The Sun News

Houston schools keep growing

Cindy Flesher
Cindy Flesher

Cindy Flesher, deputy superintendent of administrative services for Houston County schools talks about the school systems as a new year of learning begins.

Q: How many students were enrolled as Houston County’s public schools opened this year?

A: As of the 10th day of school, we have 29,621.

Q: Is this up or down from last year?

A: Compared to the same time last year, this is an increase of approximately 350 students. Each October, school systems report their enrollment to the Georgia Department of Education. We use the October count as our annual official enrollment for a consistent comparison year-to-year. In October 2017, we had 29,490 students enrolled. We have already surpassed that number on the 10th day of school and anticipate reaching close to 30,000 students by the end of the year.

Q: How many classroom teachers are there?

A: Currently, we have 2,058 classroom teachers.

Q: How many total schools are there in the system?

A: Our district has 37 schools, including an alternative school that serves grades 6-12 and a charter school.

Q: How many elementary and primary schools?

A: Twenty-three.

Q: Middle schools? And what grades are the middle schools?

A: We have eight middle schools, which serve students in grades 6-8.

Q: And how many high schools?

A: We have five high schools plus the charter school, Houston County Career Academy. The HCCA serves students across the district.

Q: What’s the number of support staff? Administrators, librarians/media center specialists and such?

A: Of our current 4,938 total employees, 2,690 are classified as support staff such as paraprofessionals, maintenance, transportation and school nutrition employees. Currently we have 119 school level administrators in addition to 101 media specialists and counselors who support our certified staff.

Q: Were there any big changes in how schools operated this year?

A: One of the biggest changes this year is the addition of more school resource officers. All of our middle schools and high schools now have an SRO assigned to their campus full time. The SROs will also support and build relationships with our elementary schools. SROs review safety plans, serve on the school safety committee, conduct a safety building assessment and serve as law enforcement when needed, among other duties.

Q: Other changes?

A: Strategic improvements were also made to our Central Registration processes this summer. During the summer rush we were open until 7 p.m. and added two Saturdays. Our staffing was increased in June and July and registration processes were streamlined to include online appointments and pre-registration.

Q: How many buses and drivers transport students to and from school?

A: About 14,128 students are transported twice daily. There are 178 bus routes and 184 bus drivers.

Q: Have there been any changes made to bus-driver training or other aspects of bus transportation in light of last year’s tragic accident?

A: We continue to train all of our bus drivers a minimum of 44 hours, to include 12 hours in a classroom, eight hours of bus inspection and 24 hours of behind-the-wheel training. Additionally, all drivers receive annual safety training from our staff as well as from the Georgia Department of Education.

Q: Do you know how many miles are driven daily to get students to school and back home?

A: Our bus drivers safely transport students about 11,394 miles each day.

Q: Was there a system theme for teachers as administrators sent them back into the classroom this year?

A: “What is your why?” was the theme of our opening session. Our educators are encouraged to remember why they chose this wonderful profession of educating children and to focus on their purpose as they begin a new year.

Q: What is the biggest concern, biggest challenge, school system officials face?

A: A challenge continues to be finding qualified teaching staff to fill all our vacancies. We have ramped up our recruiting efforts with colleges and universities in the Southeast. We have also instituted a “Grow Your Own” initiative with Middle Georgia State University where parapros are offered an opportunity to take coursework at night toward a bachelor’s degree in education while still working in their parapro role during the day. At the Career Academy, we have a program called, “Teaching as a Profession,” that targets high school students who are interested in a career in education. We conduct our annual teacher recruitment fair earlier than previous years so that our principals have the opportunity to hire the best and brightest as early as possible. Despite all of our proactive efforts, we still have “critical” need areas that are difficult to fill. This includes: school psychologists, speech language pathologists, math/science/art/special education and other specialty area teachers like graphics.

Q: What’s the No. 1 tip you would give to students for the new year?

A: Michael Jordan said, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.” Therefore, try new things, make new friends, try out for a sport, get involved with a club and have fun!

Q: How about the No. 1 tip, or request, for parents?

A: Engage with your child by talking about their school day, their friends, their likes and dislikes, and what they are learning. In this digital age, all of us can oftentimes become absorbed in checking our smartphones, social media, email, texts, etc. Face-to-face interactions are the primary way children learn. Be fully present in the moments you have with your child.

Also be sure to engage with your child’s teacher. If you have concerns, share them so that you may work together to resolve any issues. Children are most successful when their parents and teachers partners in the education process.

Answers may have been edited for length and clarity. Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at mwpannell@gmail.com.

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