The Gadsden County School District held a community meeting at Everybody’s Church in Midway on Tuesday, March 21 from 6 p.m. until 7:30 p.m.
The meeting was open to the public and featured presentations from school district staff on important education issues including attendance, school safety, mental health, family and community engagement, and a new online system to help parents track student information online.
“The purpose of the meeting is to break the things that we’re doing in Gadsden County to the community,” said Superintendent of Schools Elijah Key during his introductory speech. Key also said that he “felt it was necessary to get out of the district office and get into our communities, and speak to the people where they are, where they live.”
The first topic covered was student attendance.
“As always, the attendance of students is paramount,” said Key. “Students need to come to school every day. It’s an issue we definitely have been battling since the COVID pandemic hit this land, and especially when we gave kids the option to work from home, and many kids have not returned to school mentally. We have to change that dynamic.”
Key said that the school district would send the names of students aged 14-19 who had unsatisfactory attendance records to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles so they would not be able to get a driver license, which he said had not been adequately enforced before.
Key also mentioned plans to partner with other agencies to hold parents accountable for getting their children to school daily.
“We cannot be successful without students in classrooms,” Key said.
Key also spoke on school success.
“Another thing we need is dedicated educators,” explained Key. “One of the things we have done is totally moved our salaries. When I came into office in 2021, the starting salary [for teachers] was $38,115.”
Key stated that this was the lowest ranking starting salary in Florida, but by the next year, that number had risen to $45,000.
“We’re going to do everything we can to get the right teachers here,” said Key.
Key then pointed to improvements in Florida Standards Assessments testing by Gadsden County schools, with both Gadsden County High School and West Gadsden Middle School receiving their first “C” grades ever.
Key also highlighted the fact that 76% of Gadsden County High School Students had graduated last year, the highest rate ever in the county.
The next topic was the new FOCUS student information system, covered by Administrative Technology Coordinator Darlean Youmans.
Youmans demonstrated how parents can use the parent portal at gadsdenschools.org to access the new system and find essential information on their child’s progress, such as attendance, course schedule, grades, and teacher contact information.
Superintendent Key then returned to the podium to discuss school safety.
Key explained that, in addition to the sheriff deputies assigned to each school, a guardian trained by the Sheriff’s Department would also be present on each campus, raising the number of armed personnel available to protect students, teachers, and staff in the event of an active shooter or other attack.
Key also said metal detectors had been installed at every secondary school in the district, and that those systems would soon be updated.
Notification systems are also available to both staff and students which allow rapid reporting of both active and potential safety threats to law enforcement.
The next speaker was KeSandra Brown, Director of Exceptional Education, with a presentation on the Multi Tier Support System, which she described as “an educational framework designed to ensure a successful educational outcome for all students.”
The system is designed to provide resources for students who are struggling with academic, behavioral, emotional, or social issues.
These resources include a chatbot that students, parents, and staff can text with, which can provide tips on how to deal with emotional issues, as well as the ability to alert mental health services or law enforcement to perform a wellness check if the bot detects messages that suggest the individual is in danger.
Brown also announced that the number of social workers available to district schools has increased from four to eight, and that the district is working to provide tele-health services for students.
The final speaker of the evening was Family and Community Engagement Coordinator Vicki Muse-Johnson, who will be retiring at the end of this year.
Johnson described the purpose of her office as helping parents learn about and navigate resources available to them.
The Family and Community Engagement office also works with parent liaisons to identify current issues faced by students, and keep administrators informed so they can address those issues.
Johnson is currently working to collaborate with faith-based leaders, community organizations, and other agencies on ways to assist parents with issues like keeping their children housed, fed and clothed, so they can focus on their education.
Superintendent Key then delivered closing remarks.
“It’s going to take everyone, and that’s what we’re asking of the people of Gadsden County, to continue to do what we are doing, and that’s the collaboration, to figure out how to help Gadsden County together.”
For those who were unable to attend the meeting, it can be viewed in its entirety on the Gadsden County School District Facebook page.
Stephen Klein – Gadsden County News Service