Pictured above, left to right, are Mary Persons seniors, Anokhi Patel, Terrance Henderson, Taylar Askey, Dylan Fountain. Below, Superintendent Dr. Mike Hickman, left, gets ready to give the State of Education address.

With the 2019-20 school year at its mid-point, Superintendent Dr. Mike Hickman gave his second annual State of Education address on Friday, Dec. 13. With the lure of a luncheon featuring roast beef prepared under the direction of Monroe County Schools Nutrition Director Lisa Singley and the venue of the Fine Arts Center lobby, the event was well-attended in spite of rainy weather. 

Local city and county officials, Monroe County Hospital, Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, the School System Central Office, Board of Education, Mary Persons seniors and their parents and Georgia House Representative Robert Dickey attended. 

“I can’t say enough about our administration in getting us where we are today,” said school board chair Nolen Howard. “One thing we have that a lot of schools would love to have is community support.”

Hickman said the board shortened its mission statement for the school system last year to “Learn, Grow, and Succeed.” He said this is the mission for not only students but staff and everyone associated with the schools. The school system’s vision is developing students with knowledge and skills to be successful. 

“Success means a lot of different things for different kids,” said Hickman. “If we learn everyday, we will grow and succeed. What success means to us is student performance.”

Hickman said he is proud Monroe County Schools have been ranked 9th academically among Georgia Public School systems, but the goal is to be 1st in the state. 

“Every [Monroe County] school improved in the past year, and all are far above the state averages,” said Hickman. “We are within five points of the highest in the state.”

He said that he is proud that test scores for all the county schools are almost the same, showing there is unity in the teaching and practices throughout the system. He said Monroe County Schools have more children dealing with poverty than any of the other school systems in the state’s top 10. Also all five schools received the maximum five stars in school climate ratings, which are derived from factors like safety and surveys of teachers and parents. 

Hickman said 54 percent of students in Monroe County Schools are below the poverty rate. He said there is a big gap between students from affluent families and students from impoverished families, with few being in the middle. Local funds provide 50 percent of the system’s $43 million budget, with state and federal funds providing the rest plus ESPLOST funding capital projects. 

The Monroe County School System is the largest employer in the county, with 675 employees; 320 of those are professionally certified. They are now serving 4,172 students, with two of those added last week. He said there is a lot of new housing being built in the county, and the schools plan to be ready if the long-anticipated population explosion comes to Monroe County.

Four members of the Mary Persons Class of 2020 spoke about their planned paths to success after graduation. Dylan Fountain is working for Head Heating & Air through Mary Persons Work Based Learning program, and plans to continue in the heating & air field full time after graduation. He has enjoyed being on Mary Persons soccer team.

Terrance Henderson has enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and is looking forward to being part of something bigger than himself. He said his high school counselor helped him connect with a military recruiter that offered him a career path. Anokhi Patel plans to attend college, having been accepted to University of Georgia and awaiting responses from other applications. She appreciated the leadership opportunities through clubs at Mary Persons and the engaging and entertaining classes provided by teachers like Mr. Magda as well as opportunities in fine arts. 

Taylar Askew is in the dual enrollment program with Mary Persons and Central Georgia Technical College studying dental hygiene. She appreciates the chance to get a feel for education outside the classroom, and she appreciates teachers like Bill Waldrep, Amy Myers and Mr. Magda who have taught her life skills as well as academic knowledge. 

“We are blessed with students with the drive to be successful,” said Hickman. He thanked the school principals for the school system’s success: “They are where the rubber meets the road every day. I’ve had this group with me since I became superintendent.”

Hickman said to get better Monroe County Schools are focusing on improving reading and math skills by 3rd grade with multi-tiered interventions to close achievement gaps between students. The community volunteers in the new Readers to Leaders project is helping the literacy initiative. The school system is also focusing on safety, from fencing to keyless locks and using the $30,000 grant from the state toward that end. He said there is a fine line between making a school safe and making it too much like a prison. 

Other concerns are teacher retention, graduation rates and financial efficiency. The graduation rate is above the state average at 86.6 percent, but it has stayed about the same for several years. Major capital improvement projects include the Ag-Science Center, which has just been completed, and renovations at Mary Persons, which began last summer and will continue in the summer of 2020. In the coming year Monroe County Middle School will add 14 classrooms and expand its cafeteria. The unusable buildings on the Hubbard campus will be demolished in the next few months.

Assistant Superintendent Jackson Daniel said the Fine Arts Center celebrated its 3rd anniversary on Dec. 12 and rarely sees a day when it is not used by either the school system or the community. Many impressive performers have been complimentary of the venue, and the Fine Arts Center was pleased to welcome the Ten Tenors back for their only show in Georgia on the evening of the State of Education address.