Hagood: partnerships are helping schools

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Walker County Schools Superintendent Dr. Joel Hagood gave what he referred to as a "state of the school system" address at a recent meeting of the board of education.

The Walker County BOE developed a strategic plan last year that involved a number of goals to strengthen the school system. Hagood took an opportunity at a board meeting on Feb. 13 to update those in attendance on the system's progress in meeting those goals.

"When we walked in, we kind of felt like we were operating more from a perspective of a system of schools, instead of being all together as a school system," Hagood said of when he officially went to work as superintendent in January 2019. 

He said the strategic plan served to bring the school communities together through five common goals: ensuring safe facilities, aiming for effective instruction and leadership, focusing on early childhood education, seeking academic growth and striving for students to be college and career ready. 

School leaders and BOE officials have celebrated many goal-related achievements over the past several months.

To enhance school safety, school resource officers have been put in place at schools without a municipal police department or those with limited resources, thanks to a partnership with the Walker County Sheriff's Office.

A number of programs have been incorporated to serve students with mental health needs, including a trauma-informed program to help students who are experiencing emotional or physical trauma at a young age. A Peer Helpers program has also been implemented at all schools for students to support one another, and other mental health partnerships have resulted in students getting therapy for mental health needs.

The school system also hired a mental health coordinator to oversee all mental health programs.

To carry out goal two of effective instruction and leadership, the district hired a math coach to assist math teachers at county schools, and other programs have been incorporated to improve reading and other academic skills. 

A decision was also made in January that Hagood says will strengthen early childhood education opportunities for students. On Jan. 16, the school board voted to relinquish a Head Start grant at the conclusion of fiscal year 2020 and, in turn, expand First Class Pre-K in Walker County Schools. He said the decision could eventually result in the Walker County school system having over 20 First Class Pre-K classrooms.

When addressing the school system's fourth goal of academic growth, Hagood said he is proud Walker County Schools went from a 78 to an 83 score recently on the state report card.  

Schools are working on the expansion of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) activities to strengthen academics, and some schools are striving toward STEM certification. In December, Bankhead Middle School was the first school in the Walker County school system to become a Cognia Internationally Certified STEM School — one of the highest distinctions a school can receive.

A major announcement recently came to benefit the school system's fifth goal of making more students college and career ready. Bevill State Community College has partnered with Walker County Schools to expand dual enrollment opportunities, which will allow some students to eventually receive their high school diploma and a two-year degree at the same time.

Overall, Hagood said many of the school system's accomplishments in the past year would not have been possible without partnerships. 

"We are very, very blessed in this county to have the foundation [of partnerships]," Hagood said. "It takes all of us working together. We're very blessed to have these people working with us."

The board of education has established partnerships with the Walker Area Community Foundation, Northwest Alabama Mental Health Center, Jasper Area Family Services Center, Walker County Arts Alliance, Health Connect America, the Walker County Sheriff's Office, Bevill State Community College, the University of Alabama, Capstone Rural Health, Youth Advocate Programs, Raising Arrows and the City of Lights Dream Center.   

Hagood also thanked all employees of the Walker County Board of Education and the school board itself for supporting the vision of the strategic plan.

"We have people here that, every day, walk in the door to wear multiple hats and are striving to improve the school system," Hagood said, adding, "I thank this board because they have been so cooperative in helping us put that together and achieve those things. I applaud you and appreciate you for all of your help."