Dougherty County School System looking to maintain momentum in 2022

·4 min read

Jan. 1—ALBANY — The Dougherty County School System held a movie night and offered free admission and concession snacks at football games during the current school year. Those perks weren't for outstanding students, however, but a reward to show appreciation to staff who put in the hours during a pandemic.

As has been the case for students, teachers and support staff have had struggles and tragedies in the nearly two years of COVID-19, and the school system plans to hold similar events in 2022.

Close to home for Schools Superintendent Kenneth Dyer were the deaths during 2021 of long-time Dougherty County School Board member Milton "June Bug" Griffin and Dyer's predecessor and mentor, former Superintendent David C. Mosely.

"Those were two big losses to the Dougherty County School System," the superintendent said. "We're going to work to do our best to continue the service and the legacy they established here."

In addition to finding ways to show appreciation to the system's roughly 2,000 employees, the school system has established counseling and wellness programs to help them through the tough times. That same effort has been made for students as well, and also includes one-on-one counseling when needed and programs to assist families.

Prior to the holiday break, the school system held 12 days of giveaways with gift cards.

Those kinds of appreciation efforts will be continued through 2022, Dyer said.

"A RAND Corp. study showed teachers were three times as likely to have stress than employees in other professions and twice as likely to have depression working during the pandemic," Dyer said. "We've looked at mental wellness. I've really been appreciative of our school leadership and our school board, who make the effort to show our employees we love them and we support them."

The innovations, plus maintaining competitive pay and benefits, are part of an overall package meant to entice teachers to come on board and make careers in Dougherty County.

The school system faced a teacher shortage before the pandemic hit, particularly in math. To address the shortage, the system has enlisted out-of-state teachers who provide instruction online to students in classrooms on campus.

About 10 to 12 courses are now being offered through virtual learning, Dyer said.

Schools have remained open after the initial closing that started in 2020 as COVID ravaged the area.

"We continue to look for innovative ways to fill these critical staff (positions) as we move forward," the superintendent said. "We're very committed fully to the health and safety of students and staff, first and foremost. We also understand that students, particularly younger students, learn better through (in-person) instruction."

In addition to a better learning environment, students also benefit from the social interaction of being with peers.

The school system will work to maintain on-campus learning by continuing to follow safety protocols as recommended by the state's Department of Public Health and local medical experts, Dyer said. Officials also are keeping an eye on the omicron variant of the virus and how that could impact schools over the next few months.

Many students fell behind during the period of virtual learning, so summer school enrollment was boosted to 4,000 in 2021, and a Saturday learning program was initiated to help struggling learners catch up.

"We had four times the usual 1,500 in summer school this year," Dyer said.

Heading into 2022, the superintendent offered a list of accomplishments to build on in the coming year. First among those was a graduation rate of 86.2 percent, which surpassed the state average of 83.7 percent.

"That's the fourth year we've exceeded the state," Dyer said.

"We're not going to stop until all our students graduate prepared for college or ready to go to work."

Other accomplishments to build on include the recognition of Robert A. Cross Middle Magnet School among the top 5 percent of peer schools by the Georgia Department of Education and by U.S. News and World Report as the second-best middle magnet school in Georgia. The Commodore Conyers College and Career Academy also was recognized as the state's top 2021 college and career academy.

Also during the past year, Lake Park Elementary placed first in a robotics competition, and the school system is working to include robotics in all elementary and middle schools in focusing on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) curriculum systemwide.

"We will continue to place emphasis on robotics and coding," Dyer said. "We know those are areas that will have high demand for skills in the future.

Capping off the list of accomplishments, Dougherty became the first system in southwest Georgia to be approved to offer a diploma with a fine arts seal.

Another initiative for which Dyer sees room for growth is a construction-ready construction program held over the summer. Over four weeks, students in the inaugural class earned eight certificates each.

"The most important thing, at the end of it all of the students received job offers," Dyer said. "We're looking to expand it into other areas so students can go directly into work after graduation from high school."

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