FCS Community Update for August 21, 2020
The Fulton County School Board met on Thursday, August 20, for their regularly scheduled Board Meeting. A complete list of agenda items discussed during the meeting are available via BoardDocs, a website that makes the school board agenda and all supporting documents available online.
During Board Matters, members of the Board expressed their appreciation to teachers, parents, students and staff for a successful start to the school year. Board members also shared good news about happenings within their districts and thanked the community and business partners for their support and donations. Particularly, the community was reminded of and thanked for the FCS one-penny sales tax, approved by taxpayers, which has allowed the district to develop a strong IT infrastructure. Board members expressed gratitude for the seamless technology integration which resulted from the dedicated work of Fulton's Information Technology team. Board members have been excited to see the welcome back videos, hear great feedback from parents, and witness the creativity showcased during this first week of school.
The superintendent expressed his appreciation for the very smooth start of the school year and commended teachers and staff for an amazing job!
Dr. Looney invited Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Marvin Dereef to provide a financial update to the Board. CFO Dereef shared that the district continues to have a AAA credit rating with an overall stable rating from Moody's Issuer Comment Report. He shared a quote that this rating is "exceptional and far surpasses the U.S. median of AA3" (which is the average rating for school districts. Triple A is three levels above the median). He also shared that the pension plan will be fully funded within the next eight years.
Regarding the Tax Digest, CFO Dereef shared that the FCS millage rate was approved and affirmed on August 5 by the Fulton County Board of Commissioners. However, due to issues experienced by some municipalities and an extended tax appeal window by the Department of Revenue, the Tax Assessor has indicated that 2020 tax bills will most likely be distributed on September 30 with a payment due date of November 30. Due to these delays, the district may need a line of credit to maintain cash flow. No action was taken by the Board at the meeting; however, staff will begin steps to prepare for this option, which would require ratification in October with expected repayment prior to December 31.
Dr. Looney continued his report with an update regarding the 2020-21 school calendar. Because the school year began with Universal Remote Learning, Dr. Looney announced that the Late Start Days will be removed from the calendar and will not be observed this year.
Dr. Looney continued to express that data drives decision-making regarding reopening, and the data is looking very promising. He reminded the Board and community that all phases of the reopening matrix are optional, and parents can continue to choose Universal Remote Learning for their students as we move through the phases to face-to-face instruction.
With the improved data information, Dr. Looney announced the reopening matrix has been revised so that students with special needs, in self-contained classrooms, may return more quickly to face-to-face learning. These students will be allowed to move through the reopening matrix at a different pace. More details about implementation will be coming soon.
Dr. Looney congratulated the community regarding the decreasing rate of infection and shared that the improved data trends may allow the district to eliminate Phase 2 of the reopening plan. Phase 1 (scheduled to begin on September 8 provided that the community-spread criteria is met), brings a potential maximum of 10% of the student population back to in-person learning at one time. Phases 2 and 3 would both bring up to 25% of the student population back to face-to-face learning per day, and therefore can be adjusted to eliminate the need for one. Phase 3 will include full school days with transportation and meals provided.
He indicated public feedback about turning on schools by region has been heard and considered, but there are concerns that must be addressed in order to segment areas of the district. He stated optimism about Phase 1 being brief, and the elimination of Phase 2 will permit the district to move forward to Phase 3 more quickly.
Back to School Update
Chief Academic Officer Cliff Jones expressed his thanks to students, teachers, parents and the community for an outstanding start of the new school year. During this first week of school, he has visited many online classes. He shared that he has experienced Bitmoji classrooms, welcoming messages, and emails thanking principals and requesting more ways to be empowered. He assures the community and staff that the district is listening to requests and concerns and asked that feedback continues to be shared. Currently being reviewed is the length of the school day for middle schools and monitoring screen fatigue for students and teachers. Additional highlights are included below:
- As part of the middle school redesign, more students will take Algebra 1 in eighth grade due to the launch of enhanced mathematics for kindergarten and sixth grade students this year.
- All schools have completed training on the district's six Student Success Skills which include 15 standards for each grade band. The six skills are self-awareness, self-management, social competence, collaborative problems solving, reflective learning strategies, and sense of belonging. This initiative is designed to support the social and emotional health of students.
- 119 teachers have been trained for the new CTAE Engage class that all sixth-grade students will take this school year.
- 1300 staff members have been trained to transition from the easy IEP program used by our special education teachers related to the housing of Individual Education Plans (IEPs). The new Services for Exceptional Children (SEC) module in Infinite Campus now houses our IEPs and includes automated notifications for compliance timelines with reminders, a new and improved FTE process, enhanced workflows and automated processes that will lesson administrative burdens for teachers and staff, and all forms related to SEC processes and procedures are housed within the module.
Dr. Gyimah Whitaker, Deputy Chief Academic Officer, continued the Back to School Update. Using the acronym “SPARK – Students, Parents, Accountability, Resources for Teachers, Kids,” Academics has implemented programs and initiatives to “Light a SPARK for FCS.” Highlights are included below:
- Video lessons on FCSTV began August 18 for PreK through second grade and will be repeated each Tuesday and Thursday. Lessons for students in grades 3 through 12 are accessible via ClassLink and publicly available.
- Development of a Remote Learning Instructional Framework that includes live daily lessons in Microsoft Teams, maintaining contact with parents and students, and development of live real-time lessons augmented by independent work or lessons completed by students.
- 17,369 on-demand Universal Remote Learning modules for teachers received ratings of 4.33 percent out of five. 83% of teachers said they would use the information shared in their classrooms within the first week.
- Launch of a Restart Module for teachers and students to ensure a strong start for students due to school closures and the impacts of COVID-19. Live lessons will begin on Monday, August 24 and continue through mid-September for students in grades 3 through 12.
Emily Bell, Interim Chief Information Officer shared the following IT update:
- The district has increased bandwidth to 40 gigabytes. This week, bandwidth has averaged at 20 gigabytes with a peak of 35. The district is on track for an increase to 60 gigs of bandwidth. Information Technology will continue to monitor and mitigate hardware issues that impact universal remote learning.
- 70,000 student logins since Monday.
- The Remote Hotline received over 12,000 calls on Monday, 10,000 of which were password resets.
- Additional support for the Remote Hotline includes: Spanish translators, five additional Academic staff members, an additional 10 remote hotline team members, a project manager, and a specialist to monitor and review voicemails.
- Three additional Hubs (device distribution and exchange locations) are being added and hours of operation will increase to improve wait times and accessibility for parents.
The Back to School Update is available via this link.
Parents should continue to complete Free and Reduced Meal applications for this school year. Click here for information about FoodStop locations.