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Walker County Schools is seeking feedback from the community on its new long-term goals. The district's coordinator for federal funds, Autumn Hentz, hosted a virtual meeting on July 20 to outline the district's upcoming plans.

While part of the requirements for federal funding through the Every Student Succeeds Act, which requires school districts to get feedback annually from constituents, the meeting outlined goals that emerged over the past year, both as a result of the pandemic and of meetings with students, teachers and other community members.

The district has already submitted a draft of its Comprehensive Local Educational Agencies Improvement Plan to the state, which is now being shared with the wider community before the plan is finalized and funds are received.

Hentz outlined several overarching goals, including increasing attendance and graduation rates, student engagement and academic achievement, as well as better support for educators.

Increased student attendance leads to higher graduation rates, Hentz said. The district is looking to decrease student absences by 3% by May 2022 as compared to the 2019-2020 school year, since the 2020-2021 school year data were skewed by impacts of the coronavirus pandemic such as quarantines.

The district is also seeking to bulk up support for teachers, especially new ones.

"Due to some feedback that we've gathered from colleges and universities in our area and the teachers in our school system that have been working with our student-teachers, we're going to be both focusing even more on our new teachers with the mentor programs, and support for them," Hentz said, "because a lot of their student-teaching learning experiences were interrupted with COVID-19. So we want to make sure that they are prepared for entering the field of education for the first time."

How to view meeting and leave feedback

The virtual meeting can be viewed on the district's Facebook page. Feedback on the meeting and upcoming goals can be left at tinyurl.com/WCSCLIPFeedback.

When it comes to increasing academic achievement, Hentz said the district's goals focus on math and English/language arts as "those are our core subjects that affect everything."

By May 2021, leaders hope to raise the percentage of students in grades 3-8 with at/or above proficiency in math and English by 9%.

According to data published by the Georgia Governor's Office of Student Achievement, in Walker County Schools:

* About 45% of third-graders were at or above proficiency in reading in 2019

* 37.5% of students in elementary schools were at or above proficiency in math in 2019

* 41.5% of students in elementary schools were at or above proficiency in English in 2019

* 37.6% of students in middle schools were at or above proficiency in English in 2019

* 33.8% of students in middle schools were at or above proficiency in math in 2019

In order to support its academic goals, WCS also plans to work on enhancing parent and family engagement, including finding ways to increase the participation of fathers, like through an initiative called All Pro Dads, and making schools a more welcoming place for families to visit.

"We keep that relationship healthy and strong because we need all of us to work together," Hentz said. "You've heard the term that it takes a village to raise our children and that is definitely true, even in education."

Contact Tierra Hayes at thayes@timesfreepress.com

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