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Gwinnett County Board of Education, District 1

Significant challenges include mental health, early learning lags, and budgetary deficits. However, safety is foremost and involves more components that our previous concerns about outside threats. We now know that good health as exposed by COVID-19 is fragile and requires stringent hygiene practices. Schools must make modifications, possibly staggered times, personal spacing or calendar adjustments as well as expanding digital learning with enhanced cybersecurity to ensure everyone’s safety. Mental health issues, already a concern, have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Budgetary deficits are crucial as Governor Kemp has asked for a reduction of at least 14%. Significant decisions are necessary when needs are severe. Challenges can be met with input from knowledgeable professionals and community members using data analysis and creative thinking to continue to provide quality education, perhaps with new delivery methods, to all students keeping in mind that the core business of GCPS is teaching and learning. Our highly acclaimed school system has been very successful and I want to ensure that all students have the opportunity to succeed by accessing the many educational choices available to them while meeting their individual needs. After all, when our students excel, our local, state, and global communities thrive. I will continue Gwinnett’s record of educational excellence by: Recruiting and retaining the best teachers Ensuring innovation and choice Assuring a safe school environment Delivering a quality education to all students

During my fifteen years serving on the Board of Education, it has been my honor to represent our community by never missing any of the 185 business meetings plus many additional meetings. Throughout my tenure I have seen GCPS grow tremendously, become more diverse, raise the graduation rate, increase achievement, provide months of digital learning, and weather a pandemic. However, the needs have increased and inequities have surfaced. Many students needed connectivity or devices to complete assignments. Partnerships with internet companies and grants for technology are happening. Schools developed ways to provide internet service in school parking lots and loan 2400 devices or hotspots to students. Assisting with the online learning was difficult for some families who struggle with the language while others had problems managing family responsibilities during economic distress. Food services provided by GCPS certainly helped. These challenges will lead to new priorities for all students to be successful. We need to concentrate on making certain all families have access to the necessary materials and devices for their students to continue learning while making up lost ground. Additionally, the quarantine has taken a toll on our students not only academically but also emotionally. When we return to classes, school personnel will need to be cognizant of these effects on children and on our staff. We also know that this crisis has added to the need for quality early learning. Many families had a great opportunity to be with their young children more while working from home. As things loosen and parents return to work, numerous childcare establishments will not be open which may further the academic slide for these youngest learners. Already there has been a big push by the community to enhance early learning opportunities such as Play 2 Learn, library activities, and faith based programs to ensure our kindergarteners are ready. Some of these initiatives need funding.

In my fifteen years as an experienced Board member, I have faithfully served the citizens of Gwinnett during which time enrollment has increased substantially and needs have grown in our community. However, students have continued to achieve at high levels through many choices available to them. I have complete confidence that any future challenges will be met by the very professional educators of GCPS who continue to demonstrate their ability and expertise as they have handled the quarantine changes with instruction delivery. Our system has won numerous awards for excellence and our students continue to shine. Of course, greater heights can be reached with continued innovation, but a major overhaul is not needed because our school system is one of the best in the nation. Visitors come to see what is working so well and many people move to Gwinnett because of our stellar schools. I stand on my record of success.

Financial issues will be a major concern starting with the FY2020-21 budget especially when the impact of the economic downfall is felt. Property taxes, the major source of school funding, will fall. Another source of funding is the sales tax revenue and in February, the receipts were the highest until the pandemic occurred causing many businesses to close with unemployment rising. Governor Kemp has asked for a 14% cut across the board creating additional shortfalls. However, Federal dollars from the CARES Act will help. However, additional funds will be needed to increase additional safety measures in schools and on buses. The AAA bond ratings that the school system has had for many years exhibit wise stewardship and management with public funds. Good decisions have been made in the past and spending is carefully monitored. An analysis of needs and resources will highlight priorities to ensure the core business of teaching and learning will continue for all students. Additional connectivity, technology support, and professional training for teachers may be some ways to effectively meet student needs.

GCPS was in better shape to handle the digital learning days than most school systems because inclement weather days had been digital for the last few years. Plus several schools conducted digital days regularly. However, the change in instructional delivery was difficult for some. Teachers found new ways to interact with students as well as with their families. Lessons learned from this experience and feedback from stakeholders will assist planning for the future. This is an incredible time to reevaluate what has worked well in the past and what innovations could be done to further student success. Perhaps a blended learning model or adaptable seat times for students may become a norm. From a health standpoint GCPS already works closely with the public health department, the CDC, FEMA, local governmental officials to coordinate decisions with the best information. A pandemic plan already been in place since 2008 was put to good use and adjustments will be made after further evaluations. School personnel will continue to have contingency plans for all types of emergencies.

Voting districts for the Board of Education are based on the residences of constituents within the area not necessarily by the schools. This creates some confusion as the district lines are not drawn by clusters and board members represent students in numerous clusters. The lines were drawn by the State Legislature based on the 2010 census count and the boundaries may change with the new 2020 count. Board of Education members do represent their particular areas and welcome contact from constituents in their voting district but also from any other citizen. Our job is to represent the students. When decisions are made by the Board, they are made for the good of all of the students in the school system not a particular district.

School safety definitely concerns all of us particularly parents. News stories of the past few years demonstrate horrible shootings from outsiders and also from some insiders plagued with mental issues. These dreadful events have happened in many areas of the community, malls, churches, and theatres as well as schools. Research shows that schools have been the safest place for children…. until now. However, the current pandemic has opened our eyes to new threats. Schools are wonderful havens of learning where children explore new ideas, stretch their capacities and become knowledgeable skilled individuals. We have seen that new methods of safety practices are needed. To feel comfortable and safe within a school building, everyone will need to sense that necessary measures such as additional sanitizing, new traffic patterns, social distancing, limited tactile contact, and other such practices are in place. By collaborating with public health officials, law enforcement, the CDC, community members, and governmental leaders, school personnel can make informed decisions to create the safest possible environment for students and employees. Communication is key to ensure that all information is timely, accurate, and clear to all stakeholders.

Gwinnett is positioned well for optimal workforce opportunities for students. The academy structure in seven high schools and the specific theme schools such as McClure Health Science High School and Paul Duke Stem High School give students new experiences in the actual work place. The upcoming Seckinger Cluster will focus on Information Technology, certainly a current focus. Members of the community, the Chamber of Commerce, business advisory councils, and local companies are tremendous partners with GCPS. Many provide numerous positions for students such as internships, field trips, capstone projects, and visiting lecturers. Principals even visit businesses each summer to help align curriculum. The Gwinnett, Science, Engineering, and Innovation Fair is an example of community engagement with students on a tremendous scale. Junior Achievement with its Discovery Center for middle school students and the 3D# School within Norcross High School are perfect examples of successful partnerships between commercial businesses and schools. Of course, the Principal for a Day program has initiated many great opportunities for students, businesses, and the community. I would love to see all of these programs expanded and highlighted to share some of the very great things happening in our schools.

Collaboration between K-12 schools and post-secondary institutions is very important. Any opportunity for work with educators from both groups should be encouraged. Input from businesses is always welcomed and very helpful. Communication is vital concerning programs, requirements, and possibilities for students because if the choices are not known, then an opportunity may be missed. Visits between campuses may open the eyes for some students who never knew certain chances were available for them particularly if the family had not experienced higher education.

A great deal of thought, preliminary work, research, input gathering, and salary adjustments went into the preparation of this plan starting seven or eight years ago. Teachers could learn in many formats about the opportunity to receive the performance award which was given to the top teachers in the system and at each school. Many factors were used to determine who would receive the award. Feedback was gathered and an additional metric was added for fairness. After the awards were distributed, some people were unsure about its success. However, the assessments were eliminated because of the pandemic, and no awards will be given next fall. Adjustments to the compensation award system will be looked at again at a later date. I feel this is a positive way to reward teachers and would like to see it continued with some modifications.

Teachers are true heroes who without a doubt, give their best to their students every day. Professional educators exemplify care, concern, creativity, expertise, and flexibility. Just look at how well they have handled digital learning days! Students’ success is paramount and teachers utilize multiple methods ensuring individual needs are met. Unfortunately teachers do not get the total respect they deserve. However, because of the quarantine many parents are now more aware of how difficult a teacher’s job really is. Retaining top quality teachers is vital for the success of students and for the school system. Nationwide there is a limited pipeline of teachers in some fields like STEM/STEAM and special education so the retention of these teachers is especially crucial. We need to ensure that salaries, enhancements, awards, benefits, and pathways for advancement are competitively attractive. As true professionals, teachers like to know that their valuable opinions are sought. The Teacher Advisory Council and other such mechanisms offer additional opportunities for teachers to share valuable input which is more important now that instructional delivery methods are being re-evaluated. Also encouraging the community to demonstrate gratitude to teachers would be very much appreciated.

I see two major challenges. First, the pandemic and understanding what plans are in place for the fall that will ensure our students and staff are safe while making certain our students achieve. Second lack of oversite. I would work through these challenges by encouraging openness, transparency and community inclusion in the decision making. Any plans, changes or additions to policy should be vetted by all key stakeholders and buy-in should be obtained to ensure there is not another community outcry demanding the school board to listen to what our community requires. My Vision:. 1) Direct resources/finances to the CLASSROOM! 2) Maintain school district ACCOUNTABILITY of our student’s academic achievement. 3) Ensure we are SPENDING OUR SCHOOL TAX DOLLARS WISELY. 4) Produce students who are well-rounded and are prepared to work in our ever-changing world. 5) Prepare ALL our students to achieve at high levels in ALL core areas. 6) Fully leverage the value our diverse school system offers. 7) Enhance, develop and maintain a strong, supportive and empowering public-school community. 8) Work to continuously improve the performance of ALL students, teachers, and business operations. Implementation: 1) Require openness and transparency of the school system 2) Oversight/asking tough questions/making things less top down 3) Leveraging all community stakeholders to influence policy

The school board adopts policy that gives the school district direction to set priorities and achieve its goals. Goals should include successfully educating the work force of tomorrow. Based on community feedback at the board meetings, I would leverage the community’s concerns to help identify the priorities. The following concerns were voiced during board meetings. 1) Disparate discipline consequences for students of color 2) Too much district and state standardized testing 3) Unpopular performance pay system 4) Direction on approach from a high – level pandemic planning, preparing and responding to ensure the safety of our staff and children while making certain the students achieve. 5) Bus driver pay I would work with all our public-school community stakeholders to revisit, improve and/or create policy based on the concerns identified above. Policies give the district direction to set priorities. By encouraging openness, transparency and community inclusion in policy adoption, I will ensure success in educating the workforce of tomorrow.

Assets I would bring to the school board are as follows: 1) Professionally: I work in the commercial real estate industry. I am a Strategic Sourcing professional specializing in facilities operations and construction. I critically think and take an organized and collaborative approach on how we would leverage spend. I understand how to develop and read budgets. I identify critical spend areas. I create team strategies, build communication plans, identify key stakeholders, and develop and implement plans to get to a future state. I understand the necessity of collaboration, negotiation and managing relationships. All of which are attributes that I can bring to the school board. 2) Personally: I am a mother of two children in the school system and we feel the decision impacts of the school board.

I plan to balance essential school services with the need to cut significant spending due to COVID-19 impacts by: 1) Ensuring our community stakeholders are engaged and have transparency to our public school spend 2) Working with public school stakeholders to UNDERSTAND what we spend our tax dollars on today BASED ON ACTUAL SPEND. 3) Working with public school community stakeholders to define and identify ESSENTIAL and NON-ESSENTIAL spend 4) Reviewing what is identified as ESSENTIAL spend, which will likely be spend that will DIRECTLY IMPACT CLASSROOM RESOURCES, and deem them as priorities 5) Encouraging openness, transparency and community inclusion to help set priorities

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our view on how we need to look at teaching and learning today. It has taught us that we should be better prepared for future disruptions in teaching and learning. We can better prepare by: 1) Leveraging community stakeholders’ feedback on improving GCPS technology to deliver education – For example, we leverage the eCLASS platform for our digital learning. Since its inception, teachers have repeatedly raised concerns about the platform and the inability of many students to use it effectively during digital learning days. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become evident that GCPS leadership did not listen to these concerns as the platform has not changed to meet the stakeholders’ (teachers, students, and parents) needs. 2) Engaging our educators to have them share new ways to teach and learn. Allow for flexibility. Reduce micro-management. 3) Including community stakeholders in any decision making. As a school board member, I will work to ensure our community (parents, students, teachers, administrators, etc.) is included the decision-making process. At the end of the day our community feels the impacts to any disruption in teaching and learning.

I would balance the needs of my district’s constituents with the needs of all of GCPS by equalizing the input given from all members of the community. School board members provide leadership for our school system as a whole. Together, they should leverage input from our community and on a unified stance adopt the vision and mission for the school system. In addition, I will work to advocate for all educational needs of children at the local, state, and national levels.

Some strategies I would pursue to improve the safety of all children, faculty, and staff at schools include but are not limited to the following: 1) Advocating for safety in our schools and community as a whole. For example, work with legislators to create laws to help support school safety. 2) Listening to our students. I would help to create a culture in our schools where our students feel listened to, nurtured and valued. 3) Prioritizing safety and working with school leaders on plan and protocols that will be effective in protecting our school’s students and staff. 4) Ensuring effective communication occurs especially when reporting suspicious behaviors or concerns to our community Partnerships I would seek help from to help realize any strategies include but are not limited to: 1) Police 2) Community youth organizations 3) County family and children services 4) Other community safety advocates 5) Parents/guardians

Innovations in teaching and learning include but are not limited to the following: 1) ENSURING all students read ON GRADE LEVEL by the end of the third grade 2) Rigorous academic standards in K-12 language arts and math 3) Offering work-based learning opportunities with our local and regional large and small businesses This could help ensure ALL students are ready for graduation and are ready to pursue college and/or go directly into the workforce.

To help ensure seamless transitions for students and their workforce readiness I would do the following: 1) Ensure we are informed at all times of the type’s jobs and skills most in demand in the state of Georgia 2) Make certain workforce development programs and job training programs are aligned to jobs that are in most demand 3) Advocate to link our economic development and education policies to have them work towards the same goals. 4) Advocate to obtain state dollars received from the federal government to promote a trained workforce

It is unfair. The GCPS’ Performance-based Teacher Compensation was on full display last fall when non-Title I schools received far more performance pay bonuses than Title I schools—surely exacerbating the already difficult job of attracting and retaining quality faculty and staff in Title I schools.

Some ideas to help improve incumbent teacher retention within GCPS are as follows: 1) Less micro-management of teachers 2) Allow teachers to teach 3) Provide teachers with more classroom support (para-pros, counselors, social workers, materials, other resources) 4) Give teachers time to plan 5) Allow teachers to have a voice in the decision-making process 6) Management should have an open-door policy

Contact

Contact Paul Oh, Manager, Public Policy & Community Affairs, with questions.
770-232-8804 or pauloh@gwinnettchamber.org

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