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Back to school already?

And other things worth noting about the school year that is about to be

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POSTED: August 2, 2014 4:11 p.m.
Taylor Carpenter/

A Richmond Hill Elementary School teacher fights Keith Forkin off the gym floor at Friday’s convocation so his team could finish their skit. Each school was supposed to have a six-minute time limit, where Forkin would sweep them off the floor if they went over. Bryan County Schools held a convocation at Richmond Hill Middle School on Friday to mark the beginning of the 2014-2015 year.

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Many adults can remember when school didn’t start until after the Labor Day holiday in September.

Those were the good old days, right?

Actually, school calendars of old were due to a need for free labor, since many families needed their kids at home on the farm to help bring in the crops.

But with the shift away from an agrarian society, the traditional school calendar seems increasingly to be a thing of the past,  for various reasons — not least of which is constant pressure to raise test scores and improve student performance.

And school is starting earlier as a result, especially in Georgia.

Compared to say, 2009, when it started Aug. 7,  Monday’s opening bell of the 2014-2015 school year for Bryan County Schools is a few days early.

Compare that start date to 1990, when the first day of class for the roughly 3,700 kids enrolled in Bryan County Schools was Aug. 25, according to this paper’s archived copy of the Richmond Hill-Bryan County News, and you’ll see a calendar that critics say is creeping up, spoiling summer and ruining tourism.

There have been efforts in recent years to change that.

In 2010, State Rep. Matt East (R-Cobb County) tried to enact legislation that would prevent school from starting before the third full week in August, at least in part because of the cost of air conditioning. Though the bill had support, you can tell from this week’s start date that East’s effort failed.

Fulton County schools in Atlanta will start Aug. 11.

Chatham County’s schools will begin Aug. 7.

Effingham County’s schools start Aug. 6. And so it goes.

Yet while many if not most states require at least 180 days of classroom instruction a year for students, the phenomenon known as calendar creep hasn’t set in across the country.

Just a quick internet search reveals that in Portland, Oregon, the first day of school this year is Sept. 2 and school is out June 6. In Portland, Maine, school begins Sept. 2 and ends June 16. In New York City the school year for kids is Sept. 4 to June 26. In Greenville, S.C., school starts Aug. 19. Draw your own conclusions about what works best.

Five things about Bryan County Schools:

1. Still growing

Enrollment is projected to be 8,500 this fall in Bryan County’s nine schools and Pre-K  center. That’s up about 500 from last year, but additional students are nothing new in Bryan County. The system has grown by roughly 3 percent a year for more than a decade, thanks in part to Bryan County Schools’ reputation as one of the best in the state.

All that growth doesn’t come without a cost. One new and one replacement elementary school are under construction and will open next year. The two will cost taxpayers about $40 million, according to school board chairman Eddie Warren, a local realtor. Bonds were sold last year to help fund the building of McAllister Elementary in South Bryan and a new Bryan County Elementary School in Pembroke.

The system operates on a budget which is expected to be about $55 million in fiscal year 2015, which in Georgia schools is from July 1 to June 30.

More than $47 million of the budget will go to salaries and benefits for the school’s 900-plus employees, among them Bryan County Schools superintendent Dr. Paul Brooksher, who earned $186,129.15 in 2013, according to opengeorgia.gov.

2. Good system

Bryan County Schools are usually ranked among the tops for test scores, especially among those schools in the Coastal Empire. Earlier this year it was recognized as a Distinguished Title I district for achievement gains by economically disadvantaged students. And test scores for the districts tend to be higher than in most of the surrounding counties and among the highest in the state.

That tends to attract good teachers, and the teachers of the year for 2014-2015 are Ashley Johnson, Lanier Primary; Melissa Hooper, Bryan County Elementary; Cassandra Donaldson, Bryan County Middle; Ginnie Sherrod, Bryan County High; Heather Vandaveer, Richmond Hill Primary; Christine Bill, Richmond Hill Elementary; Lanier Trombly, Carver Elementary; Robert Hodgdon, Richmond Hill Middle; Jennifer Sack, Richmond Hill High.

3. Transportation

If you drive around Richmond Hill or Pembroke in the morning or afternoon, chances are you’ll see a school bus. School days generally begin between 7:40 a.m. and 8:25 a.m. and end between 2:40 p.m. and 3:25 p.m. The staggered start times are meant largely to help avoid congestion on heavily traveled Highway 144 in Richmond Hill and at the campus in Pembroke shared by Bryan County High School and Bryan County Middle School.

There are 24 school bus routes in North Bryan. By contrast, there are at least 66 in more densely populated South Bryan, based on a quick count of the routes published by the school system in its first “Good News” of the 2014-2015 school year. Routes, stops and pickup times are subject to change, the schedule warns.

In case you didn’t know it, Georgia law doesn’t require school systems to provide transportation to and from school. “However, Bryan County Board of Education seeks to provide a quality system of transportation for the students of Bryan County who live outside the designated walking area from their school,” the newsletter explains. On the same page, there’s an advertisement for bus drivers. Call 912-851-4000 if interested.

4. Governance

Bryan County Schools are governed by an elected school board. Along with chairman Warren, the board consists of vice chairman Joe Pecenka, District 1 representative Paine Bacon, District 2 representative Dennis Seger, District 3 Representative Amy Murphy, District 4 representative Marianne Smith and District 5 representative David Schwartz.

Bacon and Seger represent districts in North Bryan while the remaining districts are in South Bryan. The board typically meets twice a month — one work session on the third Thursday of the month and a regular meeting on the fourth Thursday of the month.

Meetings usually begin at 6 p.m. and during the school year rotate between the campuses. The next board meting is Aug. 28 at Carver Elementary School. All meetings are open, but the school board may vote to go into executive session to discuss personnel, litigation or real estate acquisition.

Any actions must be taken in open session, and the school board must publicize any called meetings 24 hours in advance of such meetings — though there are exceptions to that rule for emergency meetings. One such exception was made earlier this year when the BoE called a meeting to approve Brooksher’s recommendation of the hiring of Cari Delatorre as the new principal at Bryan County High School.

5. Food for thought

Bryan County Schools serves breakfast and lunch each day school is in session, according to Carole Knight, who is director of school nutrition and school service.

In her message to parents, Knight notes all meals meet USDA requirements and outlines payment options --- including on-line prepayment or by check up to $299 or cash.

Breakfasts are $1.25 for students and adults, and 25 cents for those who are eligible for reduce meals. Lunch is $2.25 for both students and adults and 40 cents for those eligible for reduce lunch costs.

In all, about 40 percent of Bryan County students were eligible for free or reduced lunches in 2013, according to the Georgia Department of Education. And for some, that school meal is the best they’ll have all day. There were about 70 homeless students in Bryan County at the end of the 2012-2013 year, school officials said.

To learn more about homeless families in Bryan County visit Family Promise of Bryan County’s Facebook page or call Bryan County Family Connection Director Wendy Sims at 912.653.3824.

 

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