Liberty County School System Superintendent Dr. Valya Lee addressed the "two biggest elephants in the room"—negative relations on the school board and district ratings—at a Progress Through People Luncheon State of the School System address earlier this month.
Lee told the audience at the Liberty County Performance Arts Center on Aug. 11 that the first "biggest elephant," was rancor among school board members. And it, she said, was history.
"We recognize that its grossly out of order, but more importantly, I want to tell you it’s over,"
she said. "While we as a team recognize we faced some inner personal challenges in some recent months, as a team we have agreed to lay aside all personal agenda, all misconceptions, misunderstandings and refocus our attention on why we’re here—and that’s our children. What we’re doing now is celebrating that there are no pressing issues on our board."
The superintendent called "untimely state reporting," the other "elephant in the room."
Lee said when the 2014-2015 Georgia Milestones Assessment System and College and Career Readiness Performance Index scores were reported they were already a year old and the district had already taken the 2015-2016 GMAS and received those results, which were improved.
"When the 2014-2015 GMAS hit—it was actually May 29 when it came out—I was thinking why are they doing this? I’ve already reported the scores to the board. We’ve already worked as a school system to sure up those areas. We’ve already got (GMAS) scores back from 2015-2016 that says we’re doing a good job," Lee said.
She said she was told the timing of the release of the reports may have been because of an upcoming vote on proposed Opportunity School Districts. If it passes in November, the referendum will change the state constitution to give the state authority to take over failing schools.
Still, Lee said no Liberty County schools would be considered failing under the plan. The district’s 2014-2015 CCRPI score is 72.2 out of 100. The district’s 2015-2016 CCRPI scores haven’t been released.
"The barometer is 60. That is the point, the 60 score that they want on the CCRPI in order for a school to be considered one that is eligible to be taken over, if you get 60 or less after three consecutive years," Lee said. "We have none of those schools in Liberty."
The Georgia Department of Education also has started a new financial efficiency rating system, the Financial Star Rating. Liberty County received 2.5 stars out of five. The rating measures a school district’s three-year average of per-pupil spending associated with the district’s three-year CCRPI score.
Lee said she’s getting conflicting information. For Liberty’s financial rating to improve, Lee said the district either must improve CCRPI scores while maintaining its current level of spending, or increase its scores and cut spending.
"On the one hand we need to spend more, you have too much money in reserve. On the other hand they say you’re spending too much. I’m confused," said Lee, who said the district is financially stable.
Lee also presented GMAS results showing an increase in the percentage of students demonstrating proficiency in different content areas. GMAS has four categories for student performance: beginning learners, developing learnings, proficient learners and distinguished learners.
Thirty-five percent of third graders in the district were performing at proficient and distinguished levels in science, compared to 27 percent on the 2014-2-15 GMAS. U.S. history increased from 34 percent to 42 percent and seventh grade made from 37 percent to 30 percent. There were also areas of decline such as sixth grade social studies, where the number of students showing proficiency fell from 25 percent to 23 percent and in high school economics, which dropped from 48 percent to 43 percent.
Lee also thanked voters for passing the Education Special Local Options Sales Tax, or ESPLOST, in May, and said the district bought new iPads for students and teachers. The new iPads will allow a teacher to control and manage what students are doing on their iPads in the classroom. Teachers will be able to see what students are looking at, how they are working and assign individual tasks.
The bus hotspot initiative will start after Labor Day and the district will be sending out information on the location of the buses.