August 4, 2021

ESPLOST critical for Heard County Schools and Students

(Franklin, GA) — Maintaining a high quality school system is paramount to a small community.

Providing a positive impact on the local economy, giving inhabitants a shared sense of community, and being a source of pride for the community members are just a few of the benefits of having a strong educational system in a small community.

In small towns where school systems decline, the local economy and size of the communities tend to follow.

Fortunately, the Heard County School System has ranked as one of the top systems in Georgia for several years, and the number of Open Enrollment  (families that pay to send their children to Heard County schools) students currently enrolled is a testament to the solid reputation that the Heard County School System has developed in the West Georgia area.

“Our five schools are award-winning institutions that have high expectations for students and it shows in all areas,” states Rodney Kay, Superintendent of the Heard County School System. “Whether we are talking about test scores, or a positive school culture, or athletics, or fine arts; the schools in Heard County are leading the way.”

Heard County entrepreneur Terry Harper has been in the community long enough to see the rise of the school system and its importance to the community.

“Our school system is top notch and its top notch because of leadership,” said Harper. “Our school board and school leaders have high expectations, and unlike other systems who lower expectations over time, our leaders and schools maintain high standards.”

Harper also believes that a quality school system has helped Heard County grow and kept the community strong and viable. “High quality schools are good for us; good for growth,” added Harper. “If there is no growth, you die.”

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Local realtor and businesswoman Suellen Cofield has noticed an increase in demand for land and homes in Heard County.

While some of this can be explained due to macroeconomic factors, the demand for quality schools from surrounding communities is at least partly responsible.

“We have received several calls from people looking for homes or property for sale in Heard County so that they can get into the school system,” stated Cofield. “Some of them are trying to get in and others already pay to send their children here. You see families driving a good distance to bring their kids to Heard County Schools.”

The accolades received by and the positive reputation of the Heard County School System would not have happened if not for the educational resources provided through ESPLOST. Everything from textbooks to buses and computers to facility renovations are purchased using ESPLOST funds.

Utilizing ESPLOST, the system refurbished the entire fleet of buses that was in need of replacement, and was able to fund a special security system for all three elementary systems that will protect the students during an active shooter scenario.

The SHIELD system as it is known, lockdowns each school into segments, thus isolating an intruder and its implementation would not have been possible without ESPLOST funds.

In addition to providing transportation and security to the school system, ESPLOST funds also allow for the HCSS facilities to be maintained.

The cost of painting, upgrading or replacing outdated or broken equipment, and completing a punch list of items each summer is also covered by revenue from ESPLOST.

“ESPLOST is critical to maintain our facilities to the level our community expects,” declared Brent Tisdale, Director of Student Services for the Heard County School System. “And we believe it is great that our community has such high expectations like we do.”

Beyond system level ESPLOST expenditures, funds are used to provide for individual school needs.

At Heard County Elementary School, ESPLOST has meant guided reading sets used by teachers to improve student reading ability.

HCES has also seen the arrival of chromebooks for each student in second through fifth grades just a couple of years ago, without which virtual learning during the COVID shutdown would have been impossible.

This year, chromebooks have been made available to kindergarten and first grade as well. The new ClearTouch Interactive Displays for education have made their way into several classrooms, with more to arrive in the coming months. These displays allow the teacher to instruct the students in ways that increase achievement levels.

“Without these resources it would be virtually impossible to provide students with the extremely high level and state of the art education that Heard County parents have come to expect,” said Kim Tisdale, principal of Heard County Elementary School.

Centralhatchee Elementary has also received guided reading sets, chromebooks, and new ClearTouch Interactive Displays thanks to ESPLOST.

“Technology in the classroom allows students of all abilities to learn, ask questions, and engage in course activities,” believes second grade teacher Brittany Dorsey. “Second graders use their chromebooks each day for differentiated reading lessons, and chromebooks allow them to work independently at their own pace and level. They engage students with interactive lessons and prepare them for an increasingly digital workforce.”

The ClearTouch Interactive Displays are utilized everyday by teachers as a primary instructional delivery device and by students through the board’s interactive capabilities.

“This screen helps bring the outside world into the classroom,” stated Tracey Hunt, a fifth grade teacher at Centralhatchee Elementary. “This is not only important during COVID, when going on field trips is not possible, but is especially important for visiting places or people who are not close enough for a field trip.”

In addition to technology and instructional needs, Centralhatchee Elementary needed to renovate and expand parking and its entrance drive. To address the problem, ESPLOST funds were used to construct a new entrance for buses and add more parking spaces.

“The additional parking for staff gives our parents and other visitors a dedicated parking area closer to the front entrance of the building and eliminates the dangers of parents and students crossing in front of the buses,” observed CES principal Dr. Dawn Bennett. “Now our buses have a separate entrance from our car rider lane. Not only is this safer, but it also helps with morning and afternoon traffic on Centralhatchee Parkway during car rider drop-off and dismissal.”

Ephesus Elementary also needed to use ESPLOST funds to create additional parking and for instructional technology expenditures. Prior to construction, the front parking lot was gravel with no designated parking.

“With the new renovations provided by ESPLOST funds, the front is now completely paved with designated parking spaces,” stated Ephesus Elementary principal Melanie Brooks.

“The addition enables the school to have eighteen total parking spaces in the front of the building with a designated space for handicap parking. The back parking was leveled, resurfaced, restriped and a designated crosswalk put in for pedestrians.” Brooks also believes that the chromebooks provided by ESPLOST for K-5 students have been very valuable for EES students.

“The students utilize chromebooks daily for instructional purposes and love working on them,” added Brooks. “A huge thank you to our community for supporting ESPLOST and in turn giving to our schools.”

Heard County Middle School has been the beneficiary of significant investments from ESPLOST. Improvements to parking lots, athletic fields, and different areas of the building have made sure the facility measures up to Heard County School System standards.

Also, with chromebooks being available to all middle school students, the instruction has become more engaging and relevant for students.

“The kids are very excited about the engaging lessons that are being brought to life with the use of chromebooks,” asserted Brian Hadley, principal of Heard County Middle School. “The teachers say that the use of chromebooks has redefined their way of teaching.”

Chromebooks have allowed middle school students to learn graphic design in Art, while additionally providing students an opportunity to compete in robotics. This year the HCMS robotics team was able to qualify for the state competition.

Perhaps no school in Heard County is more needing of ESPLOST funds than Heard County High School. This is primarily due to the need to invest in career readiness programs that require advanced equipment to prepare students for the workforce.

“If we are training students to become auto mechanics, then we need to train them with equipment and tools that are commonly found in auto mechanic shops,” claims HCHS principal J.J. Wahl. “The same goes for all of our CTAE courses such as agriculture, AV tech, construction, and culinary arts. We expect our graduates to be the best prepared; whether they go to college, join the military, or enter the workforce.”

An example of this is a recent purchase of a Hunter Smart Weight tire balancer for the automotive program. The purchase was made possible with the addition of ESPLOST funds, and allows for automotive students to go into the job market with the knowledge of how to use equipment common to their future job site.

While career preparation is important at the high school level, core academics are still the priority. Providing chromebooks to all students at the high school level has provided a wealth of benefits toward academic success. The chromebooks allow for greater creativity and more engaging lessons, all the while providing students with technical abilities required to make it in college or the workforce.

“Whether taking classes on campus or dual enrollment courses at local colleges, the chromebooks provide students with the tools needed to communicate with their teacher, turn in assignments, and interact virtually with peers for required projects,” stated Wahl.

There is little doubt that ESPLOST has made it possible for the Heard County School System to provide faculty and students with the resources needed to excel. It is also evident that the Heard County School Board utilizes these funds with great care and remarkable efficiency.

“Our board uses excellent judgement to ensure that school funds are maximized for the benefit of the students,” declared Superintendent Kay.

Evidence of this was recently published by SmartAsset, a finance technology company. SmartAsset ranked all counties in Georgia based on how effectively their local property tax is being spent.

With a low millage rate and high quality school system, Heard County was ranked number one for “Best Bang for Your Buck” out of all of Georgia’s 159 counties.

Heard County residents will have an opportunity to continue their support of ESPLOST, as it is up for renewal on Tuesday, March 16.

Early voting will begin Monday, February 22 and continues through Friday, March 12.

Early voting opportunities will be available at the Heard County Courthouse in Franklin, which is open Monday – Friday from 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM.

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