Student safety remains the top priority for Wilkes County Schools as the 2019-20 academic year starts, said Wilkes School Superintendent Mark Byrd.

Classes began Aug. 13 at the Wilkes Early College High School to coincide with classes at Wilkes Community College and they start Monday in the other 22 Wilkes schools.

“We can never rest in terms of the work of keeping our students safe,” said Byrd.

He said additional school resource officers (SROs) have been a tremendous help and the focus remains on being proactive and taking preventative steps to make the schools as safe as possible. There are nine SROs in the Wilkes schools now.

Wilkes County government funded four new SRO positions starting last year to put one in each middle school. The four traditional high schools each already had one SRO. The N.C. Department of Public Instruction and county government funded a fifth new SRO position starting last year.

Byrd stressed “attention to detail” and being diligent in noticing students or adults who may be going through difficult times. He said parents can be a tremendous help by letting school officials know when they hear or see things that may be cause for concern.

“Keeping our students safe involves all of us working closely together,” Byrd stated.

He encouraged parents to feel comfortable contacting the schools with questions or concerns. “I would rather a parent call us and be reassured from a conversation than for them to worry about whether or not their child was safe.”

Byrd emphasized that social media often isn’t the most reliable source of information on school safety issues.

“If there was a chance that your child was in danger during the school day, you will be contacted by the school system and will not have to hear it from other sources. If you don’t hear from us, your child was not in any danger and we chose not to alarm you. Again, I assure you that you will hear from us if your child is in any danger at all.”

Byrd said he’s proud of having certified athletic trainers for school athletic teams through a partnership between the schools and Wake Forest Baptist Health Wilkes Medical Center.

“While this was a success in year one, we feel that it will continue to improve going forward. I hear from our coaches that the addition of athletic trainers has been a tremendous asset to our students and our coaches. This should be a source of pride for our entire county.”

Byrd cited the success of the Leader in Me program in Wilkes County middle schools and said this should again provide great opportunities in 2019-20.

He said it was exciting to have North Wilkes and West Wilkes middle schools be recognized among schools in the southeastern U.S. achieving “Lighthouse” status last year in the Leader in Me program, the positive impact of Leader in Me on students in all four middle schools was even more impressive.

“I truly believe the impact of Leader in Me will be felt in Wilkes County for a long time,” said Byrd.

Student opportunities in the Wilkes high schools continues to be an area of success, including a new apprenticeship program, he added.

“Our apprenticeship offerings continue to grow thanks to the hard work of our CTE (Career Technical Education) department and cooperation from local businesses. This could benefit the workforce of this county for many years,” Byrd stated.

“I am still impressed to hear of the number of college credits our students are earning in high school at little or no cost to them or their parents. I am hearing from students who are graduating from universities in three years due to the number of credits earned while attending our high schools. This is not only a tremendous financial savings for families, but also helps our students be better prepared for success with college coursework.”

Byrd referenced the large number of students graduating with degrees and certifications from Wilkes Community College while still attending a Wilkes high school. “I hope people in our county realize what a benefit the strong relationship between the school system and community college is for our students.”

He said expansion of standards-based grading and changes in report cards in Wilkes elementary will help parents better understand the progress of their children and identify where improvement is needed to be successful at the next grade level.

Revised English language arts (ELA) standards for grades K-12 were implemented in 2018-19 and will be the basis for tests starting this year. This means ELA/English scores won’t be available until after the school year ends. More information will be shared with parents regarding the late test scores.

The high schools have a new professional development process called AVID (Advancement via Individual Determination) to help teachers close the opportunity gap for students and prepare them for college, career and life. GearUP grants were used to train a team from each high school, with an emphasis on instructional practices that support content and specialty areas and how to meet needs of all students.

Wilkes Central High School and Wilkes Early College are pursuing full implementation this year, which means each has a class focused on empowering students to take ownership of learning and prepare them for the future. The other three high schools will have a modified AVID program.

This year’s focus of the school district’s Teaching and Learning Framework for administrators, teachers and other staff is transformation. The framework was first implemented in 2017-18.

“In simple terms, we want all adults employed in our system to reflect upon our work and how we can become better at what we do,” said Byrd.

“Whether the superintendent, a teacher, coach, custodian or child nutrition worker, our students deserve our very best every day and we should consistently look for ways to become better at what we do. We ask our students to give us their best every day and to grow academically, so we should all be striving to grow as educators as well.”

Byrd said that as usual, people and not programs are the main reason for excitement in the schools. He said there is a great group of new teachers this year, as well as two new principals, two principals new to their schools, two new assistant principals, two new directors and two central services members in new leadership roles.

“With the shortage of teachers that our state is experiencing, students and parents in Wilkes County should be excited about the quality of teachers that we have been able to recruit.” Hiring quality teachers is one of the most important aspects of our principals’ jobs and I could not be more pleased with their work this summer. Their efforts will pay dividends for the students of Wilkes County for many years.”

Byrd repeated the message he shared with students in the Wilkes County Schools this year, which was, “We are excited to have you back and look forward to great things from every one of you. We are going to give you our best each day and want you to do the same. Let’s work together to make 2019-2020 a great year for students and teachers in Wilkes County Schools!”

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