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School calendars, drug counseling discussed at BOE work session
School calendar

At the regularly scheduled October work session of the Forsyth County Board of Education, board members were presented a number of notable items, including proposed updates to the school calendars and an upcoming agreement between the board, county commissioners and the sheriff’s office aimed at taking proactive steps towards tackling the county’s drug problem. 

Board presented proposed school calendars

The board was presented a draft of the calendars for the upcoming 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years by Deputy Superintendent of Schools Joey Pirkle. 

According to Pirkle, over the last months they have been receiving input from local school councils at the 39 Forsyth County public schools and are now ready for comments and suggestions from the public.

Both of the calendars are similar to the current 2018-19 calendar, with a few minor differences that include,   

• The 2019-20 school year has a proposed start date of Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019, while the 2020-21 school year has a start date of Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020.   

• Fall break dates are different for the two calendars — Fall break 2019 is proposed for Sept. 30 to Oct. 4, while Fall break 2020 would be Sept. 21 to 25. 

• Both calendars share an extra day off in the second week of March. 

“I just have to say, I think it speaks volumes again about the process we go through locally to take into consideration the feedback we get from our local school councils and our community at large, that’s really the way a school calendar should be built,” said Forsyth County School Superintendent Jeff Bearden. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to continue to do that.”

Forsyth County Schools Director of Communication Jennifer Caracciolo said after the work session that this is the first time the system has ever proposed a school calendar two years out. She said they decided to take the measure at the suggestion of community members who want to plan farther in advance.

“Based on feedback from staff and parents, they have requested calendars further out into the future to assist them with their family planning,” Caracciolo said.

The public has until Oct. 26 to provide feedback on the calendar. The final version will be approved at the November board meeting on Nov. 13. 

Both calendars and feedback forms can be found on the Forsyth County School System’s web portal.  

Caracciolo said that once they have final calendars they can work out other things like high school course calendars, hiring, staffing and graduation planning. 

“The calendar has changed a lot over the years, based on the feedback that we’ve received,” she said. “That’s why our board believes that this is a local decision, because it’s really based on the needs of each county or city school system.”

Drug prevention, counseling agreement approved

The board unanimously approved an agreement between the school system, the Forsyth County Commissioners and the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office to provide increased drug and alcohol counseling in Forsyth County Schools. 

The measure was presented by Drew Hayes, principal of The Academies of Creative Education, who spoke for some time on the work currently being done at Gateway Academy to help young people through small groups and counseling. 

“The opioid crisis is a tremendous problem in the United States, but very specifically it’s a tremendous problem right here in this triangle,” Hayes said. 

According to Hayes, about 70 percent of high school students come to Gateway because of a drug or alcohol offense on campus and more than 80 percent of their 204 students, ages 11-19, admit to using drugs and alcohol weekly. 

“I don’t think this is atypical; no, I think this is a national issue,” Hayes said. “What we are looking to do is address this as much as possible with prevention because coming on the back end of it is so costly and so dangerous.” 

Hayes said that a grant they received from Beaver Toyota last year allowed them to start bringing in a counselor to run a group two days a week. Now they would like to expand the program and make it more permanent.

The new program would fund a full-time drug counselor at Academies of Creative Education, with the ability to travel to other schools like Forsyth Academy and Forsyth Central High School to touch base with at-risk students. 

“However many groups we would need to run, we would be able to run it,” he said. 

In the discussion before the vote, board member representing District 3, Tom Cleveland stated that he has seen the opioid crisis grow in his years on the board.

“This is not a new thing, this has been going on for some time and I watched it grow and it’s still a precipice; it has more room to grow within the county,” he said.

Before the board made their decision, Bearden explained that the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners approved their part of the funding for the project in September and the sheriff’s office is in the process of finalizing their part. 

Bearden said that the sheriff’s office is expected to provide $10,000 a year for the position, with funds coming from drug seizure revenues. He said that they would return to finalize the sheriff’s office part of the agreement at the October board meeting next week. 

If given final approval, Bearden said that the counselor will start by Nov. 1, 2018.