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.”
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. School Board Chair Kyla Cromer accepted the Georgia Leading Edge Award at a ceremony this morning on behalf of the School Board