Monday will be the first day of classes in 2017-18 for public schools in Muscogee, Harris, Chattahoochee, Russell and Lee counties as well as Phenix City. The most significant new aspect of K-12 education in the Columbus area is the opening of the Rainey-McCullers School of the Arts, but each local district has noteworthy changes.
Here is your primer:
New policies: MCSD’s lunch prices have increased by 10 cents for the 2017-18 school year. So the price for lunch will increase from $2.25 to $2.35 at elementary schools and from $2.50 to $2.60 at middle schools and high schools.
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Attending some MCSD sporting events also will be more expensive. Admission to varsity basketball games has increased from $5 to $7 for students and adults. Admission to varsity soccer, softball, swimming, track and field, volleyball and wrestling events has increased from $3 to $5 for students. A ticket to any freshman or junior varsity event that charges admission has increased from $3 to $5 for students.
New programs: Three more MCSD schools will offer free lunch and breakfast to all students, regardless of their family’s income or whether they sought the benefit. As of the 2017-18 school year, Blanchard Elementary School, Midland Academy and Shaw High School will be among 41 out of the 53 MCSD schools providing the opportunity that comes from the Community Eligibility Provision in the federal Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.
To become a CEP school, at least 40 percent of the students must qualify for free meals. The other CEP schools in MCSD are:
• Elementary schools: Allen, Brewer, Davis, Dawson, Dimon, Dorothy Height, Downtown, Forrest Road, Fox, Gentian, Georgetown, Hannan, Johnson, Key, Lonnie Jackson, Martin Luther King Jr., Reese Road, Rigdon Road, River Road, South Columbus, St. Marys Road, Waddell, Wesley Heights and Wynnton.
• Middle schools: Arnold, Baker, Double Churches, East Columbus, Eddy, Fort, Richards and Rothschild.
• High schools: Carver, Early College, Hardaway, Jordan, Kendrick and Spencer.
New administrators: Superintendent David Lewis has vacancies in one-fourth of his 12-member cabinet, following the departures of assistant superintendent Rebecca Braaten (now the principal of Chamblee Charter High School in DeKalb County) and communications director Valerie Fuller and the retirement of audits director Susan Taunton. Lewis, however, has filled the vacancy left by the retirement of student services chief Melvin Blackwell, succeeded by Angela Vickers, who was the supervisor of educational leadership development for the School District of Hillsborough County, Fla.
Briant Williams, who was principal of Broad Ripple School for the Arts and Humanities in Indianapolis, is principal of Rainey-McCullers.
Terri Myers, who was the School Improvement Grant administrator at Spencer High School, is the new principal of Rothschild Leadership Academy. She replaced Michael Forte, who succeeded the retired Susan Willard at Early College Academy.
Felicia Thompson is the new principal of Allen Elementary School. She replaced Karen Garner, who succeeded the retired Clara Davis at Britt David Magnet Academy.
New buildings: Rainey-McCullers is named in honor of two famous Columbus natives, blues singer Ma Rainey and novelist Carson McCullers. It’s the first arts school for grades 6-12 in the Bi-Cities. The $36 million project at 1700 Midtown Drive is designed to accommodate 500 students but will start this year with grades 6-10 then add 11th grade next year and 12th grade the following year.
The 1 percent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax has funded the Rainey-McCullers project, as well as these current projects that are ready or scheduled to be finished sometime this school year:
• A $4.1 million project at Fort Middle School to upgrade the gym and remodel the locker rooms. New flooring for the technology lab was postponed until after classes resume.
• A $3.5 million project at Kinnett Stadium for a new field house with locker rooms, showers and restrooms for the home and visiting teams, plus game officials, and storage.
• A $2 million project at Shaw High School will re-roof the entire building. The estimated completion date is in October.
• Another $2 million project at Shaw, this one for a new HVAC system, is expected to be completed this month.
• A $1.2 million project at Northside High School will expand the cafeteria and construct a new wrestling room. The completion date was expected in October, but MCSD construction director Bobby Hecht told the Ledger-Enquirer in an email the project is “slightly behind due to unforeseen circumstances and small design changes.”
• A $1 million project at Double Churches Middle School is expected to be finished in October to create eight classrooms and the Family Living Center Classroom for students with autism after reconfiguring portions of two wings.
• A $685,000 project at Columbus High School will add 65 parking spaces to the current total of 242. Completion time is expected by late October.
New policies: None systemwide, but students and parents are encouraged to check whether their school has any rule changes.
New programs: The district’s seven schools are at various stages toward gaining STEM/STEAM certification. STEM is the acronym for science, technology, engineering and math. STEAM adds the arts among those subjects. A certification team will visit New Mountain Hill Elementary Schools in October for that school’s final step.
Harris County High School has added a career pathway in computer coding. “This has been an area where many of our students and parents have expressed an interest,” superintendent Jimmy Martin told the Ledger-Enquirer in an email.
New administrators: Jim DeSantis is Harris County’s new special-education director. He replaced Milton West, who left the district.
New buildings: The ground has been broken for construction of the district’s new transportation facility, a $2.5 million project funded by the county’s Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax. The new facility is expected to be completed in the spring. “Our current facility has been in place 30-plus years,” Martin said, “and we have simply outgrown it, and it cannot meet our current needs.”
New policies: The Chattahoochee County Education Center, which houses the elementary school, has a new schedule, starting classes at 7:30 a.m. and ending at 2:15 p.m. “This change will secure additional instructional time and greatly improve bus efficiency to ensure timely pick-up and drop-off for all students,” ChattCo superintendent David McCurry told the Ledger-Enquirer in an email.
Chattahoochee County Middle and High School will continue to start classes at 8 a.m. and end at 3:05 p.m., but the high school schedule has changed from seven daily periods to a 4-by-4 block with four 90-minute classes each semester, and the middle school students will increase their time spent in each core class from 50 minutes to 65 minutes per day. The middle school also has adopted a limited cellphone policy, allowing usage for only educational purposes with teacher permission.
New programs: Chattahoochee Valley Academy, a charter program focusing on workforce development, will debut at the high school as the newest among 40 members of the Georgia College and Career Academy Network, thanks to a $3.1 million grant from the Technical College System of Georgia. An estimated 150 students in grades 9-12 will take college-level classes in CVA this year. The goal is for all of the school’s 420 students to eventually have access when two labs, for programs such as welding, automotive or construction, are built and two existing wings are renovated to expand CVA for the 2018-19 school year and complete the project by 2019-20. CVA is a partnership among ChattCo, Columbus Technical College, Columbus State University and several regional businesses.
ChattCo also will collaborate with regional agencies and universities for professional development, on-site mentoring and instructional coaching to help elementary school teachers improve their students’ achievement in English language arts and math. A new phonics curriculum is being implemented in grades K-2.
New administrators: Tim Buchanan, the director of federal programs and Career, Technical and Agricultural Education for the ChattCo, is now also the chief executive officer of CVA.
New buildings: ChattCo is expected to break ground for the new CVA classrooms and renovations sometime after Jan. 1, superintendent David McCurry told the Ledger-Enquirer in an email.
Other new stuff: “ChattCo has spent all summer reviewing and redesigning our system strategic plan,” McCurry said. “This effort was spearheaded by (assistant superintendent) Tabatha Walton. This process has been instrumental in clearly defining our district focus and building the mindset necessary to be successful and become a school system that serves the whole community.”
McCurry also noted a shortage of bus drivers might result in delays. Applications for prospective bus drivers are available at www.chattco.org or by calling facilities and operations director Jim Sims at 706-989-3774.
New policies: A new infraction has been added to the school system’s Student Code of Conduct. It is called “Accessory to an Infraction” and states, “An accessory is a person who assists in the commission of a Code of Conduct infraction but who does not actually participate in the commission of the infraction as a joint principal. The aforementioned may be deemed either a Class II or Class III level offense.”
New programs: Central High School is working toward enabling students to graduate with an associate’s degree or its equivalent by ramping up its rigor. Central is offering 24 Advanced Placement and dual enrollment courses this year, comprising seven AP and 13 dual enrollment courses on campus and four AP courses online. To help meet workforce demands in cybersecurity and telematics (using GPS and mobile devices to remotely control objects), Central has added advanced computer coding and digital media courses. Eighth-graders in the Accelerated Academy may get an early start on high school by earning credits in Algebra I, English 9, Career Preparedness or Biology.
New administrators: Sarah Kimmel, who was a reading specialist at Westview Elementary School, has replaced Jana Sparks as principal of Lakewood Primary School. Sparks left the system to become an assistant professor in the College of Education at Auburn University-Montgomery.
New buildings: A $330,000 project gave Westview a new roof and South Girard School received $100,000 in renovations for three STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) classrooms, the auditorium and commons area.
Other new stuff: During the past year, Phenix City Schools has spent $1 million on professional development and teachers have participated in 126 research-based training sessions, superintendent Randy Wilkes told the Ledger-Enquirer in an email.
“PCS will continue to implement seamless integration of technology in all classrooms grades 6-12 via take-home electronic devices (3,500),” Wilkes said. “Every student in grades K-5 will receive STEM instruction in both the regular classroom and SmartLabs and will participate in visual and performing arts classes. All students in grades 6-7 will receive daily instruction by means of one of following labs: virtual science, coding, engineering or digital media. All eighth-graders will participate in the following 12-week courses: robotics/coding, digital media, and engineering.”
New policies: The district overhauled its policy manual, making it more succinct and updated. The district also is developing a separate handbook outlining procedures and step-by-step guidelines to implement the policies when handling certain situations.
New programs: Three new pre-kindergarten classes were added. Warrior Virtual Academy, a nontraditional approach to attaining a standard high school diploma, is available for all Russell County students in grades 9-10. Jasponica Florence, the district’s public relations director, told the Ledger-Enquirer in an email approximately 10 students are expected to take advantage of this opportunity in the academy’s its first year.
New administrators: Hank Austin, previously an instructional coach for the district, has joined the administrative team at Russell County Middle School as an assistant principal, an additional position because sixth-graders now attend the middle school. Four schools with a high concentration of military-connected students (Mt. Olive Primary, Mt. Olive Intermediate, Russell County Middle and Russell County High) have added a Military Transition Student Counselor, funded by a federal grant.
New buildings: A bunch of folks will be in different facilities. To alleviate overcrowding, the district moved the Alternative Learning Program from Russell County Middle School to the Central Office Annex on the Seale Campus, making room for sixth-graders to attend the middle school. The district also redrew elementary school attendance zones to assign some Mt. Olive students to Oliver and some Ladonia students to Dixie.
Other new stuff: The district has a new website, www.myRCSD.com. “The old district website was in need of a major overhaul for a fresher and more appealing look to our stakeholders,” Florence explained. “Information was hard to find, and the old platform was not easy to manipulate and keep current by our staff. Somewhere along the way, two URLs were used, so it created confusion when someone was using their search engine to locate us on the Web. The old website was not mobile responsive. The majority of our users use cell phones to visit our website.”
The district also improved its 69-bus fleet by purchasing 12 new buses (11 regular, one special needs) for roughly $1 million.
New policies: None.
New programs: “It isn’t a new initiative,” Lee County superintendent Mac McCoy told the Ledger-Enquirer in an email, “but we will continue to focus on our integration of technology into the classrooms.”
New administrators: Albert Weeden is the new principal of Loachapoka High School, succeeding Zelda Kitt, whose contract wasn’t renewed. Josh Harry was promoted from teacher to assistant principal at Sanford Middle School, replacing Weeden. Natasha Foster, who was an instructional coach and assistant principal for Beulah and West Smiths Station elementary schools, replaced Antwan Stinson as assistant principal at Loachapoka High. Stinson’s contract wasn’t renewed.
New buildings: None.