Representatives from two committees recently established by Superintendent Dr. Frank Petruzielo provided reports on maintaining safe school environments as well as responsible teacher-student relationships.
Recommendations from the safety and security committee included hiring more officers when funding becomes available and not arming teachers in schools, only sworn officers.
The relationships committee, which was established following arrests of two Creekview High School teachers who allegedly had sexual relationships with students, came up with recommendations on use of social media, professional workplace guidelines and set boundaries for student-teacher relationships.
The school board was told of district plans to create the Cherokee Cyber Connection Academy, to be known as C3 Academy.
Committee opposes arming teachers, supports more
CCSD Police Department Chief Mark Kissel reviewed the superintendent’s ad hoc safety and security committee’s status report and recommendations, which included input from school staff, parents, local law enforcement and community stakeholders.
The committee completed safety and security assessments for all district campuses prior to the end of February before meeting March 5 to review the findings that identified security measures in place as well as areas that could be improved, including additional funding, personnel, and structural and operational enhancements.
“Some of the recommendations that come from the committee recognize that we are under a financial burden, just like every school district in the state relative to the ability to fund safe school initiatives,” Kissel said. “That being said, (the committee) also expressed concern relative to the lack of commitment by the legislative body for the state of Georgia to adequately fund safe school initiatives.”
Recommendations included requesting the school board to include in its 2014 Legislative Program a priority that urges state legislators provide that necessary funding for all school districts.
Kissel said there is a lot of information and research on school safety measures, but recognized there is no “panacea to prevention” of school violence.
“It takes a lot of different measures,” he said.
Though it looks unlikely in the present financial climate, if funds can be secured, the committee recommended hiring additional personnel for the CCSD Police Department, one of only two state-certified school police departments in Georgia.
According to the status report, three officers would cost around $174,000; five would cost $346,000; and 10 would cost $808,000.
However, Kissel said the committee was “adamant” about opposing any legislation that would put teachers in a position to be armed on a school district campus, with the exception of certified police officers
Other security system enhancement recommendations include adding additional camera systems using existing SPLOST funds at 13 elementary schools that do not have cameras in place, installing mass notification/panic alarm systems at all schools, adding cellular back-up for alarm systems at 19 schools and three facilities, installing electronic access control systems at all schools and mounting glass access partitions in main entry halls at elementary schools.
Petruzielo said the district spends over $1 million each year on safety and security.
“We get no money for safety or security from the Georgia Legislature,” Petruzielo said. “All of that is local dollars…There would have to be some new revenue stream to deal with (added safety and security measures) or we’d be positioning additional furlough days against the additional costs associated with enhancing police presence in and around schools.”
New responsible relationships
Trey Olson, assistant superintendent of personnel management, led the ad hoc responsible relationships committee, which came up with guidelines for professionalism in the workplace, student boundaries and relationships and the use of social media.
The committee was established this school year following arrests of two Creekview High School teachers who were allegedly found to have had sexual relationships with students.
Olson said a recommendation by the committee was to explore the use of a district-controlled learning management system for teacher-student communication.
“Instead of use of Facebook and other types of social media in connecting with students, (the district) could use some kind of learning management system to provide an alternative,” Olsen said.
The committee is also recommending working on gaining legislative support to modify Georgia law that provides for felony prosecution of teachers and administrators for having sexual contact with a student under their supervision. Olsen said the committee would like for the law to include all other district employees.
Also, the committee would like to see a law requiring previous employers to disclose any and all information in an applicants personnel file related to instances of sexual misconduct.
Petruzielo lauded many of the recommendations and said he intends to incorporate the recommended protocols with new and returning employees.
Expanding school choice
Assistant Superintendent of School Operations Brian Hightower announced the district this year will create a hub for all digital coursework for all K-12 students called the Cherokee Cyber Connection Academy.
The program can immediately include initial credit through Georgia Virtual School, blended learning combining traditional classroom instruction with digital content, credit recovery through Apex Credit Connect and Georgia Credit Recovery.
The district will begin offering eight middle school courses recently developed by Georgia Virtual School in the coming year and will look at expanding into elementary courses in the next couple of years, Hightower said.
“Different students learn in different ways and in different manners,” Hightower said. “We want a digital academy that really gives students a lot of different ways to learn and it really revolutionizes the classroom.”
In addition to the new virtual courses, Hightower reviewed the expansion of choice within the district in the coming year.
Prior to the district’s capital improvement campaign beginning almost a decade ago, Hightower said one in four students were in mobile classrooms. With most of the overcrowding issues addressed, he said students now have five different types of choice for their education needs.
“At this point, 70 percent of our elementary schools are now listed on the open (status) list,” he said, meaning district students can consider requesting a transfer there because student enrollment is below 95 percent capacity.
The district has 1,500 students annually in a different school than they are regularly zoned to attend, Hightower said.
The Cherokee Academy enrollment period starts next week and Hightower said he anticipates an additional 500 students will take the opportunity to attend an academy next year. The school district’s six academies served approximately 2,750 students this past school year.