The Walker County Board of Education has a roadmap for the 2019-20 school year that focuses on safety, mental health and addressing the needs of its facilities. A strategic plan will be …
The Walker County Board of Education has a roadmap for the 2019-20 school year that focuses on safety, mental health and addressing the needs of its facilities.
A strategic plan will be implemented this school year that was developed over the past several months by community and education leaders. The plan's mission is to offer a quality education that ensures success based on five crucial goals: to provide safe and well-maintained facilities and effective instruction and leadership; to offer high quality, foundational education and focus on Pre-K offerings; to show growth in all assessed areas; and to help students be college and career ready.
"We wanted to make sure as we started off the first full school year of my first-term that we have a plan we're going by that's going to guide what we do," Walker County Schools Superintendent Dr. Joel Hagood said.
Hagood plans to have an in-depth discussion of the strategic plan at a future school board meeting.
Moving forward the school system wants to have an annual prioritized capital needs assessment performed at all schools to determine issues that may need attention. Some of those needs were addressed over the summer, thanks to $1.9 million the school board received through the Education Trust Fund's Advancement and Technology Fund.
Money issued from the ETF can only be used for facility repairs and deferred maintenance, classroom instructional support, insuring facilities, transportation, school security measures or the purchase of education technology and equipment, and the school board has a limited time to use the funding. It cannot be used for operating expenses, to pay down school board debt or to fund teaching units.
General maintenance work has occurred at many schools over the summer with ETF money. Hagood said parking lots have been paved at Lupton Jr. High School and the Curry and Sumiton schools' campuses; roof projects occurred at Lupton Jr. High and the Sumiton Middle School gym; Oakman Middle School received new playground equipment; a few gym floors were refinished; some lighting was replaced with LED fixtures; security cameras were replaced at some schools; and many HVAC units were replaced across the district.
The parking lot at the Walker County Center of Technology will be repaved in the coming weeks as well.
The school system is also in the process of purchasing school buses with the ETF funding, which will cost an estimated $87,000 each. The buses will be air-conditioned.
"We've got to have new buses," Hagood said. "We've still got 10 buses that are 2004 models on the road and two 2000 models on the road."
Eleven to 12 buses will be purchased over the next few months and will be fully blended with their current fleet by the next school year.
While maintaining facilities has been a top priority of the school system over the summer, many efforts have also been made to address the mental health issues of students in schools.
The school system hired Misty Whisenhunt as a mental health coordinator for the district in June, and she recently told the Daily Mountain Eagle of initiatives that have taken place over the summer to better serve students with emotional needs. She said school counselors participated in Mandt training that educates on helping students who could consider self-harm, and a therapeutic day program will soon be implemented to help students who may be struggling. A task force for emotional support has also been developed.
"I'm excited that we have that avenue now for our kids," Hagood said, adding that many organizations have partnered with the school board to address the mental health needs of students.
Hagood referenced a recent addition of the Daily Mountain Eagle, with headlines that were indicative of the issues contributing to the mental health struggles of children in Walker County.
"The opioid crisis and the homeless rate increasing — that's what our kids are facing," he said. "I hate to say it, but what you guys are reporting on, we see it in our schools on a daily basis."
He added, "We've got to make sure while we have them captivated at school that we're doing everything we can to make sure they're fed well, to make sure they feel safe, to make sure they feel wanted and cared about."
Hagood said he also wants to make sure each school's safety plans are up to date and, in addition, continue the school system's partnership with the Walker County Sheriff's Office to provide school resource officers in schools without a municipal police force.
The superintendent was transparent with the Daily Mountain Eagle about challenges the school system may have ahead, including debt accumulated during the previous administration (which he will address in a future financial presentation); however, he said the school system is continuing to provide a high-quality education for students. When asked what the school system's strongest asset is, he was quick to answer.
"You can't replace the value of a good teacher and what they do in that classroom," he said. "The one thing, regardless of socioeconomics, is quality instruction in the classroom. I think we have a lot of that going on in our system. ... That's the one thing I'm most proud of is our teachers.
"We've got a lot of good teachers that work hard and really genuinely care about these kids."
Students will return to school on Thursday, Aug. 8.
New administrators in Walker County Schools
Some administrative changes have occurred at Walker County Schools over the summer.
Alisa Brown has been named as the new principal of Cordova High School. She has served as assistant principal at the school for a number of years.
Haley Moore is now the principal of Curry Elementary School, where she has been serving as assistant principal.
Roy Martin was the principal at Curry Elementary, but he has since been named the director of the school district's 180 program.