Cherokee County School Board Shares Priorities with Legislative Delegation

Cherokee County School Board Shares Priorities with Legislative Delegation

The Cherokee County School Board on Friday, Nov. 17, continued its tradition of sharing its legislative partnership priorities with the local Legislative Delegation over breakfast.

During the breakfast, School Board Chair Kyla Cromer shared an overview of the 2018 Legislative Partnership Priorities unanimously approved by the Board at its meeting on Thursday night.

Ms. Cromer and Board Members John Harmon, Patsy Jordan, Clark Menard and Kelly Poole expressed their opinions and answered questions asked by State Representatives Mandi Ballinger, Michael Caldwell, Wes Cantrell and Scot Turner.

The Priorities include three main areas of concern: Funding, Local Control & Governance, and Educational Opportunities.

“It really comes down to these three big topics,” Ms. Cromer said. “Over the years, we’ve stayed focused on them.”

In regard to Funding, the Board is asking the Delegation to push for full restoration of $4 Million in State education funding that CCSD has earned under the State’s formula, but is being withheld in the name of “austerity budget cuts.”

These cuts, which were implemented as a tool to help the State’s budget recover from the Recession, should cease, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower said, given that the State’s “rainy day” reserves fund has ballooned to $2 Billion (with another $500 Million likely to be added in 2018), while school districts statewide struggle.

“We still have a lot of school systems statewide feeling pain,” Dr. Hightower said, noting that in CCSD it means class sizes remain higher than pre-Recession levels and less opportunity for innovation. “All we’re asking for are for the ‘austerity’ cuts to be restored.”

The statewide “austerity budget cuts” total $167 Million… so they could be restored with hundreds of millions still available for further growing the State’s piggy bank.

This, Dr. Hightower said, would lessen the additional pain school districts are feeling due to the continuous shift of costs from the State to local systems both for the State Health Benefit Plan (which, for tens of thousands of classified employees, now is entirely paid for by local systems and employees with no State contribution) and the Teachers Retirement System of Georgia.

Also, under Funding, the School Board is asking the Delegation to refrain from funneling taxpayer dollars to private schools through any means.

Under Local Control & Governance, the School Board continues its request for the Delegation to support local control in regard to public school systems, with a specific mention of school calendars.

Business interests are lobbying to require all schools statewide revert to the old, agrarian calendar that starts school after Labor Day, removes popular “balanced calendar” breaks and reduces holiday breaks. These lobbyists argue tourist attractions need the calendar changed so attractions can pull in more local dollars from families, and so businesses have more opportunities to take advantage of low-cost student labor.

This potential State mandate would overturn CCSD’s balanced calendar model that began 15 years ago with strong and continued support from parents and employees and the locally elected School Board.

“We don’t accept one-size-fits-all education for our children, and a statewide calendar that silences local community input is just as damaging a State mandate,” Dr. Hightower said. “Our calendar not only works for our community, but it’s also so successful that surrounding communities have adopted it as well. We need to put our children’s best interests first.”

Under Educational Opportunities, the School Board asks the Delegation to support a return to the dual-track for high school students, so they can either choose a college prep track or a career readiness track. Without the latter option, students are unable to take as many Career Pathway classes as they’d like and earn industry certification, as they must instead take sometimes unnecessary college preparatory classes.

“We want our kids to graduate,” School Board Member Clark Menard said, referring to a dual-track’s positive impact on graduation rates. “There will be kids who find it more desirable to stay in high school and get trained to go to work. It’s a real push that can help a lot of kids.”

Four CCSD Schools Honored for Outstanding Academic Performance!

Clayton Elementary School Principal Abbey Philpot, center right, and her teachers celebrate the school’s Gold Award for Greatest Gains announced today by the Governor’s Office.

Four Cherokee County School District schools have been honored by Gov. Nathan Deal for outstanding academic performance!

Clayton Elementary School earned a top Gold Award in the “Greatest Gains” ratings, which recognize only 139 schools statewide that earned a three-year average CCRPI (College and Career Ready Performance Index) Progress Score that ranks in at least the 93rd percentile.

Sequoyah High School earned Silver in “Greatest Gains,” and Bascomb Elementary and Woodstock Middle earned Bronze.

Bascomb Elementary also earned Bronze in the “Highest Performance” ratings, which recognize only 142 schools statewide that have earned a three-year average CCRPI Achievement Score that ranks in at least the 93rd percentile.

“Congratulations to the educators and administrators in Georgia’s award-winning schools who have exceeded expectations in preparing their students,” Gov. Deal said in his awards announcement today. “By implementing the best methods for teaching young minds, educators at Highest Performing and Greatest Gains schools are going above and beyond to help their students develop the skills needed for future success.”

This is the third consecutive year for Sequoyah HS and Woodstock MS to be honored, and the second for Bascomb ES.

Winners receive a certificate to display at their school. The Cherokee County School Board and Superintendent of Schools will recognize CCSD’s winners at the Dec. 14 School Board meeting.

“These teachers and leaders give 110% every day… and it’s not for Gold Awards or other glory, but to help their students be as successful as possible,” Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower said. “We’re so proud of the academic achievement and progress that led to this recognition, and are thankful for the parents and partners who support us and work with us to continually improve teaching and learning.”


School Board Hears from Parents on Cherokee HS Overcrowding

The School Board on Thursday, November 16, 2017, heard from five parents during a public hearing on potential solutions to overcrowding at Cherokee High School.

The hearing, which was attended by a small crowd of parents and teachers, followed two rounds of community meetings to gather input in response to Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower’s decision to trigger an Attendance Area Review process.

“This is really a phase-one piece of a multi-year plan,” Dr. Hightower said of addressing overcrowding at Cherokee HS.  “While we have only seen an increase of 50 students this fall over last year’s enrollment, infrastructure continues to be severely taxed… and enrollment is expected to continue to grow north of 3,000 – sooner than later.”

While Cherokee HS doesn’t meet the “critically overcrowded” standards due to mobile classrooms and other fixes already in place, Dr. Hightower announced earlier this year he would ask the School Board at its Dec. 14 meeting to approve a mitigation plan to take effect next school year.

The process began with a dozen possible solutions, including those as far-reaching as countywide redistricting, which have been narrowed through public input and staff review.  Parents at Thursday’s hearing spoke only to two of those solutions:

Option 1. Cherokee HS expands to include the neighboring Canton ES STEM Academy campus; Canton ES STEM Academy students are consolidated into Knox ES and R.M. Moore ES, with STEM programs added to both of those campuses and R.M. Moore ES retaining Title I services (while Knox ES will not see enough of a demographic shift to qualify as Title I, students in need will continue to receive extra services).  This option will reduce CCSD operating costs by $1.5 Million over five years.

Option 2. Cherokee HS expands to include Canton ES STEM Academy campus; Canton ES STEM Academy students relocate to the ACE Academy campus (the 30-year-old Teasley MS building on Knox Bridge Highway); ACE Academy students move to the former Tippens ES (50-year-old building on Glenwood Street in Canton, which will need significant renovations before that move can occur).  This option will increase CCSD operating costs by $3.49 Million next year, and $5.1 Million over five years.

Five parents spoke at Thursday’s Public Input Session, with two favoring Option 1; a husband and wife favoring Option 2; and one focusing on the need to build a new Cherokee High School as soon as possible.

“To think of any other scenario is not feasible,” parent Andy Slanina said of Option 1, adding that he would like to see the savings generated by the plan used to make further improvements to Cherokee HS until a new campus is constructed.

Donnamarie Alcott also said she sees Option 1 as the “only logical and fiscally responsible option.”

Two parents, Kurt and Alexandra Stark, spoke to their desire to see Canton ES STEM Academy stay intact under Option 2, to preserve its strong sense of community.

Parent Jonathan Kessler spoke to the need for the School Board to build a new high school instead of continuing with temporary “Band-aids.”

Dr. Hightower said he is committed to doing just that — as soon as funding is available.  Due to aggressive school construction over the last 15 years in response to Cherokee’s population explosion, CCSD does not have the borrowing capacity to build a new high school, which would cost at least $70 Million, until after the 2021 Education SPLOST renewal at the earliest.

The Cherokee Innovation Zone during those 15 years received $140 Million in new construction including the replacement Canton ES, Hasty ES, Knox ES, Liberty ES and the replacement Teasley MS, a classroom addition at R.M. Moore ES and two rounds of improvements to Cherokee HS since 2002 that alone total nearly $15 Million.

Melissa Whatley

The Board also approved monthly personnel recommendations on Thursday that included recognizing the retirement of longtime employees Joy Mabrey, who began teaching in 1953 and later managed the teacher resource center, and Debbie Childress, who is retiring as Supervisor of Instructional Technology after 42 years as an educator.  The appointment of Melissa Whatley, longtime Executive Administrative Assistant to the Superintendent, to Coordinator of Human Resources Services, was approved as well.

The School Board also:

  • Recognized Woodstock High School for earning State STEM Certification;
  • Recognized Cherokee High school Senior Emily Costello for achieving a perfect ACT score;
  • Recognized CCSD School Nutrition for winning the Georgia Golden Radish Award – Platinum Level for practices in support of Farm to School initiatives;
  • Recognized CCSD Teacher of the Year Stephanie Vidrine of Woodstock Middle School;
  • Recognized Clark Creek Elementary School STEM Academy Teacher Karen Garland for being named the Georgia Conservation Teacher of the Year;
  • Recognized River Ridge High School Career Pathways teacher Judi Haggerty for being selected for a State leadership program;
  • Recognized the Creekview High School Army JROTC program as State Champions at the Georgia State Raider Championship;
  • Recognized CCSD staff for Georgia School Public Relations Association (GSPRA) Publication Awards;
  • Recognized State and Regional Champions from Cherokee High School’s Varsity Softball team and Etowah High School’s One Act Play cast and crew;
  • Approved the renewal of a Partnership Agreement with the Cherokee County Board of Elections & Registration;
  • Approved monthly financial reports;
  • Approved surplus of Police Department property;
  • Approved out-of-state and overnight student field trips;
  • Approved 2017-18 School Improvement Plans;
  • Approved special lease agreements;
  • Approved 2018 Legislative Partnership Priorities; and,
  • Approved annual update of Five-Year Strategic Plan.

Next meeting: 7 p.m. Thursday, December 14, 2017.

Inaugural Class for CCSD Parent Academy Program Graduates!

The inaugural CCSD VILLA class members celebrate their graduation on Monday, Nov. 13, 2017 with School Board Members, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower and members of his senior staff, and Georgia School Boards Association representatives. Class members are: Donnamarie Alcott, Jamie Bobo, Buster Cushing, Robert Ditchen, Judith Dobbs, Samantha Dunn, Lauren Hekking, Bob Kovacs, Monica Orrico, Corrie Riggs, Robin Schorr, Katie Roller Schulz, Dawn Stastny, Kathy Strom, Kyle Tomeny and Kathy Winiarczyk. Not pictured: Judith Dobbs.


The inaugural class for Cherokee County School District’s new parent academy program has graduated!

VILLA (Volunteer Instructional Leadership Learning Academy), developed by the Georgia School Boards Association, offers parents an opportunity to learn more about their community’s public schools.

The last session of VILLA included a graduation dinner sponsored by Credit Union of Georgia, a CCSD community partner.

This fall, CCSD became Georgia’s first school district to present the program and will be featured in a video about VILLA debuting at the Association’s statewide Annual Conference’s next month. The program aligned with School Board Chair Kyla Cromer’s vision, as shared during her re-election campaign, of offering a parent academy.

Sixteen parents, who applied for the six-session program, were celebrated at a final session on Monday, Nov. 13, 2017, which included a graduation ceremony and dinner, sponsored by Credit Union of Georgia, a CCSD community partner.

VILLA participants Monica Orrico, left, and Kathy Strom enjoy the group’s field trip day to three schools including Holly Springs ES STEM Academy, as Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower looks on.

Inaugural class members are: Donnamarie Alcott, Jamie Bobo, Buster Cushing, Robert Ditchen, Judith Dobbs, Samantha Dunn, Lauren Hekking, Bob Kovacs, Monica Orrico, Corrie Riggs, Robin Schorr, Katie Roller Schulz, Dawn Stastny, Kathy Strom, Kyle Tomeny and Kathy Winiarczyk.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower said participants’ feedback makes clear this is a needed program, which will be offered annually. As one participant said: “VILLA provided a great overview of everything that goes into providing a quality education for our children.”

VILLA participant Kyle Tomeny shares a laugh during an interactive session with Tammy Castleberry, left, and Judy Withey of CCSD’s Office of Curriculum & Instruction.

“Our school district grows stronger as parents become advocates for public schools and their success,” Dr. Hightower said. “We’re so appreciative of the participants’ commitment, of our School Board’s vision and of GSBA for its support.”



Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian Hightower and School Board Members listen as School Board member Kelly Poole makes a point during a VILLA session.

Power Up! It’s National School Psychology Awareness Week Nov. 13-17

Category : CCSD

November 13-17 is National School Psychology Awareness Week, and this year’s theme is “Power Up! Be A Positive Charge.” CCSD has 25 school psychologists and one lead school psychologist to assist children in the school district who are struggling with emotional or behavioral issues. Last school year, this group of CCSD professionals conducted 4,787 consultations, along with 1,138 comprehensive evaluations and 2,157 partial evaluations. School psychologists work with students to develop the academic and social-emotional skills they need to promote personal achievement, growth and resilience, as well as a sense of belonging and wellbeing.

Lead School Psychologist Sharyl Williams-Bandy notes that school psychology is a field requiring extensive education and training, and CCSD is fortunate to have a talented staff working hard to help and support students and families.

“After completing a specialist-level or doctoral-level graduate program, we have a year-long internship and must pass written examinations in order to be credentialed by the state,” she said.  “School Psychologists receive extensive training in data collection and analysis, assessment, school-wide practices to promote learning, consultation and collaboration, academic and mental health interventions, research and program evaluation, and professional ethics.”

This education and training makes them uniquely qualified to provide support to students, teachers, families, other mental-health professionals, and administrators on academic and behavioral issues and to serve as advocates for children.

Several of our CCSD School Psychologists recently shared some insight into their role in the school district:

What is a typical day in your job involve?

Attending Response to Intervention and Section 504 meetings, evaluating students, consulting with teachers and other school personnel regarding students’ academic, social, emotional, and/or behavioral difficulties, and writing psychoeducational evaluations. Megan Foster

What do you wish parents/community knew or understood about your job?

That it is tough and very emotionally draining. Even though I try not to get attached, I have such a big heart for these children and often invest a lot of time and energy into their wellbeing. Laura Killen

Our job is using eligibility criteria, which is not always the same as medical criteria.  I think that piece gets confusing for parents and the community. Deborah Silverstein

What do you find most rewarding about your job?

I think one of the most rewarding aspects of my job is when I receive an update from a parent or see the first-hand progress that a student has made.  I have been stopped at sporting events, in the grocery store, or in the school hallway by parents who are so excited to tell me about their child’s most recent accomplishment.   I think we all wonder if we are making a difference in our work and fortunately in my profession, I can see the rewards on a daily basis.  Sharyl Williams-Bandy

I find it rewarding to engage in problem solving with teachers or through an evaluation to help determine why a child is struggling and providing suggestions or solutions on how to best help meet the child’s needs. Kimberly Nofi

One of the most rewarding things about my role as a school psychologist is seeing students make progress towards academic, social, and behavioral goals. I enjoy seeing students take steps, sometimes small but sometimes large, to help themselves learn. While I watch a student light up when reading, when they were having difficulty only a couple of months prior, is something that I will always love to be a part of. Rebecca Smith

What I find rewarding is the collaboration and consultation that I get to have with so many other professionals because they help me figure out what areas that I need to evaluate in order to identify what students’ specific strengths and needs may be.  Wendy Fuhrman

I enjoy problem solving and finding a solution for a child who is struggling. Laura Killen

The most rewarding part of this job for me is being able to see (and hopefully help) students, educators and families overcome difficulties to positively change the lives of students. Megan Foster

I really enjoy helping people – teachers, kids, and families!  I think we have a limited role and it takes everyone working together.  However, when that collaboration works well, it can be really powerful for all involved. Deborah Silverstein

What are the biggest challenges students struggle with today?

I am seeing many more of our students struggling with mental health issues that are impacting their daily functioning and educational progress. Kimberly Nofi

Mental health issues are on the rise, and that is affecting our students at a very young age. We need more resources in the schools and affordable options within the community. Laura Killen

I think that students are struggling more and more with social media and the advances in technology that are happening all around us.  While it is making our society progressive as a whole, I think that students need more direction on how to maintain a sense of relationship with people and how to wisely manage the technological world around them.  I know that this is a struggle for parents as well.  As school psychologists, I think that we have the opportunity to offer guidance for students and families on how important both relationships and technology are in building the future.  Wendy Fuhrman

What drew you to the field of school psychology (in general, or as opposed to general practice)?

I was drawn to this field by a passion for the children who fall through the cracks and are misunderstood. Lauren Killen

I was an undergraduate psychology major and I enjoyed all of the psychology courses that I took. My mom, who was a special education teacher, suggested that I look into school psychology, and the rest is history. I enjoy the school atmosphere and working closely with children, parents, and school staff.   Rebecca Smith

School Psychology is part of the CCSD Special Education Department in the Curriculum and Instruction Division.


CCSD Schools Celebrate Veterans Day with Special Events

Category : CCSD

R.M. Moore ES students wore special Veterans Day T-shirts and gathered in the gym for a program honoring more than 40 veterans from the community. The veterans were treated to breakfast afterwards.

Sixes ES students Javontae Rainey and Andrew Shewfelt enjoy the Veterans Day breakfast with dad, Greg Shewfelt.

Bascomb ES student Cullen Patterson gets into the spirit of his school’s Veterans Day celebration.

Cherokee County School District schools honored our community’s veterans with special Veterans Day programs.  Students heard guest speakers and performed patriotic songs at Veterans Day assemblies, completed classroom activities to learn about veterans’ service and shared special breakfasts with their loved ones who have served our country.

Here’s a video of R.M. Moore Elementary School’s program.

More photos are on our Facebook page:


School Board to Hold Public Input Session on Attendance Areas on Nov. 16

The Cherokee County School Board will hold a Public Input Session on 2018-19 Attendance Areas at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017 in its auditorium at 1205 Bluffs Parkway, Canton 30114.  The purpose is to hear from the community about possible solutions to Cherokee High School overcrowding.

The School Board will hear from as many as 15 speakers, who each will be allotted a maximum of 3 minutes.  Auditorium doors will open at 5:30 p.m., with a sign-up sheet for the speaker slots in the lobby.

We suggest that any groups working together to advocate for a specific solution designate a spokesperson to speak on the group’s behalf; the entire group is welcome to stand behind the spokesperson at the podium.  We also suggest speakers bring a copy of their remarks to give to CCSD staff, so the remarks can be copied and shared with the Board for further review.

The Board’s Policy for public participation in meetings is posted here; we would ask anyone planning to attend and participate in this input session to review these guidelines, as they also apply to any signage citizens bring… additionally, signs that block others from viewing the meeting will not be permitted.

The input session is a public hearing; Board Members will be listening and taking notes, but not responding to comments.  Citizens who are unable to attend can share their input with Board Members by using the contact information posted here.  The Board welcomes direct public input until its vote to approve a solution at the 7 p.m. Dec. 14 regular meeting in the school board auditorium.

Next week’s Public Input Session follows two rounds of public input meetings held by CCSD staff with parents, employees and others from the community (the initial presentation is online here).  Following the first round of four meetings, four possible solutions discussed by the community were closely reviewed by CCSD staff.  More detailed information including each plan’s financial impact was presented by CCSD staff during the second round of two meetings; that presentation is available online here.

CCSD Teacher Named Georgia Conservation Teacher of the Year!

Category : CCSD

monarch butterfly

A Cherokee County School District teacher has been named the Georgia Conservation Teacher of the Year!

Clark Creek Elementary School STEM Academy Discovery Science Lab teacher Karen Garland has won the state title and a $1,000 grant from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

The award, made possible with funding from The Environmental Resources Network, is given annually to one third- through fifth-grade public or private school teacher in Georgia who demonstrates exceptional energy and innovation in teaching life sciences.

Karen Garland

Ms. Garland will use the grant to begin the “Campaigning for Pollinators” project, which was inspired by her students’ idea to convert a monoculture of grass outside their school into a healthy habitat for pollinators like butterflies, bees and hummingbirds.

“Clark Creek Elementary is dedicated to fostering all students’ innate curiosity by empowering them to be independent problem-solvers through a variety of opportunities,” Ms. Garland said. “Through this approach, students see how classroom subjects relate to the real world.”

Through the project, students will design the garden, plant native perennials and record the species observed to a citizen science database. Students will share the responsibilities of watering, weeding, and gathering data. A field guide of butterfly host and nectar plants will be created for use in the media center. As part of the school’s STEM Day in May, students will grow and distribute milkweed (the only host plant for monarch butterflies) and educational brochures to the community.

“We love that Mrs. Garland’s project is student-driven. Third-graders saw butterflies flying overhead, but they never stopped since there was nothing there for them to eat or drink,” said Linda May, DNR Environmental Outreach Coordinator. “The students understood the importance of pollinators and wanted to help, so they thought of ways to provide suitable habitat at their school.”

The judges were impressed by the project’s cross-curricular creativity, student collaboration across grade levels and in-kind donations. The project also will be funded with donations from Lowe’s, Cherokee County Master Gardeners, Save Our Monarchs and Monarchs Across Georgia.

Ms. Garland will be recognized by the Cherokee County School Board and Superintendent of Schools at the Nov. 16 Board meeting.


Etowah HS Drama Students Win Region, State Honors!

Category : CCSD

Etowah High School drama students earned top honors at Region and State One Act Play competition!


Etowah High School drama students earned top honors at Region and State competition!

Seniors Jenna Klein and Adam Parbhoo were named Best Actress and Best Actor at the regional 7AAAAAAA One Act Play event, and went on to be named to the State’s All Star Cast.

Senior Brandon Huynh was named to the Region’s All Star Cast, and the school also won Best Tech and Best Ensemble honors at Regions for its performance of “Radium Girls.”  Their teacher is Charlotte Forrest.

Jenna Klein

Adam Parbhoo

Brandon Huynh


Creekview HS JROTC Raiders Win State Championship!

From left to right, front row: Manager Amber Walker, Natalie Sutherland, Tera Yeager, Bianca Tupman, Assistant Commander Jessica Hankin; back row: Warren Teachworth, Commander Thomas Musgrave, Aaron Freeman, Alex Godfrey, Jacob Schwarzman, Ryan Lamazares, Cole Reece, Manager Bailey Hall, and team coach, JROTC instructor First Sgt. Greg Anderson. Not pictured: Audrey Rupert.

The Creekview High School Army JROTC Program earned first place at the Georgia State Raider Championships!

The competition to determine the “best of the best” in Georgia was hosted in October by Spalding High School. Georgia has 12 JROTC Regions, each with 10 schools, and every Region sent its top three teams to the competition, based on their Region State Qualifying Competition. Creekview HS was the region winner.

Creekview HS JROTC instructor First Sgt. Greg Anderson coaches the team for the CrossFit-style competition — a six-hour series of athletic events, but with cadets completing all events as a team rather than as individuals.

Students on this year’s team, upon graduation, will be attending the United States Military Academy at West Point, University of Georgia and University of North Georgia, and will be serving in the United States Marine Corps, the United States Army, Army Reserves, and Georgia Army National Guard.

Team members are: Team Commander Thomas Musgrave, Assistant Commander Jessica Hankin, Alex Godfrey, Warren Teachworth, Tera Yeager, Natalie Sutherland, Cole Reece, Ryan Lamazares, Bianca Tupman, Audrey Rupert, Jacob Schwarzman and Aaron Freeman.

The team will be recognized by the Cherokee County School Board and Superintendent of Schools at the Board’s Nov. 16 meeting.