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THE YEAR AHEAD: Schools focused on student safety

Published 5:07pm Tuesday, January 14, 2014

At the beginning of 2013, Chilton County Schools Superintendent Dave Hayden listed the safety of students and faculty as one of his primary goals following the shooting that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in December 2012.

Local law enforcement and school system officials like Hayden worked together to review emergency plans and to increase campus security at every school in the county.

Although no widespread emergency situations arose last year, Hayden said safety is still his focus in 2014, on school campuses as well as school buses.

“All our students were kept safe,” Hayden said. “That’s obviously a big thing. We’re staying in touch with our law enforcement. All of our police departments and the sheriff’s department work well with us.”

Safety measures included locking all exterior doors at schools, increasing police presence on all campuses and requiring visitors to sign in at the front office of a school and to put on a nametag before proceeding to any other area of the school.

“Everybody’s more aware,” Hayden said. “They’re a lot more mindful of who comes on campus. I don’t feel like we neglected that to begin with, but we’re a lot more vigilant about that sort of thing, and we’re currently looking into more continuing education for our faculty and students and resource officers.

“What do you do when something bad happens? How do you react? We want to do more training in that regard and continue to be on top of things.”

Safety is also a priority on school buses in the county.

Chilton County has nearly 100 school bus routes that transport more than 5,000 students on about 100 buses to and from school each day that classes are in session.

“As always with the transportation department, the goal is 100 percent safety 100 percent of the time,” Hayden said. “We’ve been very fortunate.”

The Chilton County Board of Education acquired 14 new school buses this year to be phased into the routes and used as spares if older buses break down or an event such as an out-of-town football game requires additional buses.

“For my part, I just want to keep doing what we’re doing with our bus department,” Hayden said. “Every year, back as long as anybody can remember, they have outstanding inspection reports. As far as maintenance, safety and that sort of thing, they’re superior ratings.”

Continuing to improve students’ test scores and academic achievement are also goals Hayden has this year.

“As far as accomplishments go, we’ve had a good many kids get scholarships,” he said. “We’re always proud of kids that get academic scholarships, athletic (or) just anything that will help further their education.”

Hayden said he hopes local students will continue to take advantage of dual enrollment classes offered at Jefferson State Community College Chilton-Clanton Campus, as well as classes offered at The University of Alabama through a newer program called UA Early College, which allows students who are eligible for dual enrollment courses and who meet grade requirements to earn high school and college credit simultaneously.

“That’s still kind of in the process of being worked out, but we look for that to be just a big program for us,” Hayden said of UA Early College. “Of course, Jeff State works very well with us. We have a lot of students do dual enrollment there and graduate high school with as many as 20 hours in college credit.

“We certainly hope to continue that and increase it with the UA program, and there’s talk of other colleges doing the same type thing,” he said. “We’re excited about doing more for the students.”

As the Alabama High School Graduation Exam continues to be phased out, Hayden said standardized tests like ACT could become a more accurate indicator of where students rank among their peers across the country in math, reading and other subjects.

“I see that as being the next big thing,” Hayden said of ACT. “That’s more of a standardized [test] across the nation.”

In addition, a new type of ACT designed for younger students will be introduced gradually in local schools.

The assessment, called ACT Aspire, is the first digital, longitudinal assessment system to fully connect student performance from elementary grades through high school, according to ACT.org.

“I think it will (help) because if the first time you take a test it’s the one that really counts, you don’t really have any practice,” Hayden said. “Sometimes, preparing to take a test can be as important as actually having the knowledge to take the test. Knowing how to take a standardized test is obviously important. That’s going to be a part of our overall teaching.”

Regarding school construction projects, Hayden said completing reroofing projects started last year at Chilton County High School and Jemison High School are on his radar, along with smaller projects including greenhouses at schools in Jemison and Thorsby.

“(Let’s) keep doing what we’re doing—just do a little better,” Hayden said. “You always have room for improvement.”

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