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Board Business Briefs: Land Purchase for New Cherokee HS Approved

Board Business Briefs: Land Purchase for New Cherokee HS Approved

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower, left, congratulates School Board member Rick Steiner on his recent recognition by the Georgia School Boards Association for achieving 15 years of meritorious service as a Cherokee County School Board Member.

The Cherokee County School Board during its meeting Thursday approved the purchase of land for the potential site of a new Cherokee High School.

The 88-acre site is north of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. and adjacent to the current Teasley MS campus in Canton’s Riverstone area, and the land cost is $87,500 per acre to be paid for with current Ed SPLOST funds. 

Whether to construct the school at the new site to replace the 64-year-old Cherokee HS would be up to the School Board and would require the approval of voters in November to renew the 1-percent Ed SPLOST.  If the Ed SPLOST extension is approved by voters, the $90 Million to $100 Million in funding needed to build the new Cherokee HS would be available in 2022; the new campus would take three years to construct, allowing for a possible opening as soon as 2025.  

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower shared at the meeting that the new property already has been approved by the State as a school site, and that the project would be eligible for State school construction funding, which would decrease the Ed SPLOST funds needed.  

“We’re very excited about the potential for this project,” he said.

Cherokee High School’s current campus on Marietta Highway is both the oldest and the largest in CCSD, with significant funds invested in renovations and expansions over the decades -- including the recent addition of the neighboring Canton ES campus, now known as Cherokee North.  The high school, which serves 2,850 students, has seen its enrollment jump by more than 25% in the past decade. 

If construction of a new Cherokee HS campus is approved, the School Board could opt to reopen the former Canton ES as an elementary school and return its students home, as since the consolidation they have been split between Knox and R.M. Moore Elementary School STEM Academies.  The main high school campus could be repurposed, possibly as a magnet school or special program such as a career and technical education center.

While approval of a mask mandate for students was not on the agenda and the School Board took no action on the issue, they did hear from 15 public speakers, who spoke both for and against requiring usage.  School Board Chair Kyla Cromer also asked Dr. Hightower to present a status report on COVID-19 cases in CCSD.

Dr. Hightower and his staff during the presentation highlighted State data that shows the nationwide upward trend is similarly affecting Georgia, metro Atlanta, Cherokee County and CCSD, with increasing positive cases and resulting mandated precautionary quarantines of students and staff.  While CCSD case and precautionary quarantine totals remain below the peak experienced in August, and new CDC and Department of Public Health guidelines will reduce the length of precautionary quarantines, Dr. Hightower said he is concerned about the combination of rising rates and increasing social activities and travel over the upcoming two-week winter break.

“We’re concerned about the surge,” Dr. Hightower said.  As the School Board was not considering a mandate, Dr. Hightower suggested a shift in CCSD messaging from “encouraging” and “strongly recommending” mask usage by all students when they cannot social distance to instead say such mask usage is “expected” in schools.  The shift in messaging would happen not only in CCSD communications with employees and parents, but also would be the focus of a student-driven campaign through a student poster contest and a student video PSA contest that his Communications staff would plan and announce before the winter break.  “We would pivot on our communications and expectations.”

Chair Cromer expressed her support for the messaging shift and the student contests.  “I think we’re at the point where that probably needs to happen,” she said.

The School Board on Thursday also heard the first annual progress report on its Blueprint long-range strategic plan.  The five-year strategic plan was developed last school year over six months of meetings with students, families, teachers, support staff, business and community partners to determine how CCSD could better serve them.

Blueprint focuses on five priority areas: Student Achievement: Equity & Access; Organizational & Operational Effectiveness; Family, Partner & Community Engagement; Positive Culture & Climate; and Quality Workforce.  For each priority area, performance objectives map out the steps to take toward success and how progress will be measured, and a progress report will be presented to the School Board every fall.  Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower reviewed the progress report, which is posted here, during the meeting.

The School Board unanimously adopted the Georgia Education Coalition 2021 Legislative and Policy Priorities, which largely mirror the CCSD Legislative Partnership Priorities approved last month.  The Coalition, which is made up of Georgia’s largest school system, shares the School Board’s serious concerns about State education funding shortfalls for next school year as school districts statewide struggle with increasing operational costs related to the pandemic.  Chair Cromer noted that she and several School Board members this week met by video-conference with Cherokee County’s State Legislative Delegation to review the CCSD Legislative Partnership Priorities and share concerns.

Dr. Hightower during the meeting also recognized School Board members for earning top state honors for exemplary leadership and innovation practices.

The Georgia School Boards Association (GSBA) has awarded the School Board its 2020 Exemplary School Board designation.  The statewide recognition program honors school boards that consistently meet standards of excellence and model best practices; it is a three-tiered program, and Exemplary is the highest level of achievement.  Additionally, for the second consecutive year, the School Board also has earned GSBA’s Leading Edge Award in the Culture, Climate & Organizational Efficacy category.  The awards recognize innovative practices by School Boards and School Districts in seven categories.  This year, the School Board’s Student Advisor and Student Delegates to the School Board program earned the honor, following last year’s recognition for its VILLA parent academy.

The awards were presented by GSBA during its annual conference this month, at which School Board member Rick Steiner also was recognized for achieving 15 years of meritorious service, joining School Board member Mike Chapman, who now is in his 16th year, in what is a very elite group statewide of long-serving school leaders.

As part of its approval of the monthly personnel report, the School Board approved the hiring of Jason Eller to serve as a PE teacher and head baseball coach for Sequoyah HS.  Coach Eller has previously coached at the University of Georgia, Augusta University and Georgia College, and his many accomplishments include three College World Series, three Conference titles and Coach of the Year in 2018.  He earned his bachelor’s degree from Georgia State University.

Jason Eller

Jason Eller

The School Board also:

•    Heard the meeting Inspiration shared by School Board Vice Chair Kelly Poole regarding the many holiday season service projects, food drives and toy collections underway at CCSD schools;
•    Heard a tribute by School Board member Clark Menard honoring the late Dr. Rouel Belleza, a beloved CCSD administrator who passed away in November 2019 from cancer;
•    Heard plans of an upcoming School Board tour of the Creekview HS agriculture science lab classroom building under construction;
•    Recognized Creekview High School’s FFA Chapter for being named a Top 10 National Model of  Excellence Chapter; 
•    Recognized E.T. Booth MS teacher Daniele Deneka and Teasley MS teacher Scott Reece for being named 2021 Georgia STEM Scholars by the Georgia Youth Science & Technology Centers;
•    Approved a Partnership Agreement with the Cherokee Office of Economic Development;
•    Approved monthly financial reports;
•    Approved two out-of-state/overnight field trips proposed for 2022;
•    Approved the monthly update on Capital Outlay Projects; and,
•    Approved granting a permanent easement and perpetual right-of-way to the Cherokee County government.

The next School Board meeting is Jan. 14, 2021.