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School board standards
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Members of the Newton County Board of Education, central office staff and local community recently met to review the recently unveiled strategic plan of the school system.

"As part of meeting the standards of the Georgia School Board Association, the board appointed members to a committee to review the policy and operations of the Board of Education in relation to the standards for boards established by the association," said Steven Whatley, NCSS superintendent.

The GSBA has outlined eight general standards for member boards including areas of vision, philosophy and goals, systematic improvement, organizational structure, policy development, board meetings, personnel, financial management and board/staff/community relations.

Whatley along with Associate Superintendent for Business and Administration Deborah Robertson, School Board Chair Johnny Smith and board member Cathy Dobbs, met with community members Kim Hubbard, Jerry Carter and Josephine Kelley to review the boards policies and procedures.

"The people there at the table really validated the issues the board had already outlined in their strategic plan," Kelley said.

Although the GSBA requires only one meeting to discuss the eight standards for GSBA recertification, Hubbard said Whatley, Robertson, Dobbs and Smith obliged another meeting with them to further discuss effective means of communication between the school system and parents as well as the community.

"That area is an area that we always need to address - staff and community relations," Whatley said, "especially since we're growing so - that always becomes a concern when you think of the number of students we've added and their parents and staff we've had to hire to deal with things such as maximum class size."

Hubbard said the community members did not suggest specific initiatives for the school board to undertake, but rather supplied general ideas about communication and asked the board to maintain the avenues of communication they already have in place such as encouraging strong involvement in parent teacher organizations.

"With new technology, there are new ways to communicate now such as School Messenger," Hubbard said, "and we want the board to continue utilizing those things."

School Messenger - a phone calling system used to call parents every day a child is absent from school, to announce special functions and events or alert parents in case of an emergency - will be implemented this month.

A similar program called Media Cast, which will also be implemented this month, allows for the live broadcast of special events or announcements from any computer with internet access.

Whatley also pointed to new parent tools such as Student Track and Find Your Bus Route. Both were employed earlier this school year.

The Student Track program, accessible from the NCSS Web site, allows parents to enter their student's information and view their child's attendance and discipline records as well as grades.

"I think one of the things parents always need is to be able to keep with their children's grades and attendance," Whatley said. "This program serves as sort of a check and balance on what parents think is going on and what is really happening in their child's academic life.

The new bus route software provides much more than a pick up time. By entering a child's grade and home address parents can see the location of the stop, how long the walk or drive to the stop from their home is and the distance and estimated time of their morning and afternoon bus ride.

Hubbard said she and the community members present at the meetings encouraged the board members to embrace new technology which will expedite and enhance communication between parents and schools.

"We are always trying to find new ways to communicate with parents through technology as well as through traditional methods such as newsletters and agendas."

Hubbard attended Tuesday night's Board of Education meeting to summarize the discussions for board members and central office staff who did not attend and to personally commend the board on their efforts to involve the community in their work.

"It's communication from parents and the community that's really going to make our schools better," said board chair Johnny Smith.

In other news from Tuesday night's meeting:

• The board approved a lease agreement with Snapping Shoals Electric Membership Corporation for the purpose of erecting a communications tower on the property where Rocky Plains Elementary School sits. SSEMC will build a 487-foot tower for radio and cellular communication as well as other data services.

The 25-year lease agreement outlines a $600 rent paid to the Newton County Board of Education monthly. After five years the rent will increase 7.5 percent every five years ending at $1,330 a month after 21 years.

Attorney Kent Campbell assured the tower would not interfere with school operations and would only slightly increase traffic flow by the school temporarily during construction.

• Carroll Daniel Construction Project Manager Ashley Haynes reported steel erection at new elementary school 13 is 25 percent completed, base and binder portions of paving are 75 percent complete and earthwork is 90 percent complete. The school's construction is largely funded by Special Purpose Local-Option Sales Tax II and is scheduled to open for the 2008-2009 school year.

• Construction bids for the county's fifth middle school, and the last project funded by SPLOST II, will be publicly opened at 3 p.m. Oct. 18, and presented to the board for consideration by architect of record Ray Moore at the 7 p.m. Oct. 23 board meeting.