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Board of Education hears changes to virtual attendance policy, safety updates at latest work session
07282020 Virtual Learning
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

The Forsyth County Board of Education discussed possible changes to the district’s attendance policy regarding virtual learning along with updates from the safety and operations department during its latest work session on Tuesday, April 13.

Virtual attendance policy

Accountability Coordinator Tim Keyser presented new proposed changes to the district’s attendance policy that set an expectation for virtual learning participation.

The new changes encompass how teachers will take attendance going forward and outlines the level of engagement expected from students. The policy revision states that expectations will also be provided to students at the beginning of each course.

“Students are expected to engage in lessons, complete assignments, communicate in a timely manner with teachers and participate in virtual learning sessions as outlined in the course,” the policy revision states.

If students do not meet expectations or “are not successful in a virtual learning environment,” they will be required to return to in-person learning under the proposed policy revision. It also outlines that students who are not meeting “academic standards” or are failing courses or not turning in assignments will be considered truant from school.

The policy changes will be available for public feedback on the district’s website for 30 days before it is presented to the board for a final vote.

Positive Behavior Intention Supports

PBIS Coordinator Tara Davis spoke to the board about upcoming changes within the program, created to help build and maintain a safe and orderly learning environment for students.

The program helps schools to create a safe, proactive environment both for students and staff that distinctively meets the needs of those on their campus. On the student level, PBIS teaches them how to behave in school, and on a staff level, it allows them to look at how to approach students’ needs through a different lens.

To achieve this environment, participating schools set school-wide expectations for students. For example, Forsyth Central High School focuses on family, communication, honesty and service expectations, and staff members remind students of these expectations regularly. When students meet these expectations, they call it their “Bulldog Best.”

“They know bulldog best. They can talk about it, and they know what it means,” Davis said.

Currently, 15 different schools participate in the program — 10 elementary, three middle and two high schools. Six other schools have already committed to the program beginning next year, including the district’s two newest schools, East Forsyth High School and Hendricks Middle School.

Davis said the program, when applied to a school, looks different depending on that specific school’s needs and expectations for students. Depending on the school, the PBIS program also offers incentives to students for meeting set expectations such as PBIS “points” that they can spend on items in the school store.

“There is a myth out there that we’re just going to bribe students to behave,” Davis said. “That’s not true.”

She said schools can make these incentives as “glamorous or as simple” as they want to. Many schools also use the program to recognize staff members with Teacher of the Month titles and gifts.

Moving forward, Davis said that hope to add five schools to the program each year, but she explained implementation of the program in a school environment can sometimes take 3-5 years.

Student Advocacy Specialist

Assistant Director of Safety and Discipline Steve Honn also presented updates on their Student Advocacy Specialist program.

The program was originally created three years ago after the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida which led to the death of 17 people.

When it was first created, the only goal of the program was to identify students who may be in crisis. In the last three years, however, it has evolved to offer help to students through providing different resources, alignments and coping skills.

Overall, Honn said more than 1,300 students have been referred to the program, meaning law enforcement, a teacher or administrator reached out to see if a certain student may need extra help. Currently, they receive around two referrals per day.

The program will be gaining a seventh Student Advocacy Specialist beginning next year with the opening of East Forsyth High School, which Honn said will help out the other specialists and allow them to see even more students.

They also have begun talking with the dean of students and team of counselors at the University of North Georgia to offer further support to students even after graduation. Making a connection with counselors at area colleges and universities will give the advocacy specialists a chance to immediately introduce students to a counselor at that next level.

In the coming months, they also plan to get in touch with counselors at the University of Georgia, Georgia State University, Georgia Southern University and others.

“We’re going to create all of those contacts to help those kids who have anxiety or depression currently wanting to take that next step,” Honn said. “We can help walk them onto the campus and actually go visit their person there, so we’re not just stopping the support that this team gives after graduation.”

Several of the board members said many in the community have approached them about the impact that the program has had on their kids and how grateful they are for the advocacy specialists.

“I have to say out of my 12 years on the board, I think this program has been one of the most impactful we’ve ever had,” District 4 Representative Darla Light said. “I had a parent tell me a couple of months ago that [the student advocacy specialist] saved their child’s life. That’s what it’s all about.”