By Tia Lynn Ivey
At the first Morgan County Board of Education meeting of 2021, new school board members were sworn in, and a new chairman and vice chair were selected.
Democratic re-elected member Cheryl Bland was sworn in Monday night, along with two new members elected in November, Republicans Joe Slaughter and Brad Hawk.
After Judge Charles Merritt presided over the swearing in ceremony on Monday, Jan. 11, the entire board voted on which members to elect as chairman and vice chair. The BOE unanimously voted for long-time board member Andrew Ainslie III to serve as chairman of the BOE. Cheryl Bland was unanimously elected to serve as Vice Chairman.
“Congratulations! There’s no turning back now,” joked Superintendent of Schools Dr. Virgil Cole.
Ainslie thanked the board for the opportunity to serve as chairman and said both he and Bland would strive to “continue the legacy set before us.”
Ainslie said his main goals are to ensure a good school year for students, families, teachers and school staff and promised to be mindful of taxpayer dollars when making decisions on how to best spend funds for the school system.
“We want to thank you for this opportunity,” said Ainslie.
Superintendent Cole delivered an update to the BOE announcing new safety goals for Morgan County Schools, after the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) conducted a site assessment and made recommendations for how the school could enhance safety measures.
According to Cole, the current safety level at Morgan County Schools is “strong,” but he believes there is more to be done.
“We know we are in the middle of a pandemic right now, but we don’t want to forget about how important safety is to our schools,” said Cole at Monday night’s meeting.
Cole reported that GEMA completed a site assessment at all four Morgan County Schools, noting the progress Morgan County has made, especially at the new Morgan County High School and Middle School.
“All four schools have improved over the last four years,” said Cole. “We are at a great benchmark but there is room for improvement. There are little things we can do to make our schools even safer.”
One of the main proposals is to increase the number of cameras at Morgan County Schools to better monitor the parking lot areas and inside hallways.
“We need to beef up our camera systems,” said Cole. “We could especially use more cameras at the primary and elementary schools.”
Some of GEMA’s recommendations Cole declined to share publicly, as not to give bad actors any ideas on the schools’ vulnerabilities. But Cole assured that the main safety features and policies in place were solid.
“Our entrances are secure, and our schools are safe,” said Cole. “We have reached a great benchmark, but there is room for improvement.”
Addressing safety concerns has always been a top priority for Morgan County Schools, but when the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, FL, tragically unfolded, the Morgan County School System ramped up safety enhancement efforts.
Former Superintendent Dr. James Woodard created a District Safety Committee to streamline safety policies for Morgan County Schools, as new school facilities were under construction.
“The purpose of this committee is to maintain a consistent focus on issues regarding school safety. The committee is comprised of representatives from each school/building/department, school resource officers, local law enforcement, and parents from the School Governance Teams,” explained Woodard in 2018, after the Parkland shooting. “The maintenance, athletics, technology, and transportation departments also participate on this committee to ensure that all aspects of our school system are covered. We have discussed such topics as fire alarm/tornado drills, school visitors, AED training, Stop-The-Bleed, background checks, cyber security, cameras, active shooter drills, school safety plans, etc. The safety committee meets bi-monthly to discuss these issues.”
One of the newer safety policies adopted by Morgan County Schools was a “Raptor system” for identifying visitors who come into school buildings. The new high school and middle school buildings were designed to improve entry points for safety, making it much harder for intruders to gain access to school buildings. The presence of deputy resource officers at Morgan County schools was another step in securing Morgan County Schools.
Now in 2021, under new leadership, safety enhancements and improvements are still a top priority moving forward.
“We have a lot to be proud of in what we have accomplished,” said Cole, “but there is always more to do to become better.”