Strategic plan, finances discussed at county BOE meeting

By NICOLE SMITH
Posted 8/10/19

The Walker County Board of Education is moving forward with a plan aimed at strengthening the school system.Walker County Schools Superintendent Dr. Joel Hagood addressed the board and guests at the …

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Strategic plan, finances discussed at county BOE meeting

Posted

The Walker County Board of Education is moving forward with a plan aimed at strengthening the school system.

Walker County Schools Superintendent Dr. Joel Hagood addressed the board and guests at the school board meeting Thursday afternoon to detail a strategic plan. He also provided an update on the school board's financial position.

"If you don't have a vision, if you don't know what your purpose is, where you want to go in the future — those types of things — it creates a pretty chaotic situation," Hagood said.

He began by explaining how a steering committee of school system employees and county leaders crafted the five-point strategic plan that highlights attainable goals to best serve students.

The first goal is to ensure students learn in a safe and well-maintained facility. In order to achieve this goal, Hagood asked each principal to submit a list of capital needs at their schools. Such needs were then passed on to the school system's director of maintenance and other central office staff to consider during capital planning.

Maintaining safety plans and continuing a partnership with the Walker County Sheriff's Office to provide school resource officers is also of high importance. 

"The sheriff has been great to work with, especially in those areas where we don't have a regular police force with coverage," Hagood said. "We want to look at expanding that." 

Serving students with mental health needs also falls under the umbrella of goal one. The school system currently has partnerships with a number of mental health agencies to help students with special needs or those suffering from depression and other emotional issues.

"We've made that a major priority at the start of this school year by hiring a mental health director," Hagood said. "We also saw firsthand last year, with some of our kids, a major cry for help with some of the things that happened on some of our school campuses. We had to do something."  

The second goal aims for effective instruction and leadership by encouraging teachers to further their education. Part of the process will also involve heightened expectations and accountability. 

Hagood said the school system also wants to focus on early childhood education and expanding Pre-K opportunities for the third goal. Currently, the school system has nine First Class Pre-K classrooms, which are made possible through state grants each year.    

Also, in an effort to strengthen early childhood education, the Reading Horizons program was mentioned. It is now a district-wide program aimed at literacy.

Identifying students with math struggles is another effort of Goal 3. 

Goal 4 is closely related to Goal 3 in its determination to seek academic growth. The school system is striving to implement an ACT academy at all schools while also focusing on targeted instruction through the use of interventionists and instructional coaches. 

To achieve the fourth goal, Hagood said increasing attendance will be a key factor, and he hopes to implement parent and student programs to detail the importance of coming to school. He's hoping to generally increase parent involvement at schools as well. 

Goal 5 strives to help students cross the finish line by being college and career ready upon graduation.

"It's one thing to have a 92 percent graduation rate, but how does that compare to your college and career ready rate?" Hagood questioned. "If there's a big gap there, then that signals to us that we've got to take a look at that." 

Expanding career technical opportunities is an ongoing goal of the school system, as well as using more STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) instruction.

The school system also wants to continue encouraging dual enrollment with Bevill State Community College and implement coding courses. 

A video can be found on the Daily Mountain Eagle Facebook page of Hagood's full strategic plan presentation.   

Hagood also discussed the school system's financial stance, in what he referred to as "the good, the bad, and the ugly."

He said the school system is nearly $49 million in debt — an average of just over $5,000 per student. A chart he displayed showed that since FY16, the school system's general fund has been in decline each subsequent year.

"You know we have to keep a one-month operating reserve. The state requires that. We're getting awfully close to that point," Hagood said.

He explained that $2.5 million in deficit spending occurred in FY17 and FY 18, which contributed to the general fund decline.

The spending occurred prior to Hagood's term as superintendent. 

"In FY18 alone it was almost $2 million, so it's deficit spending, and that means you're dipping into the reserves," Hagood said. "This is why that steady, steady decline over the years [has occurred]."

Hagood also noted a decline in enrollment over the past several years. He explained that the school system was still maintaining a high number of local teaching units, despite the enrollment decrease.   

"Since 2011, we've lost 1,177 kids for an average of 131 students a year, which has cost us 77 (state-funded) teaching units," Hagood said, attributing the enrollment decline to homeschooling and other factors. "In 2017-18, we were carrying almost 50 local units — above the foundation. You see what that cost us as a school system, $2.6 million. ... Enrollment is going down but the personnel is going up."

In FY 2018-19, locally funded units increased again, costing the school system just over $3 million. 

"These are the things that I have to look at when moving forward and making adjustments to be fiscally responsible," Hagood said.

Since taking office as superintendent, Hagood has looked for cost-saving measures. He made major cuts at the central office level, for instance, saving the school board just over $477,000 annually.

Hagood said he plans to form a committee to look at other cost-saving measures.

"The last place I want to see that impact is in the classroom. I think we do have some institutional units that we can look at in addressing, but that's going to mean change. Change is never fun and never easy."

Hagood then moved to good news in terms of the financial status of the board. Thankfully, he said money received from the state Education Trust Fund's Advancement and Technology Fund ($1.9 million) became available to pay for necessary maintenance and other needs at schools over the summer. 

The funding 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.

"We had a ton of maintenance needs, and I don't know what we would have done if we had not received these funds," Hagood said.

Roughly $900,000 of the funding was used for new school buses, and other repairs were made at schools over the summer.

The school board will receive an estimated $2 million in funding through the ETF next year.

"Leading into this school year, we made some pretty significant cuts," Hagood said at the conclusion of his speech. "There are some things we've got to look at, things we've got to do in being diligent moving forward."  

In other business, the school board:

• held a moment of silence for three students who passed away over the summer — Faithlynn Blankenship of Sumiton Elementary School and Nickalus Thacker and Austin Aaron of Oakman Middle School. 

• approved a professional personnel list, naming Jerri Dutton as assistant principal at Curry Elementary School. 

• approved to enter into an agreement with HealthConnect America for the agency to provide mental health services for students who need them in the school system.

•approved Karter Smith as a volunteer football coach at Cordova High School. 

• recognized Curry Middle School's softball team for being county championship winners.