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School board considers $13M proposal to strengthen the arts
Forsyth County Schools

At the annual retreat of the Forsyth County Board of Education held on Tuesday, board members heard presentations from system staff on a variety of different topics that will impact the school system in the upcoming year and years to come. 

Presentation topics included a $13 million dollar proposal to improve the arts at local schools, upcoming decisions that will shape the future of the Dual Language Immersion program, and an update on student homelessness in the county. 

Any proposals presented during this meeting were not up for board approval, but may come before the board in the upcoming year.

Fine Arts Strategic Plan

In partnership with teams of school and community representatives and stakeholders, over the last year system staff developed the Forsyth County Arts Initiative, a $13 million proposal to promote and advance education for dance, music, theatre, visual arts and media arts in local schools. 

According to Laurie T. Schell, Principal of Laurie Schell Associates, the firm that consulted with the school system to develop the initiative, such a proposal could expand the system's capacity for instruction in the arts, connect schools with their communities and improve the quality of resources for arts in existing schools.

"Basically, the arts prepare students for success in college and beyond by equipping them with foundational skills to learn and develop social and emotional competencies and skills," Schell said. "The goal here in doing this work is to eliminate any barriers that might exist, increase more effective community partnerships and ensure quality experiences for all of our students." 

Schell said that the proposed plan would span five years and involve hiring new staff, expanding instruction and learning opportunities for students and staff, while updating equipment for existing classrooms.

The Forsyth County Arts Initiative also includes an audit of the county's existing fine arts facilities, which would be completed by a third-party company in order for the system to have an unbiased opinion of what it offers to students and what could be improved to increase equality for the arts county wide.

Documents provided by Schell and Forsyth County Schools Fine Arts Specialist Catherine Keyser propose spending $13,102,875 between 2020 and 2025.

As the presentation came to a close, Forsyth County Superintendent Jeff Bearden said that the next steps for the program will likely come in the spring, when the board is able to see what they can fund.

"Once we get the revenues we have to look and see how much of an investment we can make in this strategic plan," Bearden said. "Now we have something to work with."

Dual Language Immersion program

In the 2020-21 school year, Forsyth County Schools will welcome their fourth elementary school into the Dual Language Immersion Program family.

According to Associate Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Fonda Harrison and World Languages Content Specialist Michaela Claus-Nix, over the last two years the county has exploded with interest for the language program, raising questions about how the system will continue hiring waves of DLI Spanish teachers as DLI students transitions to middle and high schools, and how the program should be structured in the future.

"Really the biggest problem or challenge that we have with DLI is finding the Spanish teachers that are truly bi-lingual, truly fluent and proficient in Spanish," Claus-Nix said to board members.

Up until now, the school system hasn’t had to hard of time finding the right staff, she said, and they’ve been banking teachers, hiring them at schools ahead of time so they are established and ready at the school when the DLI cohort rolls up to the next grade level.

"So we’re trying to encourage most of our schools to do that. Brandywine and Cumming have been able to do that, so they are already fully staffed for next year," she said.  

But they might run into a little more difficulty in the years ahead when the system will need to hire multiple new teachers each year at DLI schools to keep up with student growth, while also competing with surrounding Georgia systems that also offer DLI programs.

By the 2026-27 school year, they expect to have more than 1,000 DLI students in kindergarten through seventh-grade, according to Harrison and Claus-Nix’s presentation.

The program will transition to its first middle schools during the 2024-25 school year.

Homeless student population update

According to Kim Bolivar, homeless education liaison for Forsyth County Schools, the system is tracking a concerning rise in unaccompanied homeless youth in the county for 2020.

During her presentation to the board, Bolivar said that since 2016, the number of unaccompanied homeless youth – students that lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence and are not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian – has grown from 12 students in 2016 to 90 in 2019.

"If you base it on these numbers, that’s and 80-81% increase. And remember FY20 is not over," she said. "This number has skyrocketed."

This rise does not correlate with the growth that Forsyth County Schools has seen throughout the district, she said.

Already in 2020, Bolivar said that there are 87 unaccompanied homeless youth registered with the district.