Forsyth County Board of Education Chair Kristin Morrissey banged the gavel to mark the beginning of the board’s last meeting of 2021 when a dog barked from out in the crowd. Each of the board members burst out in laughter.
“That’s a first,” Morrissey said.
The small corgi was one of several members of Denmark High School’s veterinary science pathway in attendance at the meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 14, where Principal Kim Oliver took a moment to honor the team and its significant growth over the last few years.
Denmark opened in 2018 with the goal of making sure students felt a connection to the school and to each other. Oliver said they can do this through the 11 career and technical pathways offered. The school sees the most out-of-district requests from students for its vet science pathway.
Shelly Williams, director of the program, said they offer a variety of hands-on courses. While they started in 2018 with one teacher and four basic agriculture classes, they now have three teachers offering 16 classes to nearly 400 students.
Agriculture teacher Donovan Hemmings attributed much of this growth to the career development events offered through the program. These include educational competitions that test students’ skills in wildlife management, vet science, prepared public speaking, forestry and more.
Each year, he said the students find more success at these competitions and events.
In 2019, the program’s junior vet science team won its state-wide competition. The senior vet science and horse evaluation teams also earned first place at state competitions in 2021, earning 8th and 20th in the nation, respectively.
Students in attendance said they find success through the program simply by being able to work directly with a wide variety of animals on campus while having the opportunity to bond with a close-knit group of peers.
“I think it’s great you guys have a passion, and you’re able to live out your passion at school,” said Vice Chairman Wes McCall. “That’s pretty awesome.”
Lee Anne Rice, associate superintendent of teaching and learning, also took time during the meeting to recognize Lambert High School’s iGEM team.
The group of students was tasked with tackling everyday issues using synthetic biology for an international competition and focusing on hydroponics to address food insecurity and sustainability, they won a project gold medal.
“Not only did their project impress scientists across the world, but their behavior was noted by citizens who shared with our sponsors that they just knew our world was going to be okay if kids like this are growing up to be adults leading in our society,” Rice said.
They placed among the Top 10 high school teams in the world out of 91 competing teams, and they earned an award for best integrated human practices.
After inviting the students up to meet the board members, Superintendent Dr. Jeff Bearden took to the podium to honor Forsyth County Schools staff members who retired during the first semester of the 2021-22 school year.
“I want to thank you all for your dedication and commitment to Forsyth County Schools and our students,” Bearden said. “Whether you served as a teacher, administrator or any support role, your work was vital to our mission …. Now is the time for the next chapter in life. Please enjoy this next chapter. We wish you all the very best in your retirement.”
Those retiring before next semester include:
- Michael Aderhold;
- Paul Kevin Chrystal;
- Ann Allen;
- Carla Gravitt;
- Cindy Baker;
- Kelly Martin;
- Bryan Bradford;
- Pamela Mukwanyaga;
- Debra Bridges;
- Penny Vickery;
- Pat Carnes;
- Andrea Wojciechowski.
New buses for 2022
Moving on to the business portion of the meeting, the board unanimously approved the purchasing of 16 new school buses in 2022.
Director of Transportation Mike Satterfield said the new buses “will allow Forsyth County Schools to update our current school bus fleet and continue to meet the transportation needs of our schools and community.”
The new buses will be purchased from Thomas Built Bus/Peach State Freightliner and cost around $1,576,632. These will be funded through the 2014 and 2018 bonds and Educational Special Local Option Sales Tax funds approved by Forsyth County voters.
Public participation took a turn during Tuesday’s meeting as parents centered more on concerns surrounding certain books available in school media centers in Forsyth County.
For more than six months, parents and community members had been focusing their attention on Critical Race Theory and the school system’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plan. FCS was just one of many school districts across the nation joining in on these discussions.
As these conversations begin to die down, a new national conversation about banning or restricting books in libraries and media centers has begun, particularly looking at books with LGBTQ themes or those dealing with racism.
Four speakers participated in public comments during the meeting on Tuesday, with three of them making mention of the books offered in FCS’ media centers.
One parent, Cindy Martin, said she recently had a meeting with school media center leaders to address the “urgent issue” of having LGBTQ books in the schools.
After looking through what books the schools have available to students, Martin said she is concerned that students or parents may not be able to tell from the book’s title, cover or description that it contains LGBTQ themes.
“A parent or a student going into the media center would have no clue that they are checking out [an LGBTQ book],” Martin said. “As a parent who does not want my child to read these books, I’m asking for safeguards to be put into place to ensure my children do not accidentally check out these books.”
In other states across the U.S., books surrounding LGBTQ themes have been banned from schools or challenged by local conservative or parent groups. These groups have also attended local board of education meetings to speak out about the books in the last year.
During this time, many U.S. librarians have fought against the challenges and bans.