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Warren County schools ready for new year
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This shot from the Warren County Middle School gym is indicative of the 2020-21 school year. Keeping students masked and 6 feet apart was an emphasis, especially early in the year.
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Hand sanitizer was conveniently placed in a hall at WCMS to give students easy access.
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Warren County Director of Schools Grant Swallows led by example and wore a mask last school year.

What a first year on the job for Director of Schools Grant Swallows. With the COVID-19 pandemic hopefully past us, Warren County Schools goes into the new academic year beginning this August with a number of changes.  

First, Grant and his family have fully moved to Warren County from White County.  Second, there are four new principals and two new central office staff members to begin the new year. Third, WC Schools will be returning to a full, five-day teaching schedule.  

The “baseline” for WC Schools student headcount is 6,250. With the 2020 pandemic, 1,300 students began the year enrolled on a virtual learning basis.  Throughout the school year, that number drifted down to 800 by May 2021.  

A forecast for the new school year is 300 students on virtual enrollment. Home schooling is another area affected by the 2020 pandemic. Home school students totaled 700 in May 2021. This is also expected to go down. 

Student headcount at the end of the last academic year was 6,015. There are 6,200 forecast for this August. An optional mask policy is expected in August.

Obviously the COVID-19 pandemic heavily affected the 2020-21 school year. The peak period of COVID-19 cases was incurred between Thanksgiving and Christmas when the student absentee rate reached 18% due to COVID-related isolations and quarantines. It’s a credit to all WC teachers and support staff for coping with the virus on a pro-active basis and keeping education of our youth first.  

The four new principals are at WCMS, Hickory Creek, Irving College, and Eastside.  This progression takes advantage of the Principal’s Pipeline program where existing WC teachers/ staff are trained to be a principal. 

At the central office Dr. Katrina Haley (technology director) retired from the school system and Autumn Turner left. The new technology cirector is Josh Thaxton. Mike Mansfield was brought from principal at Hickory Creek to fill the slot Autumn had.   There are currently eight open positions at WC Schools, mostly teachers. Openings are posted on the WC Schools website under the HR section. All interested parties are encouraged to apply.

The construction project at West Elementary was completed during the 2020-21 year.  The big news on school construction projects is accessing federal grant funds to address continuing capital needs. There are three federal grant releases as follows:

Funding available: $1.6 million

Ending date: Sept. 30, 2022

Funding available: $8.3 million

Ending date: Sept. 30, 2023

Funding available: $18.7 million

Ending date: Sept. 30, 2024

WC Schools has been able to obtain $6 million from release 1 & 2 above to address a new roof at WCMS and five new classrooms plus an administration office at Eastside.  These are funds that avoid the need for Warren County to incur debt for the work that needs to be done.  

Even more important, Grant is targeting the third release program for covering capital needs over the next two academic years up to the maximum $18 million. This is outstanding news for Warren County and WC Schools. WC Schools does have a grant writer, Christie Allison. This is a time when grant success is highly significant.  

The investment in energy saving apparatus continues on plan across WC Schools. On a comparative basis, the energy cost savings are approximately 20% of 2018 expense. 

One new security initiative was putting window coverings on all windows of WC Schools so that no one can see in, but people inside can see out.  

Looking to 2022, there will be three School Board seats up for re-election – James Bennett, Helen Martin, and Sue Anderson. It is not known if the incumbents will run for re-election at this time.  

The other three School Board members are Bill Zechman, Tonya Bess, and Tommy Culwell. We all should congratulate this School Board for successfully helping WC Schools navigate through the recent COVID-19 affected academic year.  

One of the ambitions of the new 2021-22 academic year will be making up for any lost academic time from last year. The objective will be to get back to “on grade level.”  

Grant Swallows and the School Board have worked to develop a written five-year plan. With the new principals and central staff members in place, the 2021-22 academic year will be an opportunity to get re-established with continuing progress as the marching orders.   

BRAC congratulates Grant Swallows, his staff, and School Board for helping to get us past the pandemic. To paraphrase County Executive Jimmy Haley, it is now “Onward and upward!”