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Board Business Briefs: School Board Hears Student Support Services Update

Board Business Briefs: School Board Hears Student Support Services Update

The Cherokee County School Board at its regular meeting on Thursday, Feb. 17, heard an update on CCSD’s student support services efforts including suicide prevention.


[Note: A link to the video of the meeting is online here.]

The School Board heard an update from Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower on student support services programs and their success in saving students’ lives.

Following input from the community as part of the process to design the Blueprint five-year strategic plan, the School Board in 2019 agreed to expand student support services to include an initiative that CCSD referred to as Social and Emotional Learning (SEL).  One of the drivers behind starting SEL was the alarmingly increasing rate of student suicides.

Student support services is a longtime aspect of the school district and includes counselors, nurses and social workers, who all provide numerous services as part of their roles.  With the adoption of what CCSD referred to as SEL, the school district appointed two student support specialists, who are staff members trained to support students struggling with mental health needs and to refer them to additional supports outside of school.  The school district also, under SEL, has provided training to employees as to how to recognize students potentially struggling with mental health and thoughts of self-harm or suicide, so they could be supported by CCSD’s student support specialists and referred for additional help.

Since the start of the SEL initiative in 2019, CCSD has intervened to assist 57 students in crisis, Dr. Hightower said, “and, in many of these situations, saved them from an attempt on their life.”

“We’re saving kids’ lives and that is what’s important,” said School Board Chair Kyla Cromer, who was joined by School Board member Clark Menard in praising the initiative.

The SEL initiative also has included training for employees as to how trauma – from a parent’s death to financial hardships – can affect a student’s mental health and ability to achieve academic success, and the importance of referring them to school counselors of student support specialists for assistance.  The expansion of positive behavior programs, which already existed in CCSD, has been considered part of CCSD’s SEL initiative, as have efforts to foster a positive school culture and to expand staff well-being and self-care programs.

The most recent step in the initiative was the roll out for this school year of curriculum developed by CCSD student support services staff to use once a week in homeroom; the curriculum is posted in its entirety on the CCSD website.  The creation of curriculum by CCSD staff eliminated the need to use contracted curriculum.

For next school year, Dr. Hightower announced during the meeting, the one SEL survey used by the school district will be replaced with a survey created by CCSD staff.  In recent years, CCSD has used a survey from Panorama for Grades 4-12 to allow student self-assessment of their Grit/Resiliency, Learning Styles, Self-Management, Growth Mindset and Self-Efficacy; CCSD has not used any other surveys or curriculum from Panorama.  With the recent hiring of several programmers in the technology division, CCSD now has the capacity to create a system for sorting the survey data to provide principals and CCSD’s student support services team with similar insights as to students’ self-assessments to allow for individual support and curriculum improvements.  Parents will continue to have the opportunity to opt their children out of participation in the survey, and they will receive a copy of their child’s survey results.

Dr. Hightower said it has been disappointing to hear misinformed allegations about CCSD’s SEL initiative and to see examples of SEL from other school districts held up as representative of all SEL programs.  In response, Dr. Hightower said, he and his staff no will longer use the term SEL, but instead will use #CCSDcares, a hashtag already in use by student support services, as it more accurately represents the purpose of their work.

“Our program is unique to our school district,” he said.  “It’s unfortunate that the good work of our counselors, social workers, nurses, student mental health specialists, teachers, administrators and other dedicated employees has been muddied.”


Jackie Miller
Richard Landolt

Jackie Miller                                    Richard Landolt

As part of its approval of the monthly personnel report, the School Board accepted several notable retirements and made several significant appointments.

Longtime Principal Richard Landolt, currently leading at ACE Academy, is retiring at the end of this school year, as is CCSD Supervisor of Professional and Staff Development Jackie Miller. 

Mr. Landolt’s 35-year career includes more than 32 years with CCSD as an award-winning Principal, with service at Woodstock MS; Polaris Evening School, for which he led the school’s initial accreditation efforts; and ACE Academy, for which he led the transformation from CrossRoads.  Ms. Miller has served as an educator for 32 years and among her many successes, she implemented numerous highly regarded professional development programs for CCSD, presented at national and international education conferences and served on four Cognia accreditation review teams as an expert in assessing other school districts.

“We greatly appreciate their many years of service to public education and the positive impact they have made in Cherokee County for generations, and for generations to come,” Dr. Hightower said, adding that he wishes them all the best in their next chapter.

The School Board also approved several appointments, which are the first in a series to prepare for next school year.

Charley Ingham, an assistant principal at Cherokee High School with 20 years of experience as an educator, will serve as Principal of Woodstock High School for next school year.  He is succeeding Principal Mark Smith, who has been appointed to serve as an administrator in the Office of Curriculum & Instruction to help oversee assessments and accountability measures.

The School Board also approved the advancement of i-Grad Virtual Academy Administrator Andy Hall to the role of Principal for the ACTIVE Academies campus, which, in addition to i-Grad, also includes ACE Academy, Cherokee College & Career Academy (C3) and Transition Academy. 

Tyler Gwynn, who currently serves as the chief human resources officer for Marietta City Schools, is joining the Office of Human Resources as the executive director for middle school and high school staffing.  The position was opened with the recent retirement of Dr. Adrian Thomason. 

They all will be recognized at the March meeting along with the School Board’s other new leadership appointments for next school year.


The School Board at Thursday’s meeting heard from five Public Participation speakers on the topic of challenged materials.  Of those five speakers, two were CCSD parents.

While none of the speakers had filed challenges to any CCSD books or assignments, they said they are a part of the same group that has filed challenges over the past month. The school district, between Jan. 20 and last night, received challenges from seven citizens, only two of whom are CCSD parents, to challenge 12 books (including books not in CCSD schools) and one assignment.  These challenges are part of a national trend driven by special interest groups.

In response to the volume of challenges, the size of CCSD’s instructional media review committee – which is made up of students, parents and educators – has been temporarily doubled to allow the group to split in half so two books can be reviewed at a time.  The process to review a book takes about three weeks, which includes time for members to read the book and meet to discuss its educational value and determine an outcome.  Outcomes can range from no action to limiting access to a book to removing a book from a syllabus and/or media center.

Several of the speakers argued that the process should be sped up, with some citing plans to ask the School Board to “ban” 75 more books and threatening that they could face arrest or lawsuits if they don’t heed their demands by the next School Board meeting. 

Dr. Hightower and the School Board took no action to change their current process, and the School Board attorney called the speakers’ threats “a stretch.”

“We are not going to make these decisions in haste,” Dr. Hightower said.  “It is not up to individual citizens who make challenges to determine what books other people’s children should have access to in school or what assignments teachers should give in classes.  Should a citizen disagree with the decision of the committee’s students, parents and educators who read and study the book or assignment, he or she can appeal to the School Board.  The School Board members are elected to speak for all students, and they have the final say in these decisions.”

The School Board also:

  • Noted the loss of retired Cherokee High School Principal Dr. Edwin Casey, who passed away Tuesday;
  • Heard a brief report on the recently held CCSD Support Staff Job Fair, which was the first to solely focus on these jobs.  The event attracted 175 candidates, with many outstanding applicants for current and anticipated openings;
  • Approved filing an amicus brief to side with Northside Hospital in its lawsuit versus Anthem Insurance to show support for CCSD employees who are insured by Anthem and want to use Northside services;
  • Viewed a video made by Oak Grove ES STEAM Academy students and teachers in celebration of their school’s new STEAM focus that’s online here;
  • Recognized the Creekview High School agriculture program and lead teacher Pauline Benton for earning the National Association of Agricultural Educators Outstanding Secondary/Middle School Program Award.  Read more here [CONTENT_REVIEW InternalLink];
  • Recognized Creekview High School senior Ty Hubert for being named as a candidate for the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program.  Read more here [CONTENT_REVIEW InternalLink];
  • Recognized Creekland Middle School as the 2021-22 Middle School County Academic Bowl Team Champions.  Read more here [CONTENT_REVIEW InternalLink];
  • Recognized Georgia High School Association State and Regional Champions from Creekview High School (competition cheerleading and flag football) and Cherokee HS (competition cheerleading).  Read more here;
  • Recognized Cherokee High School Athletic Director Jeremy Adams as the Region 5-7A Athletic Director of the Year.  Read more here;
  • Approved the renewal of the Partnership Agreement with Cherokee Soccer Association;
  • Approved a resolution recognizing February 17, 2022 as “PTA Day in the Cherokee County School District” and heard remarks from PTA Co-Presidents Lori Burton and Catherine Shook;
  • Approved out-of-state travel requests for employees;
  • Approved out-of-state and overnight field trips requests for students;
  • Approved the monthly Capital Outlay Projects update;
  • Approved special lease agreements; and,
  • Approved an update to the state-required capital outlay funding application for the Cherokee High School replacement facility to change classroom configurations.

Photos from the meeting are posted in a gallery online here. [CONTENT_REVIEW InternalLink]