Tattnall County School System Superintendent Gina Williams, Ed.D., is especially proud of the Board of Education's latest endeavor — the building of two new elementary schools in Tattnall County. South Tattnall Elementary School (STES) in Glennville at 102 Love's Chapel Road and North Tattnall Elementary School (NTES) between Reidsville and Collins opened this school year for the first time on August 1, 2022.
She was accompanied by Kristen Waters, Director of Curriculum and Instruction; Carla Waters, Assistant Superintendent; Glenn Stewart, Facilitator of Operations and School Support; and Sabrina Page, Tattnall County High School Work-Based Learning Coordinator.
"The late Senator Jack Hill was very instrumental in securing much of this funding for us. The total cost to build both schools is $46,080,300. Because of Senator Hill's push to rewrite certain legislation, we will receive $27,931,742 in state capital outlay funds for the buildings. He also obtained $3.5 million in additional funding for us, leaving only about $14, 649,000 to fund locally with bond money and SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) proceeds," Williams said.
"Originally, without his intervention, we were looking at building one school, and then 20 years later building the other elementary school. However, because we had three elementary schools, and consolidated these into two schools, we qualified for this funding," she added.
"We were also fortunate to secure the bonds at a good interest rate and to lock in the building costs before the recent inflation that has occurred. For the furniture for the schools, we were able to secure Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) money. Because of COVID and the need to separate from each other in the classrooms, our new desks are arranged in pods that can be separated for social distancing if this is needed in the future," Williams said. "We have a staff of 611 over our entire school system, including administrators, teachers, parapros, and central office staff, with our custodians excluded since they are contracted.”
Administrators at the schools are Christine Jenkins, PhD., of NTES; Donny Sikes of North Tattnall Middle School; Kristi Kaiser, PhD., of STES; David Tucker of South Tattnall Middle School (STMS); and Lakisha Bobbitt of Tattnall County High School (TCHS).
Student numbers for the 2022-2023 show 3,581 students plus 193 in PreK, for a total of 3,774. The numbers by schools are as follows: NTES-881 + 87 PreK; NTMS, 447; STES, 832 + 87 PreK; STMS, 387; and TCHS,1,034 +19 PreK.
Supt. Williams showed a PowerPoint that highlighted the various areas of the new schools, including the color coded hallways; the fenced outside areas with picnic tables for eating or an outside classroom; a state-of-the-art media center with two adjacent computer labs; conference rooms; a teachers' workroom at the end of each hall; an office at each school dedicated to the Sheriff's Dept.; front office/entrance security measures; and numerous safety features, such as a sprinkler system.
"We have nice, spacious, well-equipped music and art classrooms in each elementary school. When some systems were eliminating art and music, we are pleased to have retained ours in Tattnall," she said. "The cafeteria seats 450 students and has four serving lines. We have carts from which breakfasts are dispensed in the mornings. All breakfasts and lunches in all schools are free, since we are a county with a high poverty rate.”
The schools also have two PreK playgrounds within a fenced area, a first and second grade playground, and a third-fifth grade playground.
"The multi-purpose center, which also serves as a gym, has a stage that will be convenient for end-of-school award programs and other school events. Glenn Stewart is following up on completing a few 'punch list' items, along with our Director of Operations, James Brown," Williams said.
She commended Curriculum Director Kristen Waters on the securing of the L4GA Grant, which will bring $3.7 million over the next four years into the Tattnall County School System. The goal of this grant is to improve literacy outcomes across all age ranges within the district feeder system (early childhood, elementary, middle, and high school).
"This grant will provide Lending Libraries in the Housing Authority; provide books for the Christmas at Home bags and books to the Health Departments to give to children when they visit for vaccinations; the purchase of a new reading program (READ180) to help middle schoolers who are not reading on grade level; and several other literacy related projects," Waters said.
"Our District improvement goals are to provide more individualized and small group instruction, decrease the percentage of office referrals, and continue to employ and retain professionally trained teachers," Supt. Williams said.
Rotarian Joe Sikes of Canoochee EMC asked if electric buses were on the horizon for the school system. Williams commented "not at the present time," but that the State only allows the funding of one bus per school year, and the school system has been able to purchase 17 air-conditioned school buses through SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) funding. However, the cost of charging stations and the stretch of mileage for the schools in our rural area are other factors that will have to be considered in the future for electric buses. Canoochee EMC provides the electricity for both new elementary schools.
In closing, Williams reviewed the numerous security measures in place in the classrooms and the access to the emergency services and the sheriff's department if an incident should occur.