Back-to-School Means New Faces and New Ideas for CCPS

With “back-to-school” scheduled for Tuesday, Clarke County Schools Superintendent Dr. Michael Murphy says that he’s looking forward to a new school year and so are Clarke County students.

“Students are excited” Murphy said last week. “The younger they are the more excited they seem!”

Classroom cellphone use by students will be encouraged as a supplement to learning materials at CCPS this year.

As part of the annual back-to-school ritual, for teachers and staff the school year begins several weeks earlier than it does for students.

New teachers participated in an “in-service” day on the Friday before last followed by an all-staff breakfast last week. Individual school staff workshops filled most of last week.

What goes on in a staff workshop?

One example, cited by Dr. Murphy, was a high school workshop where staff and administrators are learning how to better use data to make decisions about teaching and learning.

Murphy has set ambitious goals for his education professionals this year. With recent standard-of-learning (SOL) test results demonstrating learning deficits in several subject areas, Murphy plans to focus curriculum alignment in math, English and reading. Murphy also has teachers reviewing course pacing guides (to ensure consistency and curriculum alignment) and plans to implement instructional learning strategies to improve student performance.

“Data will continue to have increasing importance as we move forward” Murphy told the Clarke County Board of Supervisors last week.

Cellphones to Augment Classroom Learning

One new change for students in the coming school year is that cellphones will no longer be banned from classrooms. Rather, Murphy says that the handheld devices will be promoted as an instructional aide to classroom learning.

“Kids will be allowed to use their personal technology, like smartphones, to supplement instruction in the classroom,” Murphy said. The new approach will attempt to harness advances in cellphone technology to deliver internet-based learning materials for classroom use.

New Faces at CCPS

But while data and the internet may drive policy and decisions, teachers and school staff are the key to motivating students to learn. Clarke County Public Schools teaching team has 37 new faces this year according to Assistant Superintendent Rick Catlett.

“We have 24 new licensed staff members and thirteen support staff,” Catlett told the Clarke County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

“Professional” staff includes positions like teachers, pathologists and other professionals that work directly with students on learning performance. “Support” staff, who also have a direct impact on learning but in a different way, include bus drivers, food service staff, custodians and others.

According to Catlett, 60% of Clarke’s new professional staff has a master’s degree or above, which will continue to improve the school division’s overall advanced degree average of 53%.

Catlett said that this year’s hiring task was made easier due to the poor economy. According to Catlett, even finding special education teachers, a traditionally difficult position to fill, wasn’t as difficult as in years past.

“It was much easier to fill the special education positions that we have struggled with in the past,” Catlett said. “All three special education teachers hired this year have three to six years of experience and that’s really important.”

The national jobless rate may also be reflected in the level of experience found in the new crop of educators. While of the 24 new hires eight have no prior teaching experience, five have one to five years of prior experience, eight have six to fifteen years and two have sixteen to twenty years of teaching experience.

One new staff member has over twenty years of experience.

Adding experienced teachers to the school division’s professional staff has added importance as the county struggles with the loss of seasoned staff to neighboring jurisdictions where salaries are higher for certain job categories. On Tuesday, Clarke County Supervisors Chairman Michael Hobert (Berryville) asked Catlett whether Clarke County Public Schools are competitive with other local jurisdictions in terms of compensation, an important factor for teacher retention.

“For staff with a bachelor’s degree we lag a little bit,” Catlett answered. “For teachers with a master’s degree we are very competitive.”

Catlett said that Clarke County’s use of a pay stipend for teachers with a master’s degree has played an important role in retaining and recruiting teachers with advanced degrees.

However, Catlett said that most of the new staff will likely not live in Clarke County, a fact that may be equally as important in long term staff retention.

“The more invested that teachers are in our community, the more likely that it is that they will continue to stay here once the economy improves,” Hobert remarked.

Other School News

Training isn’t only for professional staff. Safety training for custodians, transportation staff, and food service staff took place last week.

The temporary air conditioning chiller is in place removing one less worry as teachers put the finishing touches on classrooms on Monday.

All schools are now enabled for wireless internet and network access. The new capability comes just in time as nearly 500 student and staff computers are being deployed this fall

Two portable trailers no longer needed for instruction space are leaving the division.

Roofing repairs at Johnson Williams Middle School are almost complete.