Liberty County School System employees will not have to endure any furlough days next year, Superintendent Dr. Valya Lee announced at Board of Education meeting on Tuesday evening.
“Next year, we will eliminate all furlough days. All teachers and staff will have 190 days for the entire school year,” Lee said while giving a 2014-15 year-end summary.
The audience cheered the announcement.
That was one of several highlights from her report, which covered a variety of topics.
The graduation rate for the Liberty County School System continues to increase and is higher than the state’s average. For the Class of 2014, the state graduation rate was 72.5 percent, while Liberty County’s was 75.8 percent, she said. Elementary- and middle-scores for the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests also increased from 2013 to 2014, the last year they were given, and either met or exceeded state averages in 19 of the 30 content areas, Lee said.
“When we look at our EOCT, we are making gains. We have some areas that we’ll need an additional look. But let us be proud that we are meeting or exceeding the state in every area with the exception of analytic geometry and coordinate algebra,” she said. “These are two courses that are relatively new to the state of Georgia. But we are significantly making marked gains from 2013 to 2014.”
Lee discussed initiatives that target math and science. The STEM program — a popular acronym in education circles that stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics — gives students an opportunity to work with professors and teachers on real-world challenges and research opportunities, such as recycling and coastal erosion. STEM is offered through a partnership with Georgia Southern University, and six schools are looking to receive STEM certification.
Project RAMP, which stands for Raising Academic Measures of Progress, received a state grant of $283,945 for the 2014-15 school year and will get the same amount for 2015-16. The initiative allows math and science specialists from Liberty County to train with professors from Georgia Southern’s Institute for Interdisciplinary STEM Education. They receive ongoing professional learning for integrating STEM in middle and high schools.
The district has teamed up again with GSU for another project called Project ESCOLAR, which stands for E-text Supports for Collaborative Online Learning and Academic Reading. Middle-school students use online tools to improve their learning about science. Georgia Tech’s Savannah campus established Camp Rock! at Liberty Elementary last summer, where STEAM — a variation on the STEM acronym that stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and math — skills were taught to kids. The camp will be offered again in July.
Reading comprehension continues to be a concern across the district.
“However, we want to say that through Thinking Maps and 6 Traits of Writing — also we have Read180 — all of our elementary-, middle- and some high-school students are making marked gains. All our efforts mean that our retention statistics are declining,” Lee said.
She also mentioned different mentoring programs for staff, such as the Summer Leadership Summit, Principals in the Pipeline and Coaching with Confidence. She said the summit did a good job of working with first-year teachers.
“We didn’t have a lot of turnover with our newly beginning teachers. That speaks to the fact that they feel supported and want to say,” Lee said.
Next year, all schools will offer free breakfast. Lee said a pilot program was conducted at a couple of the schools this year, which did very well. Because the district was able to obtain a grant for the program, it will be available at all schools in 2015-16.
The recent high-school graduations marked the first time the county was able to live-stream ceremonies. Lee showed a picture of a 3rd Infantry Division soldier watching this year’s Liberty County High School graduation overseas. She said it was worth doing, even if just for him. However, he wasn’t the only person watching — 535 people watched the live stream of the respective graduations, and there were 1,210 views of the videos as of Tuesday, she said.
What made Lee most proud was being able to balance the budget. She said that $1 million will be put in reserve to build it back up, but she did not say what the total reserve is.
Lee said, “I’ve worked with a number of children and I’ve worked with a number of educators, and I don’t mind saying this. Some of the best and brightest educators are in Liberty County schools, and I know full well some of the best and brightest children are in Liberty County schools.”