Board members got together for a debriefing meeting Feb. 20 after concluding their final visit, which was to Gray Station Middle School. The visits began at Wells Primary at 8:15 a.m. Feb. 19 and finished at 3 p.m. the next day. Each school principal presented the board with a 15-minute PowerPoint overview followed by a walk-through of the school.
According to Assistant Superintendent Dr. Mike Newton, the group walked 4.9 miles over the two-day trek. The board members unanimously agreed that the visits were very productive, although they asked that the days not be consecutive next year.
School Superintendent Jim LeBrun said he would like to have more sessions with students.
“The surveys we circulated indicated that parents would like for board members to be more visible in the schools,” he stated to the board. “You know you are always welcome at any school.”
Chairman Ted Stone said he heard the comment that the facilities are very orderly, but the perception is not that way.
Newton assured the board members that what they saw at the schools is the way they are every day.
“When people want to relocate, they are looking at the school system. Schools still attract people to Jones County. Not that many look at performance data; we do that. Parents value a school system’s climate. Is it safe? Are the facilities up to date?” LeBrun said.
Newton said teachers have become more focused.
“I understand we have to be data driven, but it is more important for teachers to be focused on students. We ask a lot of things from our teachers, and in Jones County they rise up and do a great job,” he said.
LeBrun said this year he took his fourth group to the Georgia Leadership Institute for School Improvement (GLISI).
“They are walking the walk. It’s impressive to go into the classrooms and see these ideas come to fruition. We’ve come a long way through everyone’s efforts,” he said. “You can go into any classroom, and the curriculum is there.”
LeBrun said the theme of GLISI is ‘it is all about the kids’.
“We are seeing it over and over again,” he said.
The superintendent said he sees an eagerness to learn with talking to students, and Friday morning’s session with the students at the Ninth Grade Academy was invaluable.
“When we look at saving money in our budget, the Ninth Grade Academy could be a place to look, but the students told us they need that extra year before going into high school. Maybe the Ninth Grade Academy isn’t where we want it to be, but it is better than it was,” he said.
LeBrun said one student at the academy told him it is hard to fail because of all the tutoring.
Board member Deloras Moon said she thinks members of the community would feel differently if they could see the school system the way board members have the past few days.
“If they were in our seat, and see what we see, they would raise taxes rather than reduce programs at the schools,” Moon commented.
Newton told board members tools like data director software puts student information at the fingertips of teachers and administrators.
“We are doing a much better job at measuring what students are learning, and we’ve seen the value of instructional coaches and graduation coaches. They support the classrooms and individual students,” he said.
LeBrun said nurses are also important, and it is likely school systems will lose funding for nurses and the coaches.
“It’s going to come to the point that we are going to have to make tough decisions,” he said.
Board member Alfred Pitts said he had chill bumps watching students interacting in Wells Primary classrooms. He said he was impressed that everything about the classrooms was about teaching.
“Posters on the walls and maps on the floors. You learn everywhere you look. They are making a lot of progress and have a lot of very good students,” he said.
“You could tell what they were studying by walking down the hall,” Moon agreed. “No one has to say a word. They can learn by osmosis.”
Newton said the content at the schools is rigorous.
“I’m not sure if the public understands the level of curriculum,” he said.
Pitts said he noticed the difference in classrooms using smartboards. He said students in those classrooms were more engaged.
“They didn’t even know we were there,” he said.
Newton said what board members saw at the schools was a result of professional learning.
Stone said students in one of the classrooms he visited were having a weather program that was better than watching Channel 13.
“They were including math in the process, talking about the distance weather was traveling. I hated to leave,” he said.