The Forsyth County Board of Education discussed updates to its 2022-27 strategic plan, Forsyth Teacher Academy and the upcoming New Hope Elementary School at its latest work session on Tuesday, April 12.
2022-27 strategic plan
Leaders with Forsyth County Schools plan to move forward with five goal areas including focusing on students’ social and emotional health, operational success, and staff recruitment for the next five years as part of the 2022-27 strategic plan.
Deputy Superintendent Mitch Young presented the goals, created using feedback from stakeholders across the county, to board members at its work session on Tuesday.
When the strategic planning process began, Young said there were two important questions: What is Forsyth County Schools known for? And what does FCS as a community want to be known for?
The district gathered feedback from community members during the first phase of the strategic planning process. They used community engagement focus groups, online surveys, public participation at BOE meetings, accreditation results, local school council meetings and superintendent advisory groups.
Young and his team gathered the feedback and, along with stakeholders, were able to pinpoint key strengths and areas of improvement in the system.
A few accomplishments he said Forsyth County Schools is known for are high academic achievement, commitment to personal relationships, school safety, financial efficiency, use of technology, growth in population and growing diversity.
Some of the challenges identified were over-pressurized environments, inconsistencies in expectations, the need to expand school safety to social and emotional threats, staff wellness, inappropriate use of technology, Forsyth County Schools’ need to clarify its purpose and the need to keep up with growth in the county.
All the feedback went to the district’s planning team, which is made up of parents, teachers and administrators, business community members, faith leaders, political organizations and students.
Through conversations and deliberation over the feedback, the planning team put together a list of recommendations for the district’s vision, mission and belief statements and overarching goals for the next five years.
“Throughout this, there is a common theme,” Young said. “As we try to clarify all the things that we’ve done through these last several years to make sure that our schools are places where families and the children and teachers and everybody feels a sense of family, it really comes down to the word connection.”
Young presented the planning team’s proposed vision for FCS for the next five years: “A safe, connected, and thriving community for all.”
Along with its proposed mission: “To deliver an unparalleled education for all to succeed.”
The planning team also composed five proposed belief statements that it believes FCS should stick by when making decisions over the next five years:
· Respect and empathy are vital to building trust
· All students and staff must have a strong sense of purpose
· All students and staff must be connected and supported
· All students and staff must be challenged to think critically and creatively
· Family and community engagement are essential to continuous improvement
While holding to these beliefs, the planning team also came up with five goal areas the district should work toward. Usually, the five-year strategic plan outlines three goal areas, but Young said “given the state of our children and our community, we had two additional goal areas added this year.”
The first and most important goal area for the planning team is students’ social and emotional health, which has been an added concern in communities across the U.S. since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some local and national political groups, however, have argued against social and emotional learning in K-12 schools.
“That is not some outside group that we’re borrowing a term from,” Young said. “The social and emotional health of our children has to be an intentional focus, and that became very clear with members of our community.”
Other proposed goal areas included: operational excellence; staff recruitment and development; culture, climate and community; and the learner experience.
Young thanked all the community members who participated in giving feedback to FCS and worked on the planning team over the last several months. Despite members from all over the community with different political backgrounds and beliefs coming together, Young said the planning has been a success.
“I get chills when I think about how successful that planning teamwork was because folks who vehemently disagreed with each other were able to work and focus on what we are [all] for as opposed to everything we’re against,” Young said. “And it was an incredible model.”
The BOE will vote on the goal areas and statements at the next regular meeting on Tuesday, April 19, and if approved, it will move forward to the district’s action team. That team will take these goals and create action steps with measurable goals “to bring this plan to life.”For more information, visit the district’s website at www.forsyth.k12.ga.us.
Forsyth Teacher Academy
Dr. Michele Dugan, the coordinator of resource development within Forsyth County Schools Human Resources Department, also presented an update to the board on the Forsyth Teacher Academy and recognize several academy graduates.
The Forsyth Teacher Academy is a collective of three programs — induction, endorsements, and Georgia TAPP — which provide opportunities for educators in the county to earn teaching certifications, take part in new trainings or certifications and find extra support where needed.
The program is approved by the Georgia Professionals Standards Commission, and through the academy, FCS can provide initial certification and endorsements to teachers in the same way as a university or college.
Dugan said the program has been especially helpful throughout the pandemic as teachers have needed extra support and school systems throughout the U.S. have now struggled with a shortage of teachers.
“It’s so obvious now that [this academy] was ahead of its time and needed,” said Tom Cleveland, District 3 representative. “Today, it’s definitely needed. How else are you going to get teachers? They’re just not coming.”
Beginning this year, Dugan said the academy is offering new endorsements to teachers who may be interested, including teacher support and coaching, one that she hopes will bring teachers into leadership roles where they can coach and mentor newer educators. They are also now offering K-5 math.
Aside from these new additions, Dugan said the Professional Standards Commission also conducted a review of the academy this year, interviewing more than 60 staff members who work with the academy.
In the commission’s final report, Dugan said “their commentary was glowing,” impressed with the Forsyth Teacher Academy and its work bringing in and supporting educators.
She said they have also partnered with the University of Georgia to review and research to find out if the Forsyth Teacher Academy is an effective way to prepare teachers for public schools. So far, overwhelmingly, she said the results have shown that it is an effective strategy.
“When our programs work together …. we’re hoping to expand that research beyond and ensure every teacher gets what they need because that means retention and that means great teachers in front of our kids,” Dugan said.
New Hope Elementary update
Chief Facilities Officer Matt Wark gave an update on New Hope Elementary School to the board, which he said is on track to be completed the grand opening set for July 23.
During the presentation, he showed the board updated photos of what the county’s newest elementary school looks like, showing the nearly completed exterior and interior.
“New Hope is different than what we’ve ever built here for Forsyth County Schools, and it truly stands out in the community and we’re excited,” Wark said.
Sitting off Castleberry Road, the school features large windows and panels at the front of the building with a large play field positioned at the back of the building. While they have not yet been constructed, there will be two playgrounds on the campus, and an outdoor courtyard sits in the middle of the building.
Because of the courtyard, Wark said every classroom has at least one exterior window for the students to enjoy natural sunlight throughout the day.
Inside the building, families will be able to find seating spaces throughout the hallways where students can get together outside of the classroom to learn collaboratively. There will also be collaborative space inside of the media center, which Wark said is one of the largest elementary media centers in the county.
The main hallway, which Wark compared to Hendricks Middle School’s main hallway, is large, giving students space to move about without being too crowded. And when students look up at the ceiling, they will notice some gaps and spaces where they can see through and look at the wiring and piping that is normally hidden in school buildings.
Wark said this is a purposeful design, creating a floating ceiling that piques students’ interests.
“It’s all encased,” Wark said. “It’s all very safe, but it’s part of the design to kind of give the view for the kids. We’ve actually seen that it turns into an educational piece because you can talk about heating and air, plumbing, electrical, things of that nature.”
Wark said they received the certificate of occupancy last month and have started bringing furniture into the building to prepare for the grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony on July 23.
He thanked Bowen and Watson for their work constructing the elementary school and Smallwood Architects for the design and plans along with Tom Wening, FCS director of construction and Greg Pruitt, director of facilities planning.
“We’re very, very proud of this building,” Wark said.