August 18, 2013

Superintendent upbeat in update on county school system

Submitted by the Kiwanis Club of Dalton

— “This person showed up late afternoon on a Friday,” new Whitfield County Superintendent of Schools Judy Gilreath told the Kiwanis Club of Dalton recently.

She was explaining her surprise when an anonymous donor presented her with a cashier’s check of about $1 million to improve deteriorating athletic facilities at Southeast Whitfield High School.

“I thought I would drop dead right there,” she said. “I’ve never held that much money in my hands and I was so excited to think that we have people in our community that would do that.”

Southeast is getting six new tennis courts, a new track, a new fence and concession stand renovations from the anonymous donor.

“Southeast needed that,” Gilreath said. “Their track was in pitiful shape and the tennis courts couldn’t even be used.”

The school system is also bringing the Southeast Whitfield and Northwest Whitfield stadiums up to compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act.

The superintendent said a new parking lot will soon be built at Dug Gap Elementary School through donated funds. Teachers currently have to park in a grassy area where the parking lot will be constructed.

The old Eastbrook Middle School building will be demolished sometime in October. Gilreath hopes to eventually see new ball fields built at the site. The gym will remain and be used by the county recreation department.

“We’re looking at a new gym for Eastbrook,” she added.

The new middle school was built with no funding for a gym.

Eastside Elementary will receive some renovations.

“There is some state money for schools that are over 40 years old,” Gilreath said. “They are going to qualify.”

Kiwanians were given a breakdown of some of the reorganization completed for this school year.

Gilreath said the system is broken into several departments. They are teaching and learning; support services; operations; assessment and accountability; finances; and human resources.

“I immediately made some changes in the ways teaching and learning was designed,” she said.

She believed that central office personnel were “too stretched.”

“Teaching and learning is the heartbeat of the system,” Gilreath said. “In that department they cover everything with curriculum. They have lead teachers who are over the different subject areas and work directly with the teachers.”

Karey Williams was promoted from principal at Southeast Whitfield High School to assistant superintendent.

Tom Appleman, a math teacher at Southeast, was named high school curriculum director.

Michelle Caldwell was moved from assistant principal at Varnell Elementary to middle school curriculum director. Merry Boggs, former dean of the Dalton State College School of Education, is now over elementary school curriculum.

“One thing you find about these three people is that they are out in the schools every day,” the superintendent said. “They are already sitting and listening to our teachers because our teachers are the ones that will really drive the education.”

All enrollment and “where we get our money” comes from support services, now headed by Wanda Phillips.

The superintendent was over this area prior to her promotion. It includes attendance, hospital homebound, athletics, discipline, tribunals, nutrition, policies, any legal issues and questions, exceptional students and more.

Under operations, the Whitfield County school system has 23 school buildings and three administrative buildings to maintain.

The school system has 675 acres of ground to be maintained. There are 169 buses that drive nearly 6,000 miles per day. “About 9,500 of our approximately 13,000 students ride the bus every day,” Gilreath added.

There are five school resource officers.

“These are real sheriff’s deputies with a gun, the badge, the whole deal,” Gilreath said. “You’ve got to have a special type of law enforcement officer to work in one of our schools. They take some things that if they were out on the highway and pulled somebody over they wouldn’t put up with. We’re working with children and lots of times working with children with special emotional needs.”

“About 85 percent of our budget is personnel. Only 15 percent is used to maintain schools,” Gilreath said.