Friday, August 11, 2023

Oconee County Schools Announced Community Engagement Session For September As Part Of Strategic Planning

***High School Growth Likely Topic***

Oconee County Schools will hold a Community Engagement Session from 6 to 9 p.m. on Sept. 19 at the Oconee County Civic Center as part of its new Strategic Planning Timeline, school Chief Academic Officer Susan Stancil told the Board of Education at its meeting on Monday.

Oconee County Schools also will conduct stakeholder surveys in September and October before joining with the Georgia School Boards Association to develop goals, initiatives, and action steps for review by the Board of Education in May and June of next year.

Stancil gave no indication what would be discussed in the Community Engagement Session, but Superintendent Jason Branch said at the Board of Education retreat in January that he planned to use the process to consider whether to build a new third high school for the system or add classrooms at the two existing high schools.

Also at the meeting on Monday, Stancil reported to the Board on the recently released state data from the Milestones assessments of student proficiency in 18 different areas.

The data show that Oconee County Schools had an average ranking of 3.17 among school districts in the state, but that average ranking had been 2.94 a year earlier. (A lower score indicates a higher rank.)

In addition, the percentage of students scoring as proficient or above fell in 11 of the 18 categories and increased in the remaining seven, for a decline on overall percentages of proficiency of 4.5.

Stancil also reported that the percentage of students at the two high schools scoring 3 or higher (on a five-point scale) on one Advanced Placement Exam increased from 88 to 92 over the last year.

Associate Superintendent Dallas LeDuff provided the Board with a detailed review of the school safety procedures and practices, including use of security vestibules, surveillance cameras, a visitor management system, a crisis alert system, and numerous student drills.

Strategic Plan

Stancil told the Board at its Aug. 7 work session that about 400 people turned out for the last strategic planning session in 2018 and she is hoping for an even larger turnout this year.

From Facebook Announcement

As a result of that 2019 strategic plan, she said, Oconee County Schools had adopted its one-on-one plan, which resulted in each student having a Chromebook computer, and made the decision to build Dove Creek Middle School, which opened its doors for this school year.

“This important work and the feedback we get impacts every decision that we make in our school system,” Stancil said.

Stancil said that the work on the new Strategic Plan began with the Cognia Review Process from November of last year to March of this year that led to reaccreditation in April.

At the session in 2018, also in collaboration with the Georgia School Boards Association, participants worked in teams to respond to questions posed by moderators.

Branch told the Board at its retreat in January that it is time to make decisions about how to accommodate expected growth at North Oconee High School and Oconee County High School.

Branch said he planned to seek feedback from the community this fall on whether it wants to increase capacity at the two schools or build a third high school.

Advance registration for the Community Engagement Session on Sept. 19 is required.

Milestones And AP Exams

At the meeting on Monday, Stancil provided the Board with data going back to 2019 showing the percentage of students at the system’s two high schools scoring 3 or higher on one Advanced Placement Exam.

The figure was 83 percent in 2019 and increased to 88 percent in 2022 and 92 percent in 2023.

Stancil only provided the Board with data for 2023 on Oconee County Schools student performance on the state Milestone assessments.

In response to a question from Board Member Ryan Hammock, however, Stancil said “our students continue to improve.”

Stancil gave the Board a report on 2022 test results in August of last year, and a comparison of last year’s and this year’s reports shows the areas where scores had declined and where they had increased.

The percentage of Oconee County reaching proficiency decreased from 2022 to 2023 for: 3rd Grade Mathematics, 4th Grade English Language, 5th Grade English Language, 5th Grade Mathematics, 6th Grade English Language, 6th Grade Mathematics, 7th Grade Mathematics, 8th Grade English Language, 8th Grade Mathematics, 8th Grade Social Studies, and High School End of Course Biology.

The percentage of Oconee County students reaching proficiency increased from 2022 to 2023 for: 3rd Grade English Language, 4th Grade Mathematics, 5th Grade Science, 7th Grade English Language, High School End of Course Algebra I, High School End of Course American Literature, and High School End of Course U.S. History.

Small Changes

Most changes in either direction were small, with the sum of the gain minus the sum of the loss 4.5 percent.

Screen Shot Stancil Presentation

Oconee County Schools, in its news release on the test results, focused on the ranks among the state’s school systems.

“Oconee County Schools ranked first, second, or third in the state in 11 of 18 categories in Georgia Milestones, End of Grade, and End of Course Assessment results for 2022-23 released by the Georgia Department of Education on Friday,” the July 28 news release stated.

“Oconee County also stood No. 4 in four areas and Nos. 5, 6, and 8 in the remaining three categories,” the release continued.

The comparative data show that the average rank increased slightly (reflecting a lower rank) from 2.94 to 3.17 over the last two years.

Oconee County did have more Number 1 ranks in 2023 (3), than it had in 2022 (1).

School Safety

Associate Superintendent LeDuff told the Board that efforts “to keep our schools safe is done through consultation with” the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office.

He said he and Branch had met with representatives of that Office and reviewed “everything with regard to our school safety plan, facility improvements, and of course traffic direction that you see in front of our schools each day.”

LeDuff said the schools have safety drills throughout the year, including twice-a-year lockdown drills “where students are taught how to react to a physical threat on campus.”

“We have severe weather drills twice a year, where students are taught how to shelter in place,” he said.

“And we have fire drills monthly, where students are taught how to evacuate our buildings."

Facilities And Tools For Safety

LeDuff said that security vestibules have been installed at each of the system’s 12 schools “to keep the general public separate from our students.”

Visitors have “to check into our schools, state their business, and our school staff is trained to either let them in a location or not let them in based on what they are there for, and whether or not they are supposed to have access to our students,” he said.

“We also have access control, or key card access,” he continued. “Each one of our staff members each has a card that is going to let them into locations that they have access to, are authorized to have access to.”

“This allows us to have a single access entry at all of our buildings without restricting the movement of our staff,” LeDuff said.

“We also utilize surveillance cameras at all of our campuses. The purpose of these cameras is primarily is to be able to identify and locate a threat that might be inside our building without necessarily being in the building.” LeDuff said.

“The Oconee Sheriff’s Office has access to these cameras and are able to pull these up in the event that there’s somebody in our schools that does not belong. It hasn’t happened, but we do practice that,” LeDuff said.

Visitors Monitored

“We also employ a visitor management system,” LeDuff said. “This allows us to track who has been in our building and who has gained access to our students. It also checks each visitor against the National Sex Offender Registry each time that individual checks into one of our buildings.”

“We have a crisis alert system,” LeDuff continued. “Our crisis alert system is a communication tool. Again, each one of our staff members is designated a crisis alert badge. This allows them to activate the system.”

“When they activate the system,” LeDuff said, “there will be visual cues to alert the individuals inside the building that we’ve entered our lockdown protocol as well as auditory cues, instructions on our computer.”

“And then school administrators, district administrators as well as every law enforcement agent in our county also get notification of who pressed that badge and where they were standing when they activated that alert,” LeDuff said.

“We talk about this with the Sheriff’s Office, that, coupled with those surveillance cameras, allow them to arrive with an informed tactical response, where to enter that building and where to be able to isolate a threat if needed,” LeDuff told the Board.

Cohesive Plan

LeDuff said Oconee County Schools also has a tip system for anyone to use to pass on any kind of information to school administrators.

“And finally, what tied all of those things together is our training,” LeDuff said.

“We talked about safety drills, security vestibules, our card readers, surveillance cameras, visitor management, crisis alert, and a tip line,” LeDuff said. “All of that works, and it will be leveraged together for a cohesive plan, is because we train.”

“I mentioned the drills,” LeDuff said. “We rehearse several different emergency situations with our staff throughout the year.”

LeDuff said the Sheriff conducts active shooter training “annually with our staff and reviews how to respond to an active threat as well as what we might be experiencing physically if that situation were to occur and what to expect.”


The video below of the Aug. 7 meeting of the Board of Education is on the Oconee County Schools YouTube site.

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