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Board Business Briefs: School Board Approves Budget, Code of Conduct, New Leaders

Board Business Briefs: School Board Approves Budget, Code of Conduct, New Leaders

From left, Dr. Josh Heath, Mark Vance, Nicole Wadsworth, Matt Kimbrell, Kim Moody, Jennifer Dupoux, Dr. Ashley Kennerly, Dr. Ginger Morgan, Kelly Cooks, Tia Bryller, Ken Nix, Pam Costa, Dana Thompkins, Dr. Tara Quinn-Schuldt, Scott Krug.

The Cherokee County School Board on Thursday, June 20, approved its budget for next school year, which provides salary improvements to teachers and support staff while maintaining the same tax rate.  The school board also adopted consistent guidance for student dress and appropriate cell phone use for elementary, middle, and high school students to take effect as we start the 2024-25 school year.
The meeting followed a new structure, which will be in place moving forward, of a work session at 5:15 p.m. and a regular business meeting at 7 p.m.  This new meeting structure is designed to promote more meaningful discussion and greater transparency and public awareness around the business of the board.  
To accomplish this, the board during its work session will hear monthly standing reports in the areas of Academics & Accountability, Finance and Capital Outlay, and also an explanation of each item requiring a board vote.  The action of the board, or voting, will continue to happen in the 7 p.m. business meeting, as will the tradition of beginning the meeting with board member announcements and celebrations of students and employees.
Agendas and materials for both the work session and regular meeting will be posted on the Monday prior to meetings.   In addition to the regular business meetings, all work sessions will be livestreamed via YouTube, and the videos will be archived on the CCSD website in the Board of Education area online here.
Raising pay for teachers and support staff to retain and recruit an outstanding workforce was the primary focus for the Superintendent’s recommended budget, which was approved unanimously.
The total budget of $923 million, which encompasses new school construction (including the replacement Cherokee High School) and debt service, is balanced while maintaining the same tax rate, despite the loss of $17 million in American Rescue Plan (ARP) federal funding.  The general fund (day-to-day operations) budget is $597 million.  The full budget is posted online here, and Financial Facts, a report on the budget written for the community to better understand its details, is posted online here.
The operating budget includes the Governor’s $2,500 raise and CCSD step longevity raise associated with years of experience for all teachers and certified staff, which totals $17.3 million.  The Governor’s 4.1% salary increase for all classified staff (including bus drivers, School Nutrition employees, front office staff, etc.) totals $2.5 million.  Salary adjustments -- to honor up to 15 years of prior experience and to apply the salary improvements throughout pay scales to mitigate and correct issues of compression and parity -- total $1.5 million in the general budget.
Despite the financial challenges of the loss of ARP federal funding and increasing costs to CCSD to provide State Health Benefit Plan ($2.8 million) and Teacher Retirement System ($2.2 million) benefits to employees, the budget was designed to retain 118 kindergarten paraprofessionals and four police officers.  Previously funded with ARP federal funding, these positions now are paid for using local funds.  The operating budget also grew to add 215 school-based custodian positions as CCSD returns this service in-house.

As part of her entry plan, Superintendent Mary Elizabeth Davis listened to staff, students, parents, and community partners in small group meetings and via a community survey, consistently hearing the need to review student conduct guidelines to keep learning central.  
The updated Code of Conduct approved by the school board on Thursday includes, among its changes, consistent standards for appropriate student attire and appropriate student use of cell phones and other personal digital smart devices in schools, classrooms and on the school bus. 
Dress Code
For the past school year, appropriate school attire guidelines were left to each local school to develop, communicate, and monitor, which led to inconsistency from school to school.  The new standards elevate consistency for administrators, educators, and students. 
The resulting revised dress code introduces five specific standards:
•    Students cannot wear clothing or jewelry that depicts or promotes vulgarity, profanity, hate speech, pornography, nudity, sex, alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, other controlled substances or gang identifiers or any other clothing or jewelry that creates an actual disruption.
•    Students can wear “hoodies” hooded shirts and sweatshirts, but they cannot wear the hood over their head while on campus.  Other headwear that obscures a student’s face, neck and ears also is prohibited.
•    Students can wear shorts and skirts of reasonable length and that are always visible.
•    Student clothing must cover their underwear, private parts, buttocks, and midriff.
•    Students can wear strapless garments, but they must be worn with a jacket or similar clothing over them.
Circumstances will determine the level of discipline.  Parent notification or counseling with student and/or parents to include the opportunity to correct dress is appropriate for the first offense.  Punishment for subsequent violations is at the principal’s discretion.
Cell Phones
Students in CCSD will continue to be permitted to have a cell phone or personal device with them at school, but as a standard practice, will now be expected to keep their device in silent mode and stored out of sight.
The negative impact of cell phone and other smart device use by students during class for non-educational purposes is a national issue of rising concern.  Cell phones, smart devices (i.e., watches, glasses) and earbuds can be useful for legitimate educational purposes such as notetaking, accessing electronic course materials, and completing assignments.  However, these devices also can be used for disruptive and even harmful purposes such as bullying, inappropriate photographing or recording, and distracting from learning. 
While national news is capturing headlines about banning cell phones from schools, CCSD students are permitted to have their device with them, in their possession during the school day, however the new guidelines set seven specific expectations for consistency.  
Cell phones/smart devices/earbuds must be: 
•    Stored out of sight and in silent mode as a standard practice.
•    May be used during instructional time only for academic reasons with direction from the teacher and authorization from the principal.
•    In high school, cell phones/Smart Devices/earbuds may be used in hallways, transitions, the cafeteria and before and after school.  In middle school, devices may only be used before and after school.  In elementary school, devices should not be used – including not on the bus. 
•    Shall not violate the Bring Your Learning Device (BYLD) guidelines.
•    Shall not be used for photography or recording, unless at the direction of a teacher or administrator for academic purpose.
•    Shall not be used for photographing, recording, or transmitting of profane, vulgar, inappropriate, or threatening material.
•    Shall not be used for photographing, recording, or transmitting of a fight, assault, sexual material, drug-related material, or gang-related material.
For the first violation of most of these new expectations, disciplinary action is at the discretion of the principal, depending on the circumstances.  
For the first violation related to profane or vulgar material, disciplinary action includes in-school suspension or alternative school and 10-day prohibition of possessing a cell phone or smart device on school property (including school buses).  For the first violation related to a fight, assault, sexual material, drug-related material, or gang-related material, disciplinary action includes suspension and/or expulsion or long-term reassignment to ACE Academy and 30-day prohibition of possessing a cell phone or smart device on school property (including school buses).  
If any offense occurs on a school bus, disciplinary action also can include bus suspension.
School Board Chair Kyla Cromer spoke in favor of the new expectations, which were designed with input from all board members as well.
“I appreciate we locally can do this before the state tells us what we have to do” in regard to cell phone guidelines, she said.  “We listened to the community, and this is what the community feedback said that we needed to do.  It adds stress and anxiety to our students when they have phones with them and available to them all day.  I think that this is going to be great for our students.  I think it’s going to take a little bit of an adjustment; it’s going to take buy-in from our entire community; it’s going to take consistent enforcement of it; and it’s going to be something that I think in the long run is really, really good for our students.”
Additionally, School Board member Erin Ragsdale spoke to the need for consistent enforcement of the new guidelines, and School Board member Kelly Poole spoke to the need for thoroughly communicating the changes. 
The 2024-25 Student Code of Conduct is online here.
As detailed in the Superintendent’s 2024-25 Key Priorities, the district’s central office is reorganizing to improve realignment for better service to schools.  The changes reduce the overall number of roles, through attrition, consolidation, and reassignment.  The new organizational structure adheres to CCSD’s longstanding commitment to maintaining one of the lowest central office expenditures in the state, making up only 6.6% of the district’s workforce.
New organizational charts incorporating these changes will be posted on CCSD’s website in July.  For the first time, CCSD’s organizational charts will show all employees assigned to the central office so it can be clearly seen how professionals are positioned to work together to provide direct service to schools; in the past, these charts only included leadership roles and not support staff, such as specialists, facilitators, leads, clerks, and administrative assistants.
The most significant organizational changes include:
•    The Curriculum & Instruction division is now Academics & Accountability, with roles organized into those two departments.  Additionally, Special Education, which is the third department within this division, has added an area focused on instruction.
•    The School Operations division is now School Leadership & Operations, with a leadership and operations area organized into a structure defined by Innovation Zones (high school and feeder schools) instead of grade levels, led by three assistant superintendents (each assigned to two Innovation Zones) designed to promote school improvement and foster a K-12 community; and a separate area for school support, student activities and athletics.  Assistant Superintendent is a new title with a new job description but is a lateral shift for the division’s current executive directors.  
•    The Transportation department, which includes bus drivers, technicians, routing coordinators and all other support staff, has moved from School Operations to Support Services, the division that also includes facility planning and construction, maintenance, and custodial services. 
The school board on Thursday approved leadership appointments for district and school roles to both support this reorganization and fill openings created by two recent retirements.  Superintendent Davis froze hiring for district roles for her first 100 days to allow for a full review of current operations and staffing and subsequent realignment.  
Dr. Nicole Holmes, CCSD’s chief academic officer, is retiring at the end of July after a 30-year career in education.  Dr. Holmes began her career as a classroom teacher, advancing to serve as an assistant principal and as principal of Liberty Elementary School.  Her experience as a district leader includes serving five years in School Operations, for two years as an administrator on special assignment and three years as a director, before taking on her current role in 2017.  During her tenure as chief academic officer, CCSD earned numerous honors for academic excellence including the 2022 System of Distinction Award from Cognia and 2018 Innovative District Award from Model Schools Conference. 
A new chief academic officer soon will be appointed, as will a supervisor for advanced learning and a coordinator for fine arts.  The school board on Thursday appointed its first executive director for accountability: Dr. Joshua Heath, a 12-year educator who currently serves as a principal for Pickens County Schools.
Michael Santoro, principal of Creekview High School, is leaving CCSD at this end of this month to take on a new role as chief operations officer for Marietta City Schools.
Creekview High School’s new principal will be Mark Vance, a 17-year educator who currently serves as an assistant principal at the school. Nicole Wadsworth, a seven-year educator who currently serves as a teacher at Woodstock High School, will join Creekview HS as an assistant principal.
Matt Kimbrell, a 24-year educator who currently serves as principal of R.M. Moore Elementary School STEM Academy, will join School Leadership & Operations as its third assistant superintendent.  The other two assistant superintendent roles will be filled by the division’s current executive directors, Matt Freedman, and Rodney Larrotta.  
R.M. Moore ES STEM Academy’s new principal will be Kim Moody, a 26-year educator who currently serves as an assistant principal at the school.  Jennifer Dupoux, a 21-year educator who currently serves as a teacher at Hasty ES Fine Arts Academy, will join R.M. Moore ES STEM Academy as an assistant principal.
Dr. Ashley Kennerly, an 18-year educator who currently serves as principal of Sixes Elementary School, will join School Leadership & Operations as its third director for leadership and operations.  The other two director roles will be filled by Michael Manzella and LaToya Gray, who currently serve as curriculum directors in Curriculum & Instruction.
Sixes Elementary School’s new principal will be Dr. Ginger Morgan, a 22-year educator who currently serves as an assistant principal at Little River Elementary School.  Kelly Cooks, a 13-year educator who currently serves as a Special Education facilitator at Carmel ES, will join Little River ES as an assistant principal.
Tia Bryller, a 20-year educator who currently serves as principal of Woodstock Middle School, will join School Leadership & Operations as its first director for school support and athletics.
Woodstock Middle School’s new principal will be Ken Nix, a 21-year educator who currently serves as an assistant principal at River Ridge High School.  Pamela Costa, a 19-year educator who currently serves as the instructional lead strategist at River Ridge HS will advance to serve as an assistant principal.
Dana Thompkins, a 15-year educator who currently serves as a Special Education facilitator at Avery ES, will join Carmel ES as an assistant principal.
Dr. Tara Quinn-Schuldt, a 19-year professional in her field who currently serves as a student support specialist in School Leadership & Operations, will advance to the division’s newly created role of coordinator of student support.
Scott Krug, who has served with CCSD for 28 years and currently serves as supervisor of facility support services in Support Services, is advancing to the division’s newly created role of director for that department, which includes CCSD’s recently restored in-house custodial services employees.
The Human Resources employment recommendations agenda item approved by the school board also includes numerous lateral shift-related title changes for current employees to reflect the reorganization. 
The school board also:
•    During the work session, heard an Academics & Accountability, which included a progress report on Superintendent Davis’s Four Key Priorities work; a Finance report on May monthly financials; and a Capital Outlay report, updating construction projects, which all remain on schedule and within budget, including the new replacement Cherokee High School;
•    In her Inspiration remarks, Ms. Ragsdale thanked teachers for the work they do over the summer break;
•    In School Board Member announcements, Ms. Poole celebrated CCSD’s summer school graduates;
•    Recognized Georgia Career and Technical Instruction (CTI) Competition first-place winner.  Learn more here;
•    Recognized Georgia Farm Bureau Annual Art Competition first-place winner.  Learn more here; 
•    Recognized District, State Science Olympiad winners.  Learn more here;
•    Recognized K-5 State Science Fair winners.  Learn more here;
•    Recognized Regional, State Social Studies Fair winners.  Learn more here;
•    Recognized Positive Athlete Georgia honorees.  Learn more here;
•    Recognized Georgia High School Association State and Regional champions.  Learn more here; 
•    Recognized Don Stevens Memorial Scholarship recipients.  Learn more here;
•    Approved a memorandum of understanding with Mountain Education to allow its continued operation of an evening high school program at Etowah East on the Etowah HS campus;
•    Approved a new Partnership Agreement with Circle of Friends and a renewal with Mimms Boys & Girls Club;
•    Approved the annual update of School Board Policies;
•    Approved field trips and out-of-state travel;
•    Approved the annual Career, Technical and Agricultural Education funding application;
•    Approved the 2024-25 school year tribunal hearing panel; and,
•    Approved special lease agreements.