School board hears system response to Newtown
By Kathryn Schiliro
Responding to the tragic shootings at Newtown, Ct.'s Sandy Hook Elementary School in December, Morgan County Superintendent Dr. Ralph Bennett shared with Board of Education (BOE) members, at their Jan. 14 meeting, the measures the system has in place to deal with such a situation should, God forbid, it occur here.
Bennett urged that student and employee safety is "paramount" and that the system "cannot be complacent by assuming that 'it could never happen here,'" meeting notes state.
School safety plans have been developed. Teachers have copies of, and receive training and review on these plans throughout the year, Bennett told the BOE. Moreover, the plans are read over and finetuned by school administration and governance councils. To familiarize students with the plans, school intruder as well as fire and weather drills are practiced year-round.
Further, the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA), the "primary school safety resource in the state," does conduct site safety audits yearly. In fact, one should be conducted in Morgan County in the next month, Bennett told the board at the Jan. 14th meeting.
"They don't share the date because they want the schools to look as they always look," Bennett said.
Another, more visible, measure are the two-and-a-half School Resource Officer (SRO) positions in the county's schools. The SROs are headquartered at the middle and high schools – the half-time SRO also teaches classes in the high school's Criminal Justice pathway – and their positions are funded by both the school system and the Morgan County Sheriff's Office.
The SROs regularly participate in professional development, including active shooter drills during after-school hours, and Bennett said a "community member" has made an anonymous donation for training for SROs.
The school system also has a relationship with the Madison Police Department and Georgia State Patrol to up visibility at the schools.
Finally – and perhaps most important, Bennett indicated – schools' best resources are its people. Bennett said that the community has to encourage students to speak up.
"We really have to get past the culture with our kids that it's a bad thing to 'tell,'" Bennett said. "We can buy lots of cameras, we can buy lots of security devices, but our best resource is our people."
In other BOE news:
• The school board unanimously elected Nelson Hale as chairman and Keith Howard as vice chairman; both men are veterans in these positions. The board also welcomed new member Erica Veasley, of District 1, to her first meeting.
"We're excited to have her," Bennett said.
• The BOE reviewed the Joint Use Agreement between board and the Morgan County Recreation Department regarding Municipal Park, i.e. the baseball fields. The agreement states that the school system "will provide utilities" while the Rec Department "will prepare and upkeep the facilities."
"This benefits both of us," Bennett said, adding that similar agreements are in place for the Aquatic Center, tennis courts and track.
• The school board voted unanimously to approve the 2013 BOE meeting schedule, including meetings on Feb. 11, March 18, April 8, May 13, June 10, July 8, Aug. 12, Sept. 9, Oct. 14, Nov. 11 and Dec. 9; to OK revisions to policies regarding graduation procedures, promotion and retention; to name Harben, Hartley, & Hawkins, LLP the board's attorneys for the year – they've used this firm for some time, according to Bennett; and to name Assistant Superintendent Sarah Burbach the Title 1X, Federal and State Special Education Grants, Sports Equity and Section 504 coordinator.
• As of Jan. 14, there are 3,286 students in the county's school system, a net gain of three students from last month. A greater influx of students is expected after the winter holidays, Bennett said, and overall enrollment is declining.
• The system has completed the first of two rounds of school bus evacuation drills, Director of Operations Bob Monk told the BOE. Another round will occur in March or April.
In other school transportation-type news, there will be two more random drug and alcohol tests for all system Commercial Driver's License (CDL) holders this school year.
• Morgan County High School will soon begin SAT and ACT preparation classes, taught by a consultant the school's hired, during students' enrichment periods. The course is open to all juniors, and most are taking advantage of it, Assistant Principal Jean McIntosh said.
• A representative from each of the school gave a mid-term "State of the School" address, and most spoke to the BOE about working on the new, state-mandated Common Core curriculum and updated members about implementation.
Printed in the January 31, 2013 edition