Students and teachers have had a difficult couple of years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the superintendents of Hall County Schools and Gainesville City Schools say there is a lot to look forward to when it comes to education in the new year.
Will Schofield, superintendent of Hall County Schools, said he believes many parents realized the importance of public schools during the height of the pandemic in 2020.
"There's an awful lot that goes on behind the scenes, that supports families in raising their children," Schofield said.
Schofield said one unprecedented development from the pandemic that could have a positive long-term impact on the school district came in the form of federal funding.
"In my 36 years in education, 22 as a superintendent, I've never had money printed at the federal level and dropped in the local coffers like we've seen over the last year," Schofield said. "I continue to tell anybody who will listen, we have an opportunity to build some future capacity and some future opportunities for schools, for school districts, for communities."
The Hall County School District is looking at potential career development opportunities for students using these federal funds. For example, Schofield said they are looking at training students for career pathways in agribusiness and large equipment operation.
Some of these pathways are already available to students in Hall County Schools, including healthcare science through the Ivester Health Care Scholars program.
"We recently just in the last two weeks had 26 students in high school sit for the CNA test who the hospital would like to hire tomorrow part-time as high school students to support the health care industry," Schofield.
The mental health of faculty, staff and students will remain another key focus of the Hall County School District in 2022.
"We're going to have to push resources toward awareness and towards skills. We're not therapists but there are a lot of things we can do, a lot of things that we can teach, that just have to do with skills for dealing with challenging times in life," Schofield said.
When it comes to the Gainesville City School System, Superintendent Jeremy Williams said they are hoping to get back into some routines and patterns that have been put off throughout the pandemic.
"For example, we will be looking at the budget when we return from the break," Williams said. "When you start to look at the cost of everything increasing, and what has not changed a whole lot are the salaries of our education employees ... we're hopeful that as we go into the budgeting season and the next school year that we're able to make adjustments for our certified staff."
Williams said one big focus for the school system in 2022 is the search for new principals for Fair Street International Academy and New Holland Leadership Academy. Fair Street Principal Gwenell Brown and New Holland Principal Bertha Shields have both announced they will be retiring.
"Between the two, we've got over 75 years combined in education that they've given our community, and our students and families," Williams said.
Perhaps the largest addition to the school system in 2022 comes in the form of a new middle school: Gainesville Middle School West Campus.
The new school is scheduled to open in August 2022 and will serve approximately 850 students. Gainesville Middle School East Campus will serve about 900 students.