HUNT COLUMN: Can I get a witness?

Published 10:30 am Wednesday, April 12, 2023

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By Cathy Hunt
Retired Troup County teacher and current school board member

As of Spring Break, our school board has made group visits to every campus in our system this school year: 11 elementary schools, 3 middle schools, 3 high schools, Thinc and Hope Academies, and the Career Center. It has been such a joy to get back into the buildings after two years of Covid restrictions.

Our official visits are opportunities to sit down with school leaders for a couple of hours to hear their joys, concerns, ideas, and needs. No system administrators accompany us; we use this time to build relationships with school personnel. We also walk through the schools and visit classrooms. 

The visits and the discussions always stir my passion for the important work that public schools do. On every campus, I feel the intense determination of the staff to make a difference in the lives of their students. I see vibrant classrooms and energetic teachers. I witness the academic lessons that are designed to teach the standards and move student achievement forward. I see smiles and hugs that children bestow on the adults. In short, I see that we are successfully “having school.”

Think about this: we have 180 days of school; multiply those days by 20 campuses and realize that we actually experience 3600 school days every year, since every school is an individual entity with its own daily experience. Alternately, multiple 180 school days by 12,000 students, and you get a whopping 2,160,000 different school days experienced by those students in a year. Although we know that every school will have particularly challenging days from time to time, and every student will have some bad days, it really is amazing that we have a mind-boggling number of good, fruitful days each year at individual schools and for individual students.

Now more than ever, educators are monitoring and serving the individual needs of students. In every school, you can see a “data room,” where every student’s personal progress is monitored with the help of i-Ready programs and test scores. Every school has a plan for providing extra help for students who need it. Principals rave about how their teachers happily sacrifice their planning to time to work with students and/or volunteer for after-school tutoring. They also are thrilled about how the intervention specialist now provided at each school is making a difference. Central office personnel are providing more support than I’ve ever seen.

Students have more opportunities than ever to find their niches, whether through sports, the arts, career/technical pathways, or super-specialized programs like GreenPower. The challenge is how to make sure that students who have transportation or financial problems can still participate, and we are working on that. We offer Move On When Ready, dual enrollment, Option B, Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate options. 

TCSS is taking unprecedented steps to ensure student health and safety. Social workers and mental health providers are growing in number, though we need more. We are taking steps to have resource officers and metal detectors on every campus in the near future. We have opened one school-based health center and look to have more.

I’m proud of our system. I’m no Pollyanna – I know where the problems lie and know there is still much work to be done. I know you can find a disgruntled employee in almost every department if you’re looking for complaints (which is true in all walks of life). I know you can find deeply disturbed or unruly children in every school. But I also know that our people work their tails off every day and deserve all the praise and support they can get. Ask to visit a school. Be a witness to all the good that is happening.