The Forsyth County Board of Education discussed how schools are helping students recover from learning loss, what the district is doing to involve the community in its financial decisions and the education foundation’s growth at its work session on Tuesday, Sept. 13.
Recovering from learning loss
Before looking at what the district has been doing over the past year to help curb learning loss caused by the pandemic, Accountability Coordinator Tim Keyser told the board it is important to look at students’ Georgia Milestones results.
“The state strongly discourages making longitudinal comparisons to pre-pandemic levels because we know that there was an effect that impacted learning,” Keyser said. “But we still think it’s important to look at that data. We want to know where were we before the pandemic? How were our students performing?”
This past year’s results, which include End-of-Grade and End-of-Course assessments for grades 3-12, show a significant drop in student scores across all grades and subjects compared to pre-pandemic levels.
Despite the drop in results, Keyser explained that students still scored much higher than the state average, and Forsyth County Schools had the highest scores in the state among systems testing more than 1,000 students.
“It’s expected, but at the same time, we see that improvement taking place to recover,” Keysar said.
Amy Bartlett, Director of Elementary Education, explained that the system received $13 million in federal funding through the American Rescue Plan during the pandemic, and the district was required to use 20%, or $2.6 million, of the funding to help address learning loss.
FCS used that money to host a summer school in June and early July for all grade levels, inviting students who were at-risk or had failed standards in reading and math.
They also provided door-to-door transportation and provided free meals to students at all six school sites where the program was hosted. Overall, district leaders agreed that the program for both elementary and secondary students was a success.
Bartlett led the elementary program, which helped to engage more than 470 students at five different sites in hands-on activities that they could also take home with them after the 19-day program was over.
To gauge learning recovery, Bartlett explained that they had students take a test before and after summer school on the reading and math standards they especially struggled with.
In math, elementary students scored an average of 37% on their fact fluency test before the program and 50% after. On application of math concepts, scores went from 26% to 47%.
Students focusing on reading followed goals based on their class standards. By the end of the program, Bartlett said 64% of the students had either met or exceeded those goals.
“It’s really extraordinary for 19 days,” Bartlett said. “We’re really proud of the results.”
The middle school and high school programs were hosted at one site, with about 80 middle school students participating in either reading or math lessons focusing on their current and upcoming standards.
Using the same testing method as the elementary, Director of Secondary Education Heather Gordy explained students’ math scores increased from 36% to 71%, and 77% either met or exceeded their reading goals.
“So we feel really positive about the impact summer school had on our middle school kids,” Gordy said.
Summer school is always offered to high school students in the county, but Gordy explained this year it gave hundreds of students the opportunity to make up failed courses and get back on track for graduation.
The district offered credit recovery opportunities for literature, math, science and social studies, and more than 430 students, 96.57%, were able to complete their summer school courses.
Director of Federal Programs Amy Chang said the district still has funding set aside to address learning loss, and department leaders hope to continue with this program for students next summer.
District leaders will, however, have a consultation meeting with community members and stakeholders in October to determine what the remaining funding should go toward.
In the meantime, Lee Ann Rice, Associate Superintendent of Teaching and Learning, said she and her team will continue to work with schools to help find other ways to address areas of learning loss. Looking at Georgia Milestones data, she explained each school is coming up with their own improvement plans for the next year.
“We don’t just take our milestones scores and we’re done,” Rice said. “We’re looking deeply at the data that this provides, and we’re looking at our next steps very intentionally and how we’re supporting all of our students whether they’re struggling or excelling and how we’re supporting our teachers to make sure that they have what they need to meet our students’ needs.”
Involving community in financial decisions
Superintendent Dr. Jeff Bearden also announced at the work session that he and his team would be starting a new committee to help further involve the community in the district’s finances.
To do that, Bearden is calling on financial experts in Forsyth County interested in volunteering on the Citizens Financial Advisory Committee and meeting with him and the finance team a few times throughout the school year.
He hopes to find seven to nine volunteers to serve on the committee and provide feedback to district leaders as they go through the process of building a budget for the next fiscal year.
“I just think it’s important for our community to see that we have a citizens oversight committee in the area of finance,” Bearden said.
Those interested in joining the committee can contact their Board of Education representative for more information.
Forsyth County Education Foundation
Forsyth County Education Foundation leaders told the board they plan to begin a new student scholarship in honor of Dr. Leila Denmark, a well-known pediatrician who lived and practiced in Forsyth County for the last 16 years of her seven-decade career.
In partnership with the Denmark family, the foundation plans to launch the Dr. Leila Denmark Memorial Scholarship on Nov. 7, providing donated funds to Forsyth County students heading into college.
Evan Profeta, a member of the foundation’s governing board, said they have recovered bricks from Dr. Denmark’s original office, the former Hansard House, that they will gift to the first 310 scholarship participants along with a commemorative plaque.
For more information about the education foundation and the new scholarship, visit www.forsyth.k12.ga.us/edfoundation.