Walker County Schools Superintendent Dr. Dennis Willingham has provided an update on achievements related to the school system's five-year plan.
In 2019, the school system unveiled its five-year plan that goes through 2024. The plan is now referred to as "Vision '24" by Willingham, who was part of the leadership team that developed it.
Willingham described highlights of the plan at the school board's last meeting.
He first spoke about further investing in Pre-K through third-grade education with a focus on phonics instruction, early literacy skills and foundational math concepts.
School system leaders also want to continue expanding the number of First Class Pre-K classrooms.
"We currently have 14 Pre-K classrooms scattered throughout the Walker County school system, and this year we've been told that we're going to be able to add five more, maybe even six more," Willingham said.
The superintendent would also like to see an increase in funding for more professional development for teachers and to provide in-school tutors, after-school programs, and summer learning opportunities. ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) funding through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act can be used for some of those needs.
In addition to strengthening education at the foundational level, the school system is also investing in opportunities for students to be college and career-ready.
Expanding dual enrollment is a primary focus at the moment.
"Our plan is to expand it into WCCT to allow our instructors to provide college course instruction to our high school students," Willingham said. "Our dream is that students, whether it be academics or the career technical side, will have the opportunity to walk across the stage on graduation night and receive a high school diploma and an associate's degree at the same time."
The school system is partnering with Bevill State, Alabama Power and other businesses and agencies to make the dream a reality.
Vision '24 also heavily involves addressing the mental health needs of students.
"We've always had a problem with students who struggle with a lot of issues in the home. Now, more than ever, we're seeing repercussions from these issues with our children," Willingham said.
Partnerships with agencies and institutions have allowed the school system to have a number of mental health services available for students.
Safety is also addressed in Vision '24. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the school system now has thermometers and UVC disinfecting lights in every school to ensure health safety.
School campuses are also safer since 2019 due to a partnership with the Walker County Sheriff's Office that has allowed for five school resource officers to be placed in county schools. More school resource officers are expected to be added in the coming months.
Lastly, Vision '24 also addresses the needs of virtual learners to make sure they do not fall behind and have a way to access the Internet.
"We're looking for every opportunity to better serve our students in Walker County," Willingham said.
COVID cases still low in county schools
There have been few COVID-19 cases in Walker County schools over the past few weeks — a welcome trend for employees, students and parents.
From March 23-30, only two students were documented positive for COVID-19, and only 22 were in quarantine.
No staff members were positive or quarantined for COVID-19.