For the past two days, Cobb principals and their leadership teams have gathered at Kennesaw Mountain High School in preparation for the coming school year, which begins Aug. 4.
One of Chief Academic Officer Mary Elizabeth Davis’ points is targeting student engagement through the use of physical movement. A teacher, for example, may make a statement and ask students who agree to move to one side of the room and those who disagree to the other side. Each side is then tasked with citing reasons why they agree or disagree with the teacher’s statement.
“We’re doing the same activity, but you just got them up. You got them to move and you got them to take a side,” Davis said. “That engages kids. Gets them moving. Keeps them attentive, and of course, there’s tons of research about physical movement and the brain’s activity.”
Another point in her plan is ensuring every child in the district graduates and is prepared to enter the workforce or higher education. A third prong is improving teacher training by doing such things as providing a collection of in-house digital training videos for teachers to access at their convenience.
“It’s important because we do not want to pull teachers out of their class in order to help them learn some new techniques,” Davis said. “We want to protect the time they have with children, and that’s what we hire them to do. So it’s hard for them to access teacher training unless we give it to them where they can access it right at their desktop or during their planning period or at home even.”
Davis believes the principals were receptive to the plan, saying there was satisfaction in hearing a clear outline of where the district is headed.
“This will become part of the language that every principal is using to articulate. If you’re in a Cobb school, this is what you can count on,” Davis said. “Cobb County classrooms are where you want your kids to have their academic experience. It’s a superior alternative to any other choice.”
Interim Superintendent Chris Ragsdale began the leadership kickoff Tuesday by unveiling his slogan for the coming year: “One Team. One Goal. Student Success.”
The program featured a pre-taped interview with U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, in which Ragsdale asked the senator about topics such as teamwork. Isakson discussed each topic before introducing a speaker to take the stage and also share thoughts on the issue.
Veteran educator Betty Gray, who was former Gov. Roy Barnes’ teacher at South Cobb High School and who served on the Cobb Board of Education from 1993 to 2008, emphasized making students the top priority.
State Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-west Cobb), chairman of the Senate Education and Youth Committee, addressed leadership. Retired Dickerson Middle School principal Carole Kell, mother of Cobb Superior Court Judge Tain Kell, spoke of teamwork, and MDJ publisher Otis Brumby III touched on community engagement.
“This was the first chance that I had to get in front of all these 600 people and let them know what is going to be different for our school district,” Ragsdale said. “The theme is teamwork, being part of the team, and taking that a step further is customer service, having that laser focus for what’s going on in the classroom.”
Ragsdale told the group there are two types of positions in the district: teachers and those who serve them.
“We have a new vision,” Ragsdale said. “We’re going to be one team with student success as the goal, and we’re starting a new day for the Cobb County School District.”
Gray, who chaired the school board when Ragsdale was the district’s technology chief, said she is pleased to see him in the superintendent’s role and is optimistic about the future of the district.
“As I talked to young people there today — I don’t know why I’m saying young people, but when you’re 81 you can call anybody young — I’ve seen so many of these people grow, and I know how they feel about kids,” Gray said.
“They think the focus is on kids, and that’s as it should be. That’s the focus on the team as outlined by the superintendent, and Johnny Isakson tied all of this together: that it’s a collective kind of enterprise, that public education is too critical for us not to give it our best shot.”
If the test scores from schools in south Cobb are not as high as other parts of the county then the resources need to be brought to bear to help those students improve their performance, said Gray, who lives down the road from Pebblebrook High School.
“Opportunity ought to be available to all regardless of the zip code,” Gray said.