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Higginbotham issues call for accountability

Board of Education Dist. 5 Representative Scott Higginbotham

The Grady County School System is implementing a remediation program for at-risk students this school term that Superintendent Dr. Tommy Pharis says is more focused than ever before.
Dr. Pharis says more of the decision making in formulating the remediation program has been put at the school level, which he says, is better for the children.
“The closer the decision making is to the students the more focused it will be,” Dr. Pharis said.
Rather than using the “shotgun” approaches in the past, as Pharis described them, the new, more focused plan will concentrate on math in the lower grades and for all core academic areas at the high school.
Based on the superintendent’s recommendation, the remediation program will kick off in mid October and will run for 12 weeks with two afternoon, after-school sessions being held each week.
Pharis says the sessions will run until 4:30 or 5:00 p.m.
The school system has identified 825 students systemwide as being at-risk. Dr. Pharis says they are at risk because they have failed the math CRCT in grades 3, 4, 6, or 7 and are having difficulty in core academic areas in the high school grades.
The superintendent asked the board Tuesday night to appropriate $92,500 for the remediation program for this school term. Of that total, $10,000 is budgeted to provide student transportation, but school officials will encourage parents to provide their own transportation if possible.
When the program kicks off later next month, data from benchmark tests given every nine weeks will be used to measure student achievement. The goal is for these at risk students to show improvement over the course of the school year.
However, Dr. Pharis warned, “this is not the magic bullet to fix these kids.”
Board member Scott Higginbotham expressed support for the concept, but asked for some type of accountability for the program.
“How are we going to judge the success or failure of this program and not just throw the money out there?” Higginbotham asked.
Dr. Pharis said he would be able to share with the board the benchmark assessment data each quarter, but he warned that many of the students had been at-risk for more than one year.
“Some may still fall behind, while others may maintain or even improve. This is not a magic bullet. I’m telling you that now. We want to be accountable for the money,” Dr. Pharis said.
Board member Drew Pyrz suggested that student attendance reports also be made a part of Pharis’ report to the board and the superintendent agreed.
Higginbotham suggested funding a third of the money now and reviewing it after the benchmark assessments are made before funding the remainder but the majority favored approving the superintendent’s recommendation.
The board voted 4-1, with Higginbotham in opposition, to pull $92,500 from the system’s cash reserves to finance the remediation program for this school term.
“We’ve got to do things differently here. We may even have to do things radically different, but we’re not going to give up on these kids. We are going to do everything we can to help these students pass and be able to graduate and go on to college or to whatever. Are we satisfied with student achievement? Heck no we’re not, but we hope this will help,” Dr. Pharis said.

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