CCSD Credit Rating Further Improves, Benefitting Taxpayers

CCSD Credit Rating Further Improves, Benefitting Taxpayers

Category : CCSD

The Cherokee County School District’s credit rating has improved for the second consecutive year, an accomplishment benefitting taxpayers!

The School District’s already positive Aa2 and Aa- levels, as rated by Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s financial service companies, were upgraded this week to Aa2 Stable and Aa… the latter jumping up a step to put the organization closer to achieving the top AAA rating.

“We continue to make steady progress toward a perfect rating, and, along the way, the improvements are benefitting our community, as an improved credit rating lowers costs for insurance and borrowing,” Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower said.  “Continuous improvements by our Office of Financial Management led by Chief Financial Officer Kenneth Owen are contributing to our success, as are our improving local and State economy.”

Standard & Poor upgraded its rating to Aa, with a Stable outlook, from Aa- to reflect its positive “view of the District’s improved financial performance and strengthened reserve position since fiscal 2014, a stable and strengthening economy that has produced significant tax digest growth in recent years” and CCSD’s enhanced financial management practices.

Moody’s, which increased its rating to Aa2 from Aa3 last year, has added a Stable outlook to its opinion, and foresees a rating upgrade should CCSD continue its balanced budgets, sound reserve levels and further reduction of long-term liabilities.  “The District’s financial position has improved significantly since fiscal 2015,” the agency reported, “and healthy operating trends are expected to continue due to tax base growth, multi-year planning, monthly financial reporting and management’s commitment to maintaining sound reserves levels, demonstrated by the recent adoption of a formal fund balance policy.”

Mr. Owen and his staff currently are at work on creating CCSD’s first Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, an additional layer of financial transparency and accountability that uses national governmental accounting standards and is audited by an external CPA.

CCSD Publishes Annual Report of District Progress

Front cover of CCSD’s Annual Report of District Progress

The Cherokee County School District has published its Annual Report of District Progress, which offers the community a snapshot of successes over the past year.

“We are focused on accountability and transparency in our operations, and this report is another way we show our community how we’re delivering on the promises of our Strategic Plan,” Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower said. “The Annual Report provides important information in an easy-read format so our community can see the return on its investment: more and better prepared graduates headed to college and careers.”

This year’s Annual Report design puts those graduates front and center, with a “report card” for the Class of 2017 on the front cover. The four-page publication, which is posted online here, also highlights CCSD’s outstanding performance above State and National levels on various performance- and survey-based metrics.

“We appreciate the leadership of our School Board and the support of our community in fulfilling our mission of ‘Educating the Emerging Generation,’” Dr. Hightower said. “We could not achieve this level of success without everyone working together – from students and their families to our employees to our partners and volunteers — and we are very grateful to all of you.”

Instructional Lead Strategists Give Support and Feedback in the Classroom

Cherokee County School District launched multiple new initiatives this year to increase student achievement, and district leaders knew that teachers would need additional support as they integrated these new programs into their daily classroom activities.  To help teachers meet the challenge, CCSD created a new position called an Instructional Lead Strategist (ILS) at each elementary school, as well as targeted middle and high schools.

Indian Knoll ES teacher Alyson Counts, left, reviews her lesson plans with ILS Lee Davis, right.

These elite teachers underwent extensive training to prepare for their new roles, and they continue to train throughout the school year.  The ILS acts as a coach for teachers, helping guide them in implementing new programs as well as classroom basics, such as creating lesson plans and meeting curriculum standards.   The ILS also makes sure that new initiatives, such as the Balanced Literacy approach to reading in the primary grades, are being implemented seamlessly in each classroom.

“The ILS fills a gap we identified in our schools,” said Chief Academic Officer Dr. Nicole Holmes.  “The teachers can take what they learn through professional development we provide, go back to the classroom and implement these strategies and activities, and then be provided immediate feedback by the ILS.  We had many initiatives happening, but we didn’t have a streamlined accountability process.  With this new position, we have that.”

Hickory Flat ES teacher Heather Amos, right, discusses strategies for new curriculum initiatives with ILS Kelli Cook, left.

The ILS is a resource that teachers can go to for insight and advice, as well as hands-on help if they feel they are struggling.  The ILS is not tasked with conducting teacher evaluations, which are handled by the principal and assistant principals, so teachers don’t have to be concerned that their requests for assistance will be reflected in a job evaluation.

“To be a non-evaluator in a school means I am a safe place for teachers to come with questions,” said ILS Lee Davis, who is based at Indian Knoll ES.  “I am not here to judge their performance; I am here to help our teachers, to meet their needs in the classroom.”

The ILS also serves as a liaison with the central office, providing a communication conduit to relay new curriculum information to the classrooms and also respond back to Curriculum & Instruction Division about what teachers need in the classroom and how new initiatives are going.

“The ultimate goal of any county initiative is to increase student achievement,” said Kelli Cook, ILS at Hickory Flat ES. “Having someone there (in the classroom) who helps guide curriculum decisions, that can only have a positive impact on student achievement.”

Another area where the ILS is making a difference is with data analysis and the support of “Data Teams 4 Learning” training.  Student achievement data is being utilized more than ever to guide instructional strategies and ensure students are making the progress they should.

The Curriculum & Instruction Division’s Professional Development department is closely monitoring the ILS positions and soliciting feedback and data regularly on how schools are utilizing the new position.  A recent survey of principals included some of the following observations and comments:

  • “I can’t stress enough how important this position is for the schools. It provides the training and follow-up that is needed, as well as the coaching.”  Jan Adamson, R.M. Moore ES
  • “Teachers are requesting visits from the ILS to model and monitor lessons and are open to feedback.  This is evidence the position is valued in the school as a resource for teachers.”  Izell McGruder, Boston ES
  • “The coaching component of this position is key.” Kim Hagood, Free Home ES
  • “My ILS goes above and beyond to serve and support teachers.” Kerry Martin, Mill Creek MS
  • “I cannot imagine NOT having instructional assistance with the ELA and Math adoptions.” Kim Montalbano, Woodstock ES.

The ILS coaching logs for the district show 1,255 training hours and 1,502 coaching hours in the first quarter of 2017-18.  CCSD will also be monitoring pre and post assessment data to measure the impact of the ILS program as well as additional surveys and evaluations throughout the year.

“We are excited to get such positive feedback on the ILS program so quickly from our schools,” said Dr. Holmes. “We are confident the ILS impact on student achievement also will be significant, and we cannot wait to see those results in the coming year.”

To learn more about the ILS initiative, please watch this brief video:

CCSD Publishes Annual Report of District Progress

The Cherokee County School District has published its Annual Report of District Progress, which provides a yearly snapshot of accountability-based performance results and accomplishments.

“Our outstanding performance is a testament to the continuing effort of our teachers, administrators and support staff, who work tirelessly to ensure each student is as successful as possible,” Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower said. “Additionally, we must acknowledge the significant contributions of our extended community — we would be unable to accomplish CCSD’s mission without the support of volunteers, families and business partners!”

The Annual Report features strong representation of CCSD’s continued excellence organized through the following themes:
• “Educating the Emerging Generation”
• “Raising the Bar”
• “Always Improving”
• “Engaging Community”

It also showcases evidence that CCSD is performing well above its peers at both State and National levels using performance- and survey-based metrics:
• Student Achievement Measures;
• College Readiness Indicators;
• Fiscal Responsibility Indexes;
• Student Growth Measures;
• Community Support Indicators; and,
• General Demographic Profiles.

The Annual Report has been newly redesigned to serve as a foldable brochure for presentations or a poster for display purposes. The redesign placed a greater emphasis on infographics and streamlined text to increase user-friendliness.

“We hope you enjoy reading this year’s Annual Report,” Dr. Hightower said. “We think all of our stakeholders will be proud to call their own.”

CCSD Students Continue to Exceed State Averages on Georgia Milestones Tests

Category : CCSD

Cherokee County School District students for the second consecutive year exceeded State averages on the 2016 Georgia Milestones End-of-Grade and End-of-Course tests, which are used to assess the mastery of Georgia Performance Standards.

Milestones End-of-Grade (EOG) exams are administered every spring in Grades 3-8 in the subjects of English Language Arts, Mathematics, Science and Social Studies; Milestones End-of-Course (EOC) exams are administered for designated high school courses… and, middle school students who are taking any of those courses for high school credit must also take the EOC for that subject.

The tests include open-ended questions to better assess students’ content mastery; and, with some exceptions for special education students with specific testing accommodations, the tests will be administered entirely online to students statewide within five years. CCSD already has met the State’s five-year goal!

While Milestones’ Achievement Levels are reported as percentages of students who are Beginning, Developing, Proficient or Distinguished Learners, it should be noted that these percentages include English Language Learners and students who receive Special Education services. Although comparing scores from year to year is not an accurate reflection of success due to differing groups of students being assessed, average scores have increased overall for CCSD.

“We congratulate our students, teachers and administrators for their continued exceptional performance on these new tests, which shows they’re mastering knowledge crucial to career and college readiness, and we have set our sights on greater success for every child in the coming year,” Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower said.

For third-grade, the percentage of CCSD students achieving Developing to Distinguished scores was: 76% for English Language Arts (as compared to 67% for Georgia), 88% for Math (79% Georgia), 84% for Science (76% Georgia) and 84% for Social Studies (75% Georgia).

For fifth-grade, the percentage of CCSD students achieving Developing to Distinguished scores was: 82% for English Language Arts (75% Georgia), 84% for Math (74% Georgia), 80% for Science (70% Georgia) and 83% for Social Studies (75% Georgia).

For eighth-grade, the percentage of CCSD students achieving Developing to Distinguished scores was: 89% for English Language Arts (80% Georgia), 89% for Math (79% Georgia), 74% for Science (65% Georgia) and 84% for Social Studies (75% Georgia). Math and science totals include EOG and EOC tests.

For high school credit courses, the percentage of CCSD students achieving Developing to Distinguished scores was: 88% for 9th Grade Literature and Composition (78% Georgia), 86% for Algebra (70% Georgia), 88% for American Literature and Composition (76% for Georgia), 87% for Analytic Geometry (70% Georgia), 81% for Biology (68% Georgia), 79% for Physical Science (66% Georgia), 88% for U.S. History (77% Georgia) and 87% for Economics (81%).

District and school leadership teams are analyzing these scores to improve teaching and learning strategies and School Improvement Plans. These scores are counted toward calculation of CCSD’s College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI) scores; while the 2016 scores were not used to determine if students are ready to be promoted to the next grade, future results will be used for this purpose.