PICKENS, Ga. — The new agricultural facilities were an important topic at the Pickens County Board of Education meeting on Oct. 14. Concerns about staff shortages across the county were also brought up at the meeting.
Gilleland also updated the board on the agricultural facilities currently under construction. The board approved the guaranteed maximum pricing for the PHS agricultural facility at $6,668,139. Gilleland noted that the GMP marked over a million dollars in savings from the original estimates. He then spoke about the process of construction, which has been underway since the first meetings around one year ago. He noted that the FFA has been heavily involved in the process,“We let them tell us what they wanted, and we’re building what they wanted.”
Greg Long, President of Georgia FFA Alumni Association, spoke during the public comment section of the meeting. Long commended Superintendent Young and Mr. Gilleland for helping get the agricultural facility started, and recognizing its significance, “How gratifying it is to finally see somebody take a little bit of interest in the importance of what our Ag. program means in this community.”
Superintendent Young addressed the topic of staff shortages, “It’s been a very challenging year for staffing in a number of different areas.” During his superintendent report, Chief Operations Officer Stacy Gilleland first mentioned the issue of bus driver shortages, “We’re still struggling with driver shortage.” However, the county has approved two bus drivers this month, and is in the process of training four more drivers. Gilleland also brought up concerns about the school system’s food service staff: “We’re having to do a lot of subbing, and it’s been a real critical issue.”
The county, however, is working to address the current staffing issues. During the meeting, the board unanimously approved an amendment to the current bus driver schedule. The state of Georgia has a bus driver salary scale which caps increases to 19 years. This amendment, however, will extend the cap to 30 years. The board hopes the extension will help the county stand out in the job market and recruit more drivers.
Two board members spoke about the newly approved amendment. Mr. Gartell addressed the chair to acknowledge that the county will probably need to consider additional action in the future: “It seems to be a national shortage and we may have to move further as we go into this … but this is a good step that we’re able to take now, and hopefully the state will free up some funding for transportation.” Mr. Green also spoke, noting the importance of community input: “I appreciate a couple drivers that brought this to mine, and our, attention. It’s another prime example of ‘don’t be scared to speak up.’”
The Board of Education approved a memorandum of understanding with Georgia Hope, who will provide more mental health and counseling services to the school system.
Despite ever-changing information, Rick Townsend, Superintendent of Pickens County Schools, is confident they have a good plan to resume school on August 3. Townsend said as a system, they had to consider what the ideal would be as well as what was practical and by putting teams in place to analyze both aspects, combined with the unique needs of the individual schools and come up with a plan.
Based on the guidelines from the Georgia Department of Public Health, Pickens County is considered a “minimal or moderate spread” location or yellow. Townsend said up until last week, the Georgia DPH, was considered green, meaning there was very little to no spread, but the department redesigned the criteria.
“I don’t know of any counties who are green right now,” Townsend said, adding that next week might paint a different picture because the information and recommendations have been very fluid. “They are now looking at how different spreads would impact the community.” He used the example of if there was an outbreak at a nursing home, how would it affect the schools.
Masks or No Masks
Masks will be expected when students and staff cannot social distance, such as on the bus and transitioning between classes.
However, Townsend said, there are times it won’t be practical.
“It’s important that students see the teacher’s mouth when teaching phonics or in guided reading,” he said.
“We know the younger children are going to struggle with the masks,” he said.
He also said that when students are working on group projects and are very close, they are expected to wear masks, but if they are sitting in their desks, and the teacher is at the front of the class, teaching, then going without masks is acceptable.
The system will provide one masks, but parents are welcome to provide masks for their children.
There will be wellness stations at each school for students and staff that do not feel well, but they will not require COVID-19 testing.
Camp and recess will continue in the elementary schools, but may look differently than previous years.
“Our principals will be making those decisions for their schools,” he said.
With transportation, students are expected to wear masks. Loading will assigned seats from rear to front when loading. Students will exit front to back and busses will be disinfected between routes.
Visitors and Volunteers
Visitors will wear masks while in the building, said Townsend. Volunteers will still be needed, but the number will be reduced.
“Unfortunately, we have to limit volunteer opportunities,” he said.
SEE THE RETURN TO SCHOOL PLAN HERE.
First day of school for Pre-K and Kindergarten
Townsend said he knows it’s important to parents to be able to walk their new students to pre-k or kindergarten classes and it will be allowed on the first day, if parents are masked. After that, it will be normal drop off.
Other Aspects of Traditional School
Townsend said before and after care programs will remain and didn’t anticipate a change in cost to those programs.
Cafeteria workers are working on a plan to provide meals to students while maintaining safety standards. Workers would be masked when students enter the cafeteria.
Pickens Virtual Academy
Parents wanted options
“We had many parents ask for a virtual option,” said Townsend. “So, we gave them one. They deserve it.”
That option is the Pickens Virtual Academy, using Pearson Connexus as the platform. Students sign up by every semester.
It costs Pickens County Schools about $220 per student for the virtual academy. Students enroll each semester, allowing them to change their school type at the end of the semester from traditional to virtual or vice versa.
Townsend said that so far they’ve had about 300 students enroll in the virtual academy and he expects that number to grow by the time registration ends on July 13.
The school system hosted a virtual webinar about the virtual academy which had more than 200 parents tuning in to learn about the school. The recorded webinar has had 30,000 views since Monday.
READ ABOUT THE WEBINAR HERE.
Should COVID-19 cases surge, students in traditional school will switch to distance learning, said Townsend. Teachers will provide work, which will be graded and count toward the final day. While he hopes it doesn’t happen, nothing is certain at this point.
“It’s almost like waiting for a snow day,” he said. “We may get a call at 10 p.m. saying there is no school.”
All students, traditional and virtual, will be issued a Chromebook. Pearson representatives said in Monday’s webinar that additional school supplies would be furnished by their company, but most curriculum called for standard household items. Any art supplies would be furnished by the schools.
As of July 8, 2020 the Georgia Highschool Sports Association had football schedules posted with games starting August 21, but Townsend said anything could change and encouraged parents and students to stay in touch with coaches or staff.
Students attending the Pickens Virtual Academy will be eligible to play and participate in any extracurricular activities.
SEE THE GHSA FOOTBALL SCHEDULE HERE.