The Cherokee County Board of Education has achieved multiple state and national recognitions for leadership and governance, including awards from the Georgia School Boards Association (GSBA) and the National School Boards Association (NSBA).
The GSBA Board Recognition Program is designed to reflect the state standards, which offers school boards additional ways to increase their effectiveness. The State Board of Education developed the state standards for governance that form the foundation for GSBA’s awards and recognition program. This Board Recognition Program requires a high level of commitment from school boards and individual members. The ultimate goal is to provide a platform based on governance standards which challenges boards, but creates a culture of success for students and communities.
2021: Winner, Georgia School Boards Association "Governance Team of the Year"
December 2, 2021-- The Cherokee County School District earned the State’s highest honor for leadership and dedication to providing the best education possible to every child.
The Governance Team of the Year Award is awarded to the School Board and Superintendent of Schools of only one Georgia school district in each of the three size categories -- small, medium and large – by the Georgia School Boards Association. CCSD earned the honor for large districts, which are those with more than 10,000 students.
The prestigious award requires school districts’ governance teams meet stringent requirements encompassing all duties: Teaching & Learning Resources; Governance, Leadership & Accountability; Human & Organizational Capital; Teaching, Learning & Assessment; Climate, Culture & Stakeholder Engagement; School Finance; Communications & Messaging; and Early Learning & Student Success.
“Having our governance team recognized in this manner truly shows our dedication to providing the emerging generation with an outstanding education while setting policy and developing a budget that is responsive to our community,” said School Board Chair Kyla Cromer, who with fellow School Board members and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower, attended the awards dinner on Wednesday night at which the winners were announced. “Dr. Hightower has gathered a group of leaders who truly pour into our students the skills necessary to be successful. We are so grateful for the opportunity to serve!”
School districts are invited to apply for the award based on high scores on the State’s system that measures how well students are prepared for college and career success. The detailed application process requires providing significant evidence including verifiable data that illustrates the school district’s excellence and the governance team’s role in ensuring that excellence. The vetting process also includes interviews of School Board members, the Superintendent and his senior staff by an impartial review team. The judging committee that reviews the application, supporting evidence and impartial review team’s report is made up of national educational experts and leaders. The Georgia School Boards Association has no input in the selection process. The awards program has no connection to the National School Boards Association.
“While many governance teams have endured challenging circumstances and provided steadfast leadership, the 2021 Governance Team of the Year winners have set a high standard of excellence and we are proud of all that they have accomplished,” said Valarie Wilson, Georgia School Boards Association’s executive director.
The Cherokee County School Board is chaired by Ms. Cromer and made up of District 1 member Kelly Poole, District 2 member Patsy Jordan, District 3 member John Harmon, District 4 member Robert “Rick Steiner” Rechsteiner, who also serves as Vice Chair; District 5 member Clark Menard; and District 6 member Mike Chapman.
CCSD would not have been able to earn this recognition without the longtime outstanding leadership by the current School Board, Dr. Hightower said, nor would the award have been achieved without the dedication of every CCSD employee; PTA, School Council and other valued parent volunteers; and community and business partners.
“You cannot win the Governance Team of the Year Award without a united community supporting your school district, and we’re so grateful and humbled to serve a county that cares so much about the education of its children,” Dr. Hightower said. “All of our School Board members have served the community for at least eight years, with some serving twice that long, and that continued civic service provides our school district with incredibly valuable experience and expertise. This award is for our entire #CCSDfam: congratulations and thank you!”
2021: Georgia School Boards Association "Leading Edge" Award
The Cherokee County School Board has earned top state honors for exemplary leadership and innovation practices in recognition of its Social and Emotional Learning initiative.
For the third consecutive year, the Georgia School Boards Association has awarded the Cherokee County School Board its Leading Edge Award in the Culture, Climate & Organizational Efficacy category. The awards, presented in seven categories, recognize innovative practices by School Boards and School Districts that make a significant and positive impact on students. This year, the districtwide Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) initiative earned the honor, following previous wins for CCSD’s Student Advisor and Student Delegates to the School Board program and VILLA parent academy.
“Through our Social and Emotional Learning initiative, we are truly listening to our students and their families, our employees and our valued partners … and we are working together to improve the culture and climate of our schools,” said School Board Chair Kyla Cromer, who accepted the award at a Georgia School Boards Association ceremony this morning on behalf of the School Board. The awards program has no connection to the National School Boards Association. “Our schools are the center of our community, and, together, we’re working to improve our community as a whole, for nothing is more valuable to a community than its children and their well-being.”
The School Board and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower, like their counterparts across the nation, recognized an alarming trend among students: rising rates of anxiety, depression, self-harm, suicidal ideations and suicide. They understood that, although great work had been accomplished to support the whole child and to improve the culture and climate of schools and the School District, more must be done.
From the drafting of their community based Blueprint strategic five-year plan, which was embedded with not only language, but also action steps to ensure students feel safe, welcomed, included and valued, came the School Board’s support of a CCSD SEL initiative. A Superintendent’s ad hoc SEL study committee of stakeholders together analyzed local data and national expert advice to craft recommendations that would focus on better meeting the social and emotional needs of students and fostering a more welcoming and inclusive school culture and climate. Their work also addressed CCSD employees’ needs, with the understanding that their well-being directly impacts their ability to successfully serve students.
The Committee’s recommendations were presented to the School Board in the summer of 2019, along with initial budget proposals to begin implementing action steps. The initial 2019-20 SEL investments, approved as part of the budget that summer, included appointing a District director for SEL; the hiring of CCSD’s first two mental health counselors; providing relevant training to teachers and support staff to help them better identity and refer to counselors students showing signs or risk of depression, self-harm and suicidal ideations; the implementation of a districtwide annual student survey to assess SEL needs; and piloting national programs like Check & Connect and Sources of Strength. Since the initiative began, additional phases of SEL services and support have been rolled out, including bringing recently retired top educators in part time to work with the mental health counselors and school counselors in developing K-12 SEL curriculum unique to CCSD to meet needs identified by student surveys; and the development of a districtwide employee wellness committee with representatives from all schools and central office operations.
“This Committee’s recommendations for a Social and Emotional Learning initiative provided our School District, and truly our community as a whole, with a roadmap out of the darkness. We’re still on that road, as SEL is a long-term commitment for us, but I know that our efforts already have saved students’ lives and made students’ lives better,” Dr. Hightower said. “As a Superintendent, my top job target on paper is to graduate students who are prepared for college or to begin their career. The real top job target, for me and for all of us as educators, is to help prepare every child we serve for a purposeful, successful and joyful life. When the days are dark, this is the light that carries us through to the next challenge -- this is the “why” in our hearts. This is what SEL does and is.”
2020: Georgia School Boards Association "Exemplary School Board"
The Georgia School Boards Association (GSBA) awarded the Cherokee County School Board its 2020 Exemplary School Board designation. The statewide recognition program honors school boards that consistently meet standards of excellence and model best practices; it is a three-tiered program, and Exemplary is the highest level of achievement. In order to earn this status, school boards must demonstrate commitment to professionalism, including adherence to a code of ethics, effective use of strategic planning, annually assessing their own performance and progress, and continuous participation in professional development.
“This honor speaks directly to how our School Board views its role: to lead and govern following the highest standards possible and to keep its focus on putting students first at all times, and especially in policy-making decisions,” Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower said. “Our School Board is considered among the best in our State, and I am so appreciative of their public service and proud of them for this well-deserved recognition.”
The School Board is made up of Chair Kyla Cromer, Vice Chair Kelly Poole (District 1), Patsy Jordan (District 2), John Harmon (District 3), Robert “Rick Steiner” Rechsteiner (District 4),Clark Menard (District 5) and Mike Chapman (District 6). The awards were presented by GSBA during its annual conference this month, at which Mr. Steiner also was recognized for achieving 15 years of service, joining Mr. Chapman, who now is in his 16th year, in what is a very elite group statewide of long-serving school leaders.
2020: Georgia School Boards Association "Leading Edge" Award
For the second consecutive year, the School Board earned GSBA’s Leading Edge Award in the Culture, Climate & Organizational Efficacy category. The awards recognize innovative practices by School Boards and School Districts in seven categories. This year, the School Board’s Student Advisor and Student Delegates to the School Board program earned the honor, following last year’s recognition for its VILLA parent academy.
Through the Student Advisor and Student Delegates to the School Board program, an outstanding senior from each of CCSD’s high schools has the opportunity to serve as a representative of their school at School Board meetings. The Delegates are called upon to provide feedback not only to assist School Board members in policy-making, but also to aid the Superintendent and his senior staff in the development of new initiatives and improvement of existing programs. Dr. Hightower noted the Delegates’ invaluable contributions last school year to helping develop both CCSD’s Social and Emotional Learning initiative and its Blueprint long-range strategic plan.
“As School Board members, we dedicate ourselves to serving the best interest of our students, but our own personal experiences as students often are many years behind us,” Board Chair Kyla Cromer said. “Hearing firsthand from our current students about how our policymaking will impact their education is invaluable to us as elected leaders, and no initiative serves us better in this regard than our Student Advisor & Student Delegates to the School Board program.”
2019: Georgia School Boards Association "Leading Edge" Award
The Cherokee County School District’s annual VILLA Program, which encourages and celebrates parent engagement, saw record participation in 2019 and won the Georgia School Boards Association's Leading Edge Award, which recognizes innovative practices by governance teams and school districts.
The award-winning parent academy program began in 2017 in CCSD as a pilot initiative developed with the Georgia School Boards Association and with the support of Cherokee County School Board Chair Kyla Cromer, who championed the idea during her re-election campaign. In response to the program’s popularity, a morning session and an evening session were offered to expand enrollment … with 37 parents completing the program and graduating at the School Board’s November 2019 meeting.
“We greatly appreciate the growing number of parents who want to learn more about our School District and how they can better support our schools and our students,” Ms. Cromer said. “Parent engagement is critical to our success, and the School Board and I see VILLA as an important way for us to foster that engagement.”
VILLA (Volunteer Instructional Leadership Learning Academy) is a free six-week program that offers participants the opportunity to learn more about the public schools in their community. Topics including school operations, governance, funding and accountability are covered in classes that feature presentations by CCSD staff and question-and-answer sessions with the School Board and Superintendent of Schools, as well as a field trip to schools. The program concludes with a dinner and graduation ceremony. NOTE: A gallery is posted here with more photos from the program.
2019: Georgia School Boards Association "Distinguished School Board"
The Georgia School Boards Association awarded the Cherokee County School Board its 2019 Distinguished School Board designation, which honors school boards that consistently model best practices and meet specific high standards of excellence.
“We know our School Board members are of the highest quality, as servant leaders who show exceptional professionalism and compassion in all they do and who always put children first when making policy decisions,” Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower. “They pay their ‘civic rent’ every day through this extraordinary service and do so without any expectation for recognition. We’re so proud of them for the important work they do and for earning this special honor for our community.”
The recognition program is designed to showcase best practices in school governance and leadership. GSBA recognizes good school board governance to foster educational community cultures in order to advance student learning and achievement.
2018: Georgia School Boards Association "Quality School Board"
The Georgia School Boards Association awarded the Cherokee County School Board its 2018 Quality School Board designation. The statewide recognition program celebrates school boards that consistently model best practices and meet specific high standards of excellence.
In order to earn Quality School Board status, school boards must demonstrate its members meet or exceed specific criteria that shows their commitment to professionalism, including adherence to a code of ethics, effective use of strategic planning, annually assessing their own performance and progress, and continuous participation in professional development.
School Board members are elected to four-year terms for the Cherokee County School District, which serves more than 42,000 students and 4,800 employees. Their many responsibilities include setting School Board Policies, approving CCSD’s annual budget, hearing disciplinary and employment appeals, and hiring the Superintendent of Schools.
2015: American School Board Journal MAGNA Award
The Cherokee County School District received National recognition for its academic school choice program, Cherokee Academies. The
program was named an Honorable Mention winner in the 21st annual Magna Awards program sponsored by the National School Boards Association’s flagship magazine, American School Board Journal (ASBJ). The Magna Awards recognize school districts and their leaders from across the Nation for taking bold and innovative steps to improve the lives of their students and their communities. An independent panel of school board members, administrators and other educators selected the 33 honorees from 250 submissions. “In a time when public schools are under attack, we are pleased to showcase schools and their leaders who are dedicated to innovation and excellence,” said Thomas J. Gentzel, Executive Director of NSBA. “The winning programs are proof that public education is leading the way to advance student achievement.” The innovative choice initiative, which was launched in the 2012-13 school year, was designed to: offer magnet-type instruction in STEM and Fine Arts to all students at campuses chosen for geographic location and the ability to accommodate large numbers of transfer students in all grades, with priority given to locating these programs in Title I schools; begin at the elementary school level in order to build knowledge and interest to sustain a high school model; and offer transportation options to increase opportunities for transfer participation.
2008: American School Board Journal MAGNA Award
The Cherokee County School District received the Grand Prize in the large school systems category for its nontraditional high school choice program.