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At his first town hall since being hired last month, Clarke County School Superintendent Robbie Hooker made one thing clear: He holds people accountable — himself, his staff and district superintendents. school – because “our students are our customers”, he said.

“Our goal is not just to rebrand the Clarke County School District, but to make it one that others want to emulate, that others say, ‘How did you turn it around?'” said Hooker to an audience of about 50 parents and teachers at Clarke Central High School, “It’s about that ROI, that’s ROI.”

He wants CCDS students to receive solid instruction, commitment, appropriate homework, and high expectations. There are counselors in secondary schools who help students prepare for college; he hired two trauma specialists to help high school and college students deal with mental health issues and “to help support the child as a whole.”

Hooker acknowledged that over the past few years “teachers have been abused” and charged. Teaching for some is no longer a profession; it’s a work. He wants the district to treat new teachers as if they were in medical residency, providing them with professional learning, mentors and mental health support. He also said he wants to build partnerships that make it easier for teachers to afford to live in the neighborhood, such as working with apartment complexes to reduce teachers’ rents. And he said he would work to recruit teachers like Uncle Sam recruiting for the army: “Our babies need you in Athens so they can have a high quality education,” he said. said he would tell future teachers.

Hooker is focused on academics, he said. When it comes to athletes, “academics must come first.” Athletes should sit at the front of the class, not the back, remembering the days when coaches made players do tricks if they weren’t paying attention in class.

Although the safety of students and teachers is a primary concern, Hooker said he believes installing metal detectors is not a solution. He wants to establish relationships in which students feel comfortable and learn to “see something, say something”.

He also wants to address the issue of students having and using cell phones during class. Other districts require students to put phones in pouches when they enter a classroom and collect them when they leave. Hooker said he plans to learn how well other districts have dealt with cellphones and social media distractions.

Although he sometimes sounds like a CEO with a professional approach, Hooker became emotional when discussing the negative effects of COVID-19 and virtual learning on students, especially younger ones. “Our third graders are so behind,” he said. But he also acknowledged the virus had hit Clarke County hard and said he would make decisions on virtual learning if the pandemic worsens again in consultation with medical professionals, as he said. did in Social Circle.

Other town hall meetings are scheduled for Nov. 14 at the Nellie B Community Center, Nov. 17 at Cedar Shoals High School, Nov. 30 at New Grove Baptist Church and Dec. 5 at the Pinewoods Estates Library. All will take place from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.

CCSD proposes increased spending

Strong tax collections in recent months mean CCSD has a large cash cushion, and trustees want to spend some of those reserve funds on retention bonuses and a wish list of educational resources.

A budget amendment proposed at the school board’s November 3 working session has been in the works for several months. Hooker and CFO Byron Schueneman want to spend $9.6 million on $1,500 bonuses for CCDS employees and various other one-time expenses, including training opportunities, new playground equipment and replacement of the gymnasium carpet by rubber floors.

“I think now is a great time to look at our fund balance and use some of it in a way that has a direct impact on teaching, a direct impact on facilities,” Schueneman told the school board. .

School board president LaKeisha Gantt asked if retention bonus funding could be spent on raises for lower-paid employees. Yes, Schueneman replied, but he added that he was concerned about adding current spending to the budget because rising interest rates are likely to lower property values, and therefore tax revenues.

Even with the budget amendment, the district will still have $5 million in “excess” reserves above its goal of 15 percent of the total annual budget, or about $28 million.

The $9.6 million figure also includes $2 million set aside for 2024-25, when the deadline to spend $60 million in federal funding the district received to offset pandemic-related expenses will expire. Addressing what one commenter called “administrative bloat,” Hooker said at his Nov. 1 town hall meeting that he would only retain federally funded positions that have a demonstrable impact on academics.

“We received tons of money from the federal government. These things only last for three years,” he said. “And believe me, I look through everything.” [Blake Aued]

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