Dade B of E Finalizes New School Year Calendar, Hears From Concerned Citizen

At its regular January meeting on Monday, the Dade County Board of Education finalized its 2018-19 school year calendar, got a demonstration of the Google Classroom application that Dade teachers will soon be using in all the schools, and heard from a member of the public who wanted the board to use education dollars for improving internet access in the county.

(Photo: Michael Scott asked the board to use some of its education dollars getting fast internet in the county--maybe EPB could help? he suggested.)

First, the calendar: Schools Superintendent Jan Harris said the board had received over 40 comments and suggestions on the calendar from affected parties—teachers, students, administrators, parents—and had taken all that input into account in fashioning the new schedule. Students will start the new school year Aug. 3., a Friday, with teachers coming in the preceding Monday, July 30. Teachers may also elect to come in for their workdays earlier, in mid-July, to get their classrooms set up amid the glorious silence of empty desks and echoing halls.

Then students will get Oct. 18 and 19 off for fall break, with the 18th a teachers’ workday. The schools will close for a full week for Thanksgiving (Nov. 19-23) and two for Christmas. Students will attend school a half day on Dec. 18 and not come back until Jan. 3. Dr. Harris said the longer break was being restored for the coming year after winter break in 2017/18 was shortened slightly. “It seemed to be a little taxing for everyone,” she said.

Schools will be closed for Presidents’ Day, MLK Day and Good Friday, with spring break April 1-5, which Dr. Harris said was driven by the schools’ testing schedule. Students’ last day of school will be May 23 and graduation is the 24th.

And before we leave scheduling, here’s some good news for this school year: Dr. Harris said students will not have to make up last week’s bad-weather days.

The super also announced at the Jan. 22 meeting that the school system had received the 1600 new Chromebook internet stations ordered late last year. “We’re going one to one in Dade County Schools,” she said. She thanked taxpayers for approving the funds—$281,056 as earlier reported in The Planet—and explained, as she had when the units were ordered, that they will shortly be mandatory, as the state will require all testing to be done on them. “We’re ahead of the game,” she said.

Dr. H had Dade High principal James Fahrney give the board a demonstration of Google Classroom, Google’s application for schools which will be used on the Chromebooks. Fahrney had used the program to make a short video to demonstrate how the teachers can use it to make videos of their own as well as to assign work, grade it and offer the students guidance on it. “It’s an excellent excellent system, and the best thing about it is it’s free,” he said.

Fahrney also said the program would allow teachers to access student work on their phones, so that they could “grade papers”—a term that The Planet can grasp is not the right one in this cyber age, but for which The Planet has as yet learned no substitute—wherever they might be.

“Some of our teachers are already using it,” said Dr. Harris of the Google program. “We’re stepping up and we’re going to be using this systemwide.”

Dr. James Cantrell, who manages the county’s school bus fleet (shown here driving one at the Christmas parade), addressed the board at the Monday meeting, and one item he covered is the system’s need for a service truck to go out and repair buses when they break down on the road. He also submitted a summary of Dade’s bus situation that the board had requested in 2017, requesting as he did so four new buses.

Dr. Cantrell said the school system currently has three “spare” buses but that one of those is currently in the shop for repairs. “Three is really not enough,” he said. “We’re really running pretty close to having an issue.” He explained buses were needed to transport sports teams as well as for routine student pickup and take-home.

He said radios, video cameras, air conditioning and mountain transmissions were included in the costs he had submitted in his summary. Costs were not, however, discussed at the meeting.

In other business, the board renewed its status as fiscal agent for Dade First/Family Connection, the collaborative group that brings together social services, educational and private institutions in Dade to benefit the community.

The board also approved a change to its personnel handbook expanding the term “immediate family” to include grandparents and grandchildren. This had been brought up late last year and required a month’s time on the table for consideration before approval.

Dr. Harris brought up a change to personnel policy that had been suggested a propos of the other one, but which was unrelated and required its own 30 days’ consideration. This one would require teachers who did jury duty to remit the payment they received as jurors to the school system to reimburse the cost of hiring a substitute teacher. This apparently had been done in the past and would require board action to be reinstituted now. Thus the board will take it up again in February.

In her monthly address to the board, Dr. Harris reminded all that the weekly “Superintendent’s Messages” she disseminates are packed with news about upcoming events and links to useful information about the schools. Those messages are all available on the B of E’s website. Here’s a link—

—but they are also proudly displayed on The Dade Planet. Find the latest by clicking on Home above and scrolling down The Planet’s front page.

The super had some good news from Dade County Executive Chairman Ted Rumley: The county plans to pave a long-awaited, eight-foot-wide walking track around the goal posts at Davis School. At an earlier Dade Commission meeting, the county boss had said paving would start this spring.

(Photo: The super and county boss Rumley at a ceremony in August.)

Finally, the school board and superintendent heard from that rarest of Dade commodities, a member of the public who had asked for and been granted a slot on the agenda to air views, question policies or petition the board for change. Michael Scott (depicted at the beginning of this article, who is raising a 7-year-old granddaughter who attends school in Dade, told the board about the difficulty he had in his New Home neighborhood with internet access.

Scott told the board, and elaborated to The Planet afterward, that students now work increasingly online but that in New Home he hadn’t been able to procure fast enough internet to keep up with the schools. He currently has HughesNet, or satellite-based internet, he told The Planet, Trenton Telephone/TVN having laid fiber agonizingly close, but not quite close enough, to his home. Charter was no help either, said Scott.

Scott said he understood the schools had educational funding available for this kind of problem. “Why not let EPB Fiber Optics have some of it?” he suggested.

Scott was referring to Chattanooga-based Electric Power Board, which provides internet service there. He told The Planet he’d spoken with an EPB representative who said the company “would love to” supply internet to Dade but was prevented from doing so by difficulties with Georgia Power. Scott said he’d spoken with Dade County Executive Chairman Ted Rumley and with John Deffenbaugh, Dade’s voice in the Georgia House of Representatives. Having had no success solving his problem through those channels, and hearing that the B of E had educational dollars at its disposal for suchlike concerns, Scott thought he’d try his luck there.

“All they can do is say no,” he told The Planet.

In point of fact, the board did not say anything at all. If it should ever do so, such utterances as emerge shall, as always, be faithfully reported in the pages of The Dade Planet.

The next meeting of the Dade Board of Education is at 5 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 26, in the B of E office in front of Dade High off Highway 136 East.

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