Superintendent Booker’s Back-To-School Message
Aug 29, 2019 12:44PM
W. Jeffrey Booker
It’s back to school time in Gaston County! Bright and early last Monday morning, the buses rolled, the school bells rang, and more than 31,000 children (pre-kindergarten through high school) returned to our classrooms.
Leading up to the first day, schools conducted orientation programs for students and parents, employees were involved in meetings and professional development, teachers spent time preparing classrooms, and school personnel took care of last-minute details to ensure a smooth opening of school.
This year, Gaston County Schools has more than 1,900 classroom teachers at its 55 schools – about 90 of them are first-year teachers. The new teachers are participating in the district’s Teacher Induction Program for Success (TIPS), which is designed to ensure educators thrive in their new career.
Most notable for the 2019-2020 year is the introduction of our new Academy programs in six areas: Career, Collegiate Prep, Health Sciences, Leadership, Public Service, and Technology and Industrial Engineering. With the additional programs, we now offer a total of 19 school choice/magnet school options for students. It is important to know that all of our schools offer outstanding choices in academics, athletics, extracurricular activities, and other areas.
Safety remains a priority for Gaston County Schools. In addition to having a comprehensive safety plan, every school has a full-time police resource officer, buzz-in entrance and visitor check-in systems, and surveillance cameras. School administrators spent time this summer reviewing emergency reunification plans and conducting safety walks, and a number of schools received life safety updates (cameras, intercoms, and doors/entry access) and new fencing.
This summer, the Board of Education approved a new five-year strategic plan for Gaston County Schools. The plan outlines our guiding principles and highlights four priorities – College and Career Ready; Qualified Workforce; Innovation; and Healthy, Safe, and Responsible Schools. Our vision continues to focus on the overarching principle of “inspiring success and a lifetime of learning” in students and employees.
Improvements including gymnasium floors, media center renovations, fencing, roofing, parking lot and driveway paving, painting, and life safety updates were made this summer at various schools. Thanks to the school bonds that were approved last year, significant progress has been made on the construction of the new Belmont Middle School, and various renovation and repair projects are underway at 12 schools.
Thirteen new yellow buses have been added to our fleet to replace older ones. Over the past three years, Gaston County has received 58 new buses from the state. All 211 buses were inspected over the summer, and they are equipped with security cameras and a GPS (Global Positioning System) to ensure student and driver safety. With school buses back on the roads, we want to remind motorists to use extreme caution when approaching a school bus and to watch for children in school zones during the morning and afternoon hours.
Our meal prices remain the same as last year. The student lunch price is $2.70 for elementary schools and $2.80 for middle and high schools. Breakfast meals cost $1.20 for students. We are continuing to provide breakfast and lunch meals free-of-charge to all students at 19 schools. The free meals are made possible through a program sponsored by the USDA Food and Nutrition Service. Additionally, the “Breakfast after the Bell” program is available now at 13 schools, including all high schools, Belmont Middle, Chapel Grove Elementary, and North Belmont Elementary. The program provides another opportunity for students to eat breakfast, and it is ideal for students who are not able to eat before leaving home or arrive early enough to eat in the cafeteria before school.
Again this year, we are seeking caring adults to serve as school mentors. Mentors spend up to one hour per week at the school with a student, talking and offering encouragement, helping with homework, and providing positive support. Mentors complete a background check and one-hour training session, which are held at various times throughout the school year. Anyone interested in joining our mentoring program should call (704) 866-6329 for information.
As we head back to school in Gaston County, we invite parents to become active in their child’s school. There are many ways that parents can help, and we welcome parental involvement. We also encourage parents to get to know their child’s teachers and the school principal and contact them when a concern arises.
We encourage our community to stay connected with our schools by visiting the district website (www.gaston.k12.nc.us), following us on Twitter and Facebook, watching us on Spectrum Cable Channel 21 and YouTube, and downloading our free mobile app from the Google Play or Apple online stores.
The Board of Education joins me in extending best wishes to you for a productive school year filled with many exciting opportunities. Working together, we will continue our efforts to inspire success and a lifetime of learning in Gaston County Schools.
W. Jeffrey Booker, Ed.D., serves as the superintendent of Gaston County Schools.