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2011 a year of change for schools
Hall, Gainesville school officials reflect on busy year and what 2012 will bring
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Final 2011 school board meetings
Hall County Schools
When: 5 tonight
Where: 711 Green Street NW, Gainesville
Contact: 770 534 1080

Gainesville City Schools
When: 6 tonight
Where: 508 Oak Street, Gainesville
Contact: 770 536 5275

The year 2011 is almost over for the Gainesville City and Hall County school systems.

It was a year of change, as both districts began their stint in Race to the Top, a $4 billion federal grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to support school improvement.

It was also a year of preparation for the multitude of changes coming down the pipeline for 2012.

"We are on the cusp of doing some exciting things in the area of student achievement," Sarah Bell, director of academic programs and standards for Gainesville City Schools, said in an email to The Times. "The standards are rigorous and they have forced us to examine our teaching practices carefully and focus even more on how we can best help our students."

Gainesville City Schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said this is a time of reflection as school leaders analyze what needs to be done for the new fiscal year's budget.

Much of the city school board's planning centers around its recent accreditation visit.

"As we approach our planning for next year, that's the first thing we'll do," Dyer said. "We have fewer people in schools than we had eight years ago and we have more initiatives to address and streamline."

Jamey Moore, director of curriculum and instruction for Gainesville City Schools, said 2011 expected a lot from everyone in education.

2011 meant more technology initiatives, lower budgets and a true transition year as students from Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School moved to the Wood's Mill campus.

Standardized test scores showed most area schools are where they need to be, but teachers and administrators increased their focus on math, reading and science.

Schools closed in January for the "snowpocalypse," and students had to make up their days in May. New food programs gave city schools a chance to feed hungry students during the summer, and feed all children free of charge for the remainder of the school year.

Bill Thompson, a former high school principal, joined the Hall County schools board. Parents of Pre-kindergarten and rising college freshman struggled to understand the changes to the new HOPE scholarship and lottery-funded programs.

Wood's Mill High School graduated its first class of seniors while new charter and interest programs opened at Riverbend Elementary, Spout Springs Elementary and Friendship Elementary schools.

Gainesville City Schools gained control of Bobby Gruhn Field at City Park and Special Local Option Sales Taxes for education passed, allowing school systems to involve more new programs and renovations on buildings.

"We continue to see real evidence of success beyond high school with our emphasis on rigor," Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield said. "Record numbers of students are attending the most prestigious colleges and universities in the country."

Schofield said 2011 was a year of increased efficiency, as school systems sought every opportunity to do more for students with "dramatically reduced" resources.

Next year will be no different.

Moore said the new policies, tests and evaluations "almost sound like education's version of ‘The 12 Days of Christmas,'" while Bell called them a time of promise in education.

School system officials spent 2011 training with teachers on the new Common Core Standards, which will replace the existing Georgia Performance Standards as curriculum requirements. Common Core Standards are already in place in 40 other states, so Georgia districts and teachers can collaborate on lesson plans, tests, activities and other teaching resources.

Georgia's No Child Left Behind waiver was formally submitted to the United States Department of Education this fall. If it passes, 2012 means more career and agriculture classes for students and a balanced way of assessing schools' progress.

There is also the new teacher evaluation system to be piloted, which includes student surveys and achievement data.

"I think (Common Core Standards) are an improvement on Georgia Performance Standards. However, I don't think they'll be that different, therefore easier to implement than (the previous curriculum change)," said Eloise Barron, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning for Hall County Schools. "The new teacher evaluation system, I think it's an improvement over the current evaluation system but I think it's good we're getting a pilot."

Most of all, Barron said, she hopes 2012 will be the light at the end of the tunnel.

"It's time we were able to improve teacher morale through being able to not have to reduce teaching days," Barron said. "They're the hardest working people around and I hate that it always come back to having to take from them."