The McDuffie County School Board held an in-house retreat last weekend with speakers from the Georgia School Board Association. All seven board members attended the retreat along with board administrators.
Jim Willis, a retired school superintendent who is now a risk controller with GSBA, and Billy Johnson, the superintendent of schools in Putnam County and a consultant with GSBA, were the key speakers. Mr. Willis said the purpose of the retreat was training the new board members - Rick McCorkle, District 7, Rev. Ella Mae Samuels, District 3 and Rev. Dorothy Hart, District 4 - and to remind the board of the tools available to them.
"I can say objectively that we see a lot of school systems around the state," Mr. Johnson said at the end of the retreat. "And y'all have wonderful leadership going on here."
During Friday's session, the board received training in governance, policies, law and goal-setting.
"The role of this board is to develop a structure that will make a difference," Mr. Willis said. "As far as technology, it is moving so fast that you have the challenge of teaching the students for a world that's not even here yet."
The principal of each school joined the board Friday afternoon to prepare for District Accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
Assistant Superintendent Barry O'Neill said a committee of "seven people who are not teachers or principals, but superintendents and state level employees," will visit McDuffie County in April to conduct interviews and take tours of each school. Each of the seven schools in the county are already individually accredited.
"District accreditation seeks to make a difference with students," Dr. O'Neill said. "It is not a stand-alone procedure, but an ongoing process that stresses excellence over compliance to rules. ... It develops a quality school system rather than a system of schools."
During Saturday's session of the retreat, the board members studied a superintendent evaluation instrument, identified the critical issues facing McDuffie County Schools and discussed an action plan. Among the critical issues discussed were the graduation/drop-out rate, community support and parental involvement, academic excellence and closing the achievement gaps between student subsets.
"Kids don't just drop out of high school," Mr. Willis said. "They leave because they've already dropped out a long time before."
During ePolicy discussions, Mr. Johnson took notes of McDuffie's website that has all policies available for public online viewing. He asked McDuffie County Superindent of Schools Mark Petersen's permission to copy the idea for the Putnam County system, saying it "sure would make things a lot easier. I like what you've done."
Mr. Willis also was impressed with the McDuffie County BOE, and said he is going to use them as an example in his future GSBA management tools workshops.
"You are so far ahead of other school boards," he said. "You just don't know. I'd say you are in the top five percent in the state, even among the largest systems, in terms of setting goals and carrying them out."
The McDuffie school board holds a planning meeting at 8:30 a.m. on the Wednesday before the second Thursday of each month, and a regular meeting at 6:30 p.m. on the second Thursday at the central office, 716 North Lee Street in Thomson. Call 706-986-4000 for information.