State of the schools: County School Superintendent shares updates on system activities and programs

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Teachers attend a session at the “Nuts & Bolts” professional development symposium June 8-9. (Photo courtesy of CCBOE)

CULLMAN COUNTY, Ala. – Cullman County School Superintendent Dr. Shane Barnette before the June meeting of the Cullman County Board of Education meeting, offered a detailed update on activities, programs and plans of the county school system. He shared the results of expanding funding through COVID-19 response grants, new curriculum offerings, facility improvements and staff professional development opportunities. 

ESSER funded programs 

The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, commonly called ESSER, was set up during the COVID-19 pandemic “for activities and interventions that respond to students’ academic, social and emotional needs and address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on underrepresented student subgroups, including each major racial and ethnic group, children from low-income families, children with disabilities, English learners, gender, migrant students, students experiencing homelessness and children and youth in foster care,” according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education. 

Barnette shared how two rounds of ESSER funding are being used in the county system: 

ESSER I – $1.9 million 

  • 750 student Chromebooks 
  • Charging stations for devices 
  • Masks, thermometers, gloves, sanitizers, disinfectants, bus sanitizers, foggers and other safety and cleaning supplies 
  • Bottle Fillers at each school 
  • Learning programs; Edmentum, Screencastify, Texthelp SeeSaw, Summer School 
  • Hired nurse aides 

ESSER II – $7.8 million 

  • English curriculum subscriptions  
  • Math curriculum subscriptions 
  • Special Education transition teachers 
  • Free Summer School 6-12 
  • Summer Reading Camps K-5 
  • Additional nurses and nurse aides 
  • Additional mental health services 
  • Intervention counselor 
  • 700 additional Chromebooks 
  • Upgrading nursing stations as needed 
  • Purchased GoGuardian 
  • Schneider Energy Upgrades, including HVAC, lighting and windows. According to Barnette, the upgrades will save the system up to $1 million annually. 

The system is currently applying for $17.8 million in ESSER III funds to support: 

  • Five Special Education teachers 
  • Intervention/transition teachers 
  • Nurse aides continued 
  • 504/Dyslexia specialist 
  • Local teacher units 
  • Additional Schneider Energy upgrades 

Building better students 

Barnette explained the system’s purchase of a program called “We Build It Better,” which promotes development of math, science and common workplace skills in middle school classrooms. The program supplies industrial tool kits, 3-D printers and other equipment to give students hands-on opportunities to gain real-world manufacturing and technological skills while gaining leadership and business skills. 

The program will launch in county schools in fall 2021. 

Barnette also touted the achievement of precision machining students at the Cullman Area Technology Academy in signing their names to components manufactured in the CATA machine shop for use on the International Space Station. 

The superintendent’s slideshow indicated that college and career readiness is up across the system from less than 75% in the 2015/16 school year to 99% in 2020. Graduation percentages in the 80s in 2016 have also risen to nearly 95% in 2020 with two schools, Cold Springs and Vinemont, hitting 100% graduation last year. 

Barnette noted that 2020/21 saw the largest number of Cullman County students ever enrolled in Wallace State Community College’s Fast Track programs, with a record high completion of college credit courses. In 2021/22, for the first time, all 9th grade students will take Career Exploration 106, for which they will receive college credit. 

Barnette was glad to see the number of virtual students across the system drop from a high of 779 in December 2020 to only 55 planned virtual enrollments for the fall of 2021. 

Math curriculum 

The system will see a continuation of efforts to implement a new math curriculum in 2021. 

During the 2019/20 school year, the system purchased “Into Math” materials for Kindergarten – 5th grade, giving every student a consumable book they can write in, and access to videos and practice problems online. 

During the 2020/21 school year, the system purchased new materials for 6th – 12th grade, ensuring that every classroom will have a class set of textbooks, and all students have access to textbook, videos and practice problems online. Additional books are available for students to check out if they would like to have a book at home. 

The system has purchased precalculus and calculus materials from SAVVAS Learning to give students access to MyMathLab, an online platform used by colleges, so students will be familiar with this site before taking college courses. 

New English curriculum coming 

The Alabama State Department of Education recently adopted a new course of study and Cullman County teachers will be trained on the new standards in the 2021/22 school year. The system will evaluate new materials to purchase next spring. 

The system is implementing MyON Reader, a digital book library with online tools to help students develop reading and writing skills. 

Computer Science 

Barnette showed how the system has increased, and continues to increase, its computer capabilities. 

  • In the 2019/20 school year, the system had six certified computer science teachers and 91 students were enrolled in computer science courses. A $25,000 Alabama Middle School Computer Initiative Competitive Grant provided LEGO Spike Prime Kits for every middle school, and 22 schools received $1,500 Alabama Robotics Grants to supply Bee Bots to elementary schools and Makey-Makey kits for middle and high schools. 
  • In the 2020/21 school year, the system had 13 computer science teachers and 401 Students were enrolled in computer science courses. Every school each received a $1,500 Alabama Robotics Grant. 
  • In the 2021/22 school year, every high school and middle school will have one additional certified computer science teacher, and all middle schools will offer the Computer Science Discoveries curriculum. 

Developing teachers 

The Alabama Teacher Excellence and Accountability for Mathematics and Science Act passed in May 2021 promotes the professional development of advanced skills, be math and science teachers, and offers $15,000-20,000 salary increases for teachers whose applications are accepted and who sign special TEAMS contracts with their local systems. 

According to Barnette, the Cullman County system can have up to 47 TEAMS teachers. Though those teachers who sign contracts will have to give up their tenure, Barnette said that several teachers have already applied. 

The superintendent reported that 250 teachers recently attended a “Nuts & Bolts” symposium held at Good Hope High School June 8-9. According to the provider, “The Nuts & Bolts Symposiums exist to enhance the educational process through high-energy, practical professional development that will take teachers, students, schools and districts to the next level of academic success.” 

Barnette also shared information from the Alabama State Department of Education indicating a minimum 2% increase in pay for all teachers, plus a new matrix that increases the percentage for teachers with at least nine years on the job or advanced degrees. 

The system also recently completed an Aspiring Administrator Academy for staff interested in becoming assistant principals. 

Mental Health 

The system has implemented GoGuardian and Gaggle programs that monitor all CCBOE accounts, whether the student is on system Wi-Fi or their own internet. The programs flag sites with inappropriate content, including information promoting self-harm. 

The system also subscribes to American Behavioral mental health services for employees and their eligible dependents. Services include face-to-face counseling, referrals, legal counseling, financial counseling and eldercare support. 

Recently completed facility projects 

Barnette listed the following construction and maintenance projects: 

  • New Family & Consumer Science Center at Holly Pond High School  
  • Two additional classrooms at Holly Pond High School 
  • Sealing and striping of several existing parking areas 
  • Paving currently being completed at Parkside, Cullman Area Technology Academy, Hanceville, West Point Middle and Holly Pond. Paving at West Point, Vinemont, Fairview and Good Hope a few months back; Cold Springs last year. 
  • Entrance remodeled at Vinemont Elementary School 
  • New flooring in the West Point Middle School Library 
  • Awnings at West Point Intermediate School, West Point Elementary School, Hanceville Middle School and Vinemont Elementary School 
  • Pavilions at Vinemont High School, Hanceville Middle School and Hanceville Elementary School 
  • Security entrances at West Point Intermediate School, West Point High School, Cold Springs Elementary School, Holly Pond High School, Fairview Elementary School, Fairview High School, Fairview Middle School, Good Hope High School and Good Hope Primary School  

New summer projects 

Barnette listed these projects that are starting this summer, many of which are large enough to carry on into the school year: 

  • Room and equipment cleaning and upgrades at CATA to make the facility more attractive to students and prospective industrial partners. Upgrades include new exterior and interior doors, new intercom system, renovated nursing center to resemble an actual emergency room and doctor’s office and fresh paint in classrooms and shops. 
  • Roof replacements at Fairview Elementary and High School 
  • Roof replacements at West Point High School main building and library 
  • Expanding lunchroom at West Point Elementary and High School and replacing roof of existing lunchroom 
  • 16 classroom additions with new lunchroom at Hanceville Elementary School 
  • Good Hope Middle School library, gym and office additions. These additions will open up areas at the middle school and high school for additional classroom space as well. 
  • New Gymnasium at Cold Springs High School 
  • Flooring replacement throughout Vinemont High School 
  • New flooring in parts of West Point High School 
  • New flooring in Vinemont Elementary School library 
  • New flooring in the Holly Pond Elementary/Middle School library 
  • New gym flooring in the elementary gyms at Cold Springs, Hanceville, West Point and Holly Pond  
  • Adding HVAC to West Point High School, Holly Pond High School and Fairview High School gyms 
  • Adding baseball field lighting at Harmony School 
  • New football stadium lighting at Fairview High School 
  • Painting on most campuses throughout the district 
  • Adding additional parking at Vinemont Middle School 
  • Replacing HVAC in Hanceville Middle School classrooms 
  • Handicap restrooms at Holly Pond High School and Fairview High School Stadiums 
  • Adding large fans in Hanceville and West Point Middle School gyms 
  • Additional security entrances being installed at several remaining schools 

The superintendent said that system administrators will be visiting campuses to review band rooms, family and consumer science centers and agriscience classrooms and shops for future upgrades. 

The superintendent said that, in visiting campuses, he saw a need for more School Resource Officers, telling the board and audience, “We have some campuses that need two SROs, I feel like, compared to everybody just having one right now.” 

Barnette also shared a plan to enter a lease agreement with Enterprise Fleet Management to replace the system’s current maintenance vehicles. Under the agreement, the fleet will be replaced every five years. According to the superintendent, the system will be able to sell the vehicles at the end of each five-year cycle and profit from the equity so that “It won’t cost us as much as it would to purchase those vehicles.” 

Section 16 property 

The superintendent said that the sale of the system’s Section 16 property on Smith Lake will close at 10 a.m. June 24, and that a trust fund will be open through Raymond James Financial at that time. 

Feeding program underway 

In his report during the regular meeting, Barnette shared that the system’s summer feeding program will run from June 11 – July 2, offering breakfast from 7:45 a.m. – 8:15 a.m. and lunch from 11 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. at Good Hope Primary, Fairview, Holly Pond, Cold Springs, Harmony, Vinemont, West Point High and Parkside. 

Curbside Meal Pickup takes place Wednesday, June 16, 23 and 30 from 11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. at Fairview, West Point High and Vinemont. 

The Cullman County Board of Education will meet next at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, July 15, at the central office board room for a work session with its regular meeting immediately after. The public is invited to attend. 

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W.C. Mann

craig@cullmantribune.com