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New school year begins Thursday
Superintendent talks technology, safety upgrades
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A new buzz-in system was installed at all Dawson County schools over the summer 2018. It is one of the safety upgrades purchased from ESPLOST funds allocated by the board of education in April 2018. - photo by Jessica Taylor

The school year starts tomorrow and it’s an exciting year for Dawson County Schools.

Construction will begin on the new College and Career Academy after September 1, with an expected completion date of August 2019.

The third and final phase of the 1:1 initiative will be implemented at the high school, giving access to iPads to grades 10-12.

And safety upgrades that were discussed during a March 8 school safety workshop and approved by the board of education in April have been put in place to make Dawson County schools a safer environment for all.

 

1:1 implemented at DCHS

Phase three of the 1:1 technology initiative has begun at Dawson County High School, signifying that the last group of students in the county has received access to iPads in the school.

Rolling out the 1:1 initiative has been a long process spanning several years, but the final phase is now a reality. Last year, grades K-5 received access to iPads and the previous year the middle grades received access to the technological tools.

“In the past and traditionally in K-12 schools across our state, students have to be taken from a classroom to a computer lab one group at a time to get the type of experiences that our kids will be able to get every day, all day,” said Superintendent Damon Gibbs.

Giving students access to iPads has opened a world of opportunity for students, allowing for personalized learning and blended learning, both of which Gibbs said were driving forces into making the 1:1 a reality for Dawson County.

Gone are the days of choosing between teacher-focused instruction or student-driven instruction as now each classroom can blend the two for their own unique needs, focusing now on the “Four C’s:” collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking.

“What we’re seeing (students) do in classrooms is different than traditional students have done,” Gibbs said. “We’re seeing them produce material and share it with others and it’s not just about completing assignments, taking tests, getting test results in a traditional method, we’re actually seeing our students create.”

Since the initiative began two years ago, the students have been highly engaged with the iPads and have adapted quickly to the new technology.

With the availability of free or low cost education applications on the Apple platform, the uses of the iPads in the high school are limitless, and Gibbs is especially excited to see how the fine arts and the career, technical and agricultural education programs will implement the technology. Music programs are already using applications to teach students to play instruments via the tablets.  

“It’s going to open a realm of opportunities for our students that I think is beyond even what we know right now,” Gibbs said. “By the end of the year I think we’ll be able to tell some cool stories.”

 

Safety upgrades completed

A number of safety upgrades have been put in place this summer to make each Dawson County school campus a safer environment after a constructive school safety workshop March 8 initiated discussion on improved school safety measures.

The board of education approved several safety upgrades during an April board meeting that were funded in part by a $47,940 state grant for safety upgrades and an additional $400,000 from ESPLOST funds.

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The doors of Dawson County High School were mirror-tinted over the summer as one of the safety upgrades completed before the start of the new school year. All Dawson County school campuses had their doors mirror-tinted to allow those inside the buildings an extra measure of privacy. It was one of the suggested safety upgrades from the March 8 safety workshop that was approved by the board of education during the April board meeting. - photo by Jessica Taylor

Two additional school resource officers were hired earlier this year so that each campus now has a full time SRO in place. Also a new addition, Dawson County resident and former Dawson County Sheriff’s Office officer Tony Wooten was hired in the newly created position of Safe Schools Coordinator during the June 11 board meeting.

Wooten’s  role as Safe Schools Coordinator is to analyze the procedures the school system puts in place from a safety standpoint, such as continuing to upgrade and improve the emergency plans, monitoring traffic flow and initiating the new buzz-in system in place on all campuses.

Upon entering a school campus, visitors will now notice that the windows on the doors are now mirror-tinted to allow for more privacy inside the school as visitors speak with the front office staff through the new buzz-in system.

 “More than anything that’s to give the folks in the front office an opportunity to deal with that verbal and video piece of that buzz-in without somebody standing there staring at them, so that’s just a little privacy for the front office staff,” Gibbs said.

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Front office staff are able to call up the live video feed from the new buzz-in system located outside the main entrances of Dawson County school campuses. After guests have checked-in via the intercom, the front office staff will unlock the front door, allowing visitors to sign in at the front office. - photo by Jessica Taylor

Visitors will press an intercom button located next to the main entrance of each campus which will call up a live video feed and microphone so that the front office staff will be able to see and talk with the person wanting to enter the school. Once inside, visitors are directed to the front office and then are able to be buzzed in to the main area of the school for the purpose of their visit.

“The system is not meant for the responsibility to be put on the front office staff to vet 100 percent everybody that comes up and hits that button,” Gibbs said. “That’s not it. It does give them a visual to quickly assess that they are who they say they are and just kind of slows that process down enough to where if they felt uncomfortable with the person buzzing in they could call the resource officer.”

Current safety measures that are already in place such as the visitor’s check point at the high school, the sign in kiosks and limiting campus access points to one entrance remain in place.

“We want to maintain the feel of local schools, local community schools. We’re just trying to provide the safest environment that we can provide,” Gibbs said. “Our kids should not feel any difference in their school day based on what we’ve done.”

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