Students and teachers who returned to school Tuesday from Christmas holidays are facing a range of diverse changes as the New Year unfolds.
From facilities improvements to modified national testing, 2005 will be new and different. The biggest project of the year is the construction of the new school which will be located on the bypass and White Oak Road. The school board approved Greg Smith of Buckley and Associates to serve as architect, and officials are working with him on plans for the school with groundbreaking likely to occur in the Fall.
Other construction projects to improve the quality of facilities are slated for the coming months, said Dr. Jim Franklin, assistant superintendent for administrative services.
A new access road at Maxwell Elementary School designed to decrease traffic congestion on Mount Pleasant Road should be opening this month, and Norris Elementary School is also scheduled to get an access road later this year. Both projects are joint ventures with the county road department, Dr. Franklin said.
Other facilities upgrades include the new tennis courts at Thomson High School, which have just opened for use, and new bus canopies at the high school and Thomson Middle School that offer shelter while loading and unloading. Air conditioning at the old high school gym should make large community events more pleasant this year, and a new gym at the high school is allowing more efficient practice times for school teams.
A redesign scheduled this year for Thomson Elementary School will update the kitchen and cafeteria areas, Dr. Franklin said.
Cafeterias at all the schools will be making some changes to the menus in an effort to improve nutrition. The McDuffie County School System already follows national guidelines, but officials are committed to making meals even healthier by offering baked, instead of fried, foods and by offering more fresh fruits and vegetables.
This month cafeterias will begin serving a low fat version pizza, a traditional favorite among students, said Bernard Milligan, director of school nutrition services.
The improvements in facilities and the cafeteria menu are not the only changes this year. Teachers have been undergoing training to roll out the new Georgia Performance Standards, which are a result of months of work by educators who took ideas from high performing states like Texas and North Carolina, according to the state department of education Web site.
McDuffie County teachers have been studying material on the new GPS which cover a range of subjects from language arts to science.
At the high school level, students should notice a big change in the SAT this year when the new test is offered for the first time in March. The updated exam, which is about 30 minutes longer than the old SAT, will have a new writing element and will also include some changes on the portions previously called math and verbal. Each section includes 800 points, so a "perfect" score will be 2400 instead of 1600 as in the past.
Officials think the new SAT could be beneficial to McDuffie County students who have been paying close attention to writing skills.
"We have put such an emphasis on writing the past couple of years," said Kathryn Collins, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.
Also for high school students, a new graduation policy goes into effect for McDuffie students that requires them to pass the Enhanced Georgia High School Graduation Test before being permitted to walk across the stage during commencement exercises.
Students of all ages will be stepping outside the classroom a bit more in the coming year as part of a new program with Thomson Manor Nursing Home.
The School Board "adopted" Thomson Manor at a recent board meeting, and plans to help students get a better understanding of their role in society and the importance of caring for others. Students will be getting some practical lessons in academic subjects like social studies, civics and reading as they become more involved with the nursing home.
Finally, the school board will undergo a change this year as Paul Leroy joins the board. He will take the place of Tommy Phelps, who completed his term in December. Mr. Phelps left the board as chairman, so trustees should elect a new leader in the next few weeks.
Outlook 2005 - Related Stories
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• New middle school, SAT change on horizon for students
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• Animals, downtown work in Thomson's future
• County commission faces smoking ban discussions, water work, new ordinances and web redesign
• Here's to a successful 2005 in McDuffie