Friday, June 4, 2004

School system has focus on communication with parents, teachers

Over the past two years, the Coweta County School System has worked to develop several new approaches and resources in the areas of communication, human resources, leadership, student support services, teaching and learning, and finances. One of those areas, communication, has been a particular focus.

At the suggestion of Mr. Rick Melville, chairman of the Board for Coweta County School System, teacher forums met on retreat to brainstorm strategies and suggestions for budgeting. Central office staff and elementary, middle, and high school representatives were in constant communication regarding the 2004-2005 budget and other areas concerning school finances.

This constructive dialogue continued throughout the budgeting process. Preceding the teacher retreats, teams of central office staff visited every school in the fall of 2003 to inform teachers and staff of the pending funding issues. Using PowerPoint presentations, the teams explained the current budget crises and projected outcomes of those crises, listened to suggestions from personnel, and took questions for future consideration. Intentional communication of this information kept all personnel informed of changing financial issues as they occurred.

At the suggestion of School Board member Allan Payton, four town hall meetings at each of the high schools provided opportunities for the Coweta community to raise any issues or seek answers to any concerns with the board and the administration. In this public forum, participants asked questions or discussed any matters, with the exception of those related to individuals by name. Board members and administration either answered the questions during the meeting or researched the answers and provided answers at a later time. The communication through this open forum provided an opportunity for all community members to receive answers to questions of particular importance to them.

Over the last two years, I have met with groups of parents concerning issues of importance to all of our students. Field days, field trips, curriculum issues, and scheduling issues were of genuine importance to parents. Parent focus groups were and are essential in gaining input from parents, and the central office staff and I have worked diligently to include parents at every level of decision making. Parents offered input affecting several important components of learning in an effort to maximize our resources in the face of severe budget cuts.

As a part of our ongoing emphasis on maintaining open communication with all personnel, Central office staff visited every school on a regular basis to dialogue about content areas and any matters of concern. Blake Bass and I visited several schools for the duration of an entire day and met with any staff members for question and answer sessions and suggestions for improvement for our schools. Groups of teachers presented and discussed items of importance. Pat Hodge and Wanda Creel visited every elementary school, and Pat Hodge and Barbara Kendrick met with teams from the middle and high schools.

Several forums have met regularly throughout the past two years to provide consistent and constant communication with the schools. The Technology Forum, led by David Thibadeau and other technology personnel, met with representatives from every school to discuss issues and innovations related to technology. The Teacher Forum consisted of school representatives and me, and met monthly for the communication of important information and to discuss or problem-solve issues impacting the schools. The Assistant Principals’ Forum consisted of the assistant principals and me and met monthly for ongoing staff development and discussions related to school improvement. Principals and central office staff met monthly for professional growth and an exchange of information for communication to all school employees.

During the 2003-2004 school year, the System survey utilized a valid and reliable questionnaire from the National Study of School Evaluation. The survey contained standardized questions from NSSE and 17 additional questions specifically related to Coweta County Schools. Parents, students, and teachers completed the questionnaire. The NSSE analyzed the questionnaires and provided a comprehensive document detailing the results. Overall, parents, students, and teachers gave the school system high marks. I continue to communicate the results to civic groups, the newspapers, PTO/PTA groups, and all schools.

CCSS has increased our involvement with the Chamber of Commerce and the business community. Our current emphasis on completion of the Oglethorpe process for continued improvement identified areas for growth in our school system. I will communicate the feedback from this process throughout the system and with the business community.

CCSS representatives attend monthly meetings with city and county officials, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Economic Development Council as active participants in the community. We value our place in the county and any contributions we may offer. Community involvement is an important communication tool for us.

Beginning in January, I led a Legislative Action Committee to develop priorities for the 2004 legislative session. As a group, we visited the Capitol to speak out for the educational future of Coweta's children. I will continue to inform and lead the members of this committee in active participation in the legislative process as it relates to our children’s future.

The following committees were involved in important decisions for the system:

• A parent committee drew the district lines for the new Grantville Elementary School.

• A parent and teacher committee chose books for novel sets.

• A committee of teachers have met ongoing to decide the direction of teaching international languages.

• Parents participated in the field trip committee.

• Teachers participated in monthly, systemwide grade level meetings.

• Parents, teachers, and administrators participated in the development of our Strategic Plan.

• Parents, teachers, and administrators participated in the ongoing analysis of our capacity to change and grow as a system.

• Parents, teachers, and administrators participated in the opening of The Centre for Performing and Visual Arts as well as the ongoing showcasing of visual and performing arts in the Centre.

Lastly, the students of Coweta responded with great enthusiasm and artistic ability to design a Christmas card for me to share with the community. A group of judges chose student art for the design of the superintendent's Christmas greeting cards that went out to 150 individuals in and around our county.

As you can see, CCSS highly values communicating with all members of the community. We strive to provide information and knowledge to administrators, teachers, parents, students, and the general public. Some of this communication is, necessarily, one-way communication, as we try to inform the public and our staff about the actions we take and the issues we face as a large and important institution in Coweta County. For example, we plan to issue our Annual Guide this July and will always issue regular information about the school system.

Much of the new communication we have tried to develop over the last two years is two-way communication, however. Town halls, parent committees, teacher workshops and other forums provide an opportunity for constructive dialogue. There are certainly many ways we can expand and improve that type of communication. We note, for example, that we need to incorporate student dialogue into our communication plans. If you have any suggestions, please feel free to contact me.

— Peggy Connell


Coweta County School System

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