Teachers, board members discuss concerns

SUWANEE - Teachers from across the county raised their concerns about special education, snow make-up days and substitute teachers when they met with their school board representatives on Thursday.

Preceding the monthly meeting of the Gwinnett Board of Education, Teachers' Advisory Council members discussed the issues affecting their individual schools and the district.

Some educators brought up the issues of attracting, hiring and retaining substitute teachers. In a meeting with Louise Radloff, vice chair of the school board, teachers brought up how neighboring school districts have more efficient methods of notifying substitute teachers when they're needed.

According to a staff report, there are 6,640 substitute teachers employed by Gwinnett County schools.

Some teachers wondered why the school system doesn't offer better compensation and benefits to retain top substitutes.

Changing the academic calendar was another major concern for many teachers.

Some suggested all snow make-up days be moved to the end of the year, instead of being distributed throughout the spring semester. But other teachers said moving the snow days may delay graduation ceremonies.

There were also some teachers who suggested implementing a weeklong fall break.

"Some teachers like to have them spread out throughout the year," board member Carole Boyce said. "No one is ever going to be fully pleased with whichever calendar is selected."

The new state requirement that all special education teachers be "highly qualified" concerned many educators, who worried that this may force even experienced teachers to have to seek additional certification.

Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks reassured them the school system would help ease them through the changes.

"If they aren't highly qualified, they will still be employed - they will still be paid," Wilbanks said.

School board members and teachers discussed changes in the technical and college preparatory diploma requirements.

Other concerns included advances in technology, reading programs, the textbook adoption process and standardized testing.

Following the break-out sessions, the full school board met for 90 minutes to discuss the major issues. The Teachers' Advisory Committee sessions were deemed a productive use of time by several board members.

"Every process that I know of is more open than it ever was," said board member Daniel Seckinger. "There seems to be far more opportunities for people who want to be involved and have input to actually be involved and give input."

School system continues moving process

Chief of Staff Bobby Crowson updated board members about location changes for departments within the school system. The Give Center East, an alternative school, will soon move to the Lawrenceville East facility. This will give the school more space, separating students of different age groups.

"They will be able to separate them at all times and geographically within the building, which is a very big plus," Crowson said.

Many of the moves Crowson discussed have already occurred. The International Newcomer Center, which helps international students transition to Gwinnett schools, has relocated to the Lawrenceville West facility. The school system's safety and security department is now housed at the facility located at 52 Gwinnett Drive in Lawrenceville.

New nontraditional schools discussed

In her update on nontraditional education, Associate Superintendent Cindy Loe talked about the possibility of implementing a charter school that would eventually have between 1,000 and 1,200 high school students.

Loe said the school system is also considering having an international school for older students to attend as they adjust to American education. Students with limited English proficiency, who may have difficulty starting at a regular public school, would go there for a semester when they first move to Gwinnett.