in their mental health without breaking the bank.
Overall, this meeting was a standard length meeting, even though there were less than a handful of major topics discussed. We’re eager to see how the new calendar changes will play into calendar discussions for the spring semester and next school year. We’ll see you again next month in our coverage of the October School Board Meeting!