By Heaven Hunter
Superintendent of Calhoun County Schools Kelli Whytsell gave an update on the school system and the new school year to the Chronicle on Monday.
“Starting off, there is an employee cookout on the 31st of July at the Calhoun County Park barn. A lot of time, we do lots of things for our students, but we don’t really do a lot of appreciative things for our employees.
“We really want to try to focus on that. We are going to have a cookout, and all the administrators and board members are going to bring gift bags, so that we can show appreciation to all of our employees. I believe that’s a real positive way to start off the school year.”
She added that professional development will also start: “I’m a big proponent of professional development. I want our teachers to have all the tools that they need to be successful and I think one of the ways that we can give them the tools is through professional development.
“We have several days planned, open houses, and our Back to School Block Party. It was a huge success last year: it is truly a ‘can’t miss event.’ We (will) have all kinds of booths set up to give out school supplies and information.
“When students leave, they have everything they need for a successful school year, as far as consumables. The parents don’t need to go out and buy paper, pencils, rulers, scissors, etc. We provide all that.
“We use a grant to fund this opportunity. We have a grant from Dominion, and then we use our After-School grant.
“It’s just a way that we can take one more pressure off parents, as they prepare for back to school. We know that just clothing alone is expensive, so if they don’t have to worry about getting those consumables, then that’s just one less thing they must worry about.”
School open houses will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. at Arnoldsburg on Monday, Aug. 6, and at Pleasant Hill on Wednesday, Aug. 8, where students can meet their teachers.
“The middle/high school is going to wait and have one after the school year starts, but on the night of the block party, we will be able to give out schedules, and any students who would want a tour can get that information.
“These are great, be-cause if you are in your first couple of years, or new to the area, it’s a really nice way to get familiar with the school system, and for us to get familiar with you.
“We have such a huge resource in our students. We can do more, our students can do more, and we will.”
–Superintendent Kelli Whytsell
“It is very important (for it) to be a two-way relationship. Not just the school sending information home. We want to communicate back and forth about your child and issues that are going on to see if we can help.
“We are really focused on student success this year. We did a lot of cli-mate and culture building last year, which we will always continue to build, but we really want to focus on student success, and success for all students.”
Whytsell also updated student curriculum and activities:
“We have a new math curriculum that we will be implementing this year. I am very excited about the selection that the teachers made.
“We have so many initiatives coming up. I met this morning with Glennville State College to discuss expanding our partnership, so that our students will have more opportunities.
“Last Thursday, we met with Southern Regional Education Board (SREB). We are going to expand our opportunities for middle school students.
“Through our grants with Save the Children, we are expanding our opportunities for ele-mentary students. We are really expanding across all levels.
“If there is something out there that can provide an opportunity for our students, then we want to explore it. If it’s the right fit for us, then we want to expand it. We don’t want to do things just to do things, but if it fits with our philosophy, then we absolutely want to do it.
“Additionally, we are going to expand our communities’ food pro-gram. We currently do breakfast and lunch for the students, but this year we are going to start providing a supper for the students. And that’s going to happen at the end of the school day before the students go home, and that’s going to ensure that every child is able to receive breakfast, lunch and supper.
“The students who stay for after-school will receive a snack before they go home. We really want to make sure that we are meeting the nutritional needs of our children. You cannot learn if you are hungry, or if you are worrying about where your next meal is going to come from.
“We are trying to take that stressor off our students. We want to be in a partnership with the parents, and with the community, for an extended family view.
“We are also looking to expand our community involvement in our schools. We’ve got some exciting things coming up, we are going to do some amazing community work this school year.”
Her thoughts on per-sonnel were as follows:
“We have an opening at the middle/high school for an administrator. We will be filling that at the next board meeting. We need math teachers desperately.
“We have what is called an alternative certification program in Calhoun County. We work with Marshall University, and if you have an academic content, non-teaching in an area, then we can get you a teaching certifi-cation relatively easily, with six hours through Marshall. We are relying heavily on that to fill some positions.”
Some of her ideas as an administrator were:
“I’m also really trying to stress to administrators and teachers the import-ance of a ‘Work/life bal-ance.’ When I started teaching, you just had a desktop computer, you didn’t take it home with you.
“Then, we went to laptops, which are porta-ble. You got much more work out of me, because I could take it with me. Now, we have our phones in our pockets–that’s much more powerful than our computers.
“We are all the time connected, which is good –and it’s bad–because you need to have that work-life balance. You need to be present with the people you are with, when you are with them, and not constantly checking emails and text messages.
“Boundaries need to be established, so that we can be much more productive employees. We must focus on downtime. This can be a boundary that is set with children at home, as well as with the parents.
“Our administrators had ‘Love and Logic’ training. Love and logic is not a curriculum, it’s a philosophy that works for every aspect of life. The training talks about giving students choices on how to handle things.
“Also, it talks about how to always make someone feel good and positive. In every situation, you should make someone feel good and look good. This builds up, and when a moment comes when you need to ask a student to do something, they are more willing.
“This is not just a school idea, but a philo-sophy on how to treat and care for each other.
This practice will be present in our schools this year, and a focus of our parent meetings. We hope that they in turn can do some of these things at home.”
About the importance of community:
“We are really working to expand the school’s community partnership and that whole philosophy. We are the community. We live here, we work here, we are educators, we are community members. We want to help the community grow, change, and develop.
“You are going to see the school system taking a more active role in the economic development of the county. Andrew Metheney is going to be the lead on that for the school system. He is our chief financial officer.
“We want to impact not only the students’ lives, but the community and the families surrounding them.
Her thoughts on the school board were:
“We are very excited to be working with the two new board members, and the re-elected. We have a board that is student focused, their hearts are in the right places.
“Last Monday night, the board voted to support a levy. We will be getting a focus group together to look at the broad areas that a levy could cover. It’s going to be roughly broken down into: Students, family/community, and facilities. Those are the three broad categories.
“Then, we are going to look at activities within each category that the levy would support. We want to respond and give the most information to the community that we can. We are open and transparent.
“We really want to provide more opportunities for our students and our community. We know that if students have a safe place to go, and organized school activities, it delays/prevents the onset of alcohol/drug use and those kinds of things.
“For example, if we could open our gyms up on the weekends, so students have a safe place to go. There are costs, but it’s something that we could logistically do with a little bit of help from the levy.
“This would also be very beneficial for the adults, they can partici-pate in exercise and activities as well. We are trying to upgrade the weight room at the middle/high school to a total exercise facility. While waiting for your child to finish up at practice, adults could come in and take advantage of the facility.
“We have so much planned, some of the stuff coming is certainly going to be exciting. We have such a huge resource in our students. We can do more, our students can do more, and we will.”