‘Donuts With the Dawgs’ Informs Local Leaders
The Toombs County School System informed local leaders about the school system through an informative “Donuts with the Dawgs” event on Thursday, February 2. The program, titled with a nod to the system’s “Bulldog” mascot, featured breakfast, a short presentation, and a tour of the Toombs County High School Career, Technical, and Agricultural Education (CTAE) department.
“In today’s world, if you’re not telling people your story, other people are. So we just wanted to make sure that people in our community knew about Toombs County Schools and everything we have to offer,” Superintendent Barry Waller explained.
Waller updated those in attendance of the vision of “excellence for all” within the district and shared the school system’s mission to “believe in a child every day.” The district plans to accomplish this through a strategic plan which focuses on student achievement; climate, culture, and communication; staff learning and growth; and efficiency of operations.
According to Waller, 2,960 students are enrolled within the district’s 5 schools, which employ a total of 460 staff members. These schools have worked to maintain good reputations, as all schools have an active Beta Club. This makes the school system a Beta National District of Distinction, an award given to only 24 school systems nationwide. Two of the district’s schools, Lyons Upper Elementary and Toombs Central Elementary School, are also known for excellence, and have been named Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence Lighthouse Award schools.
“We are striving for excellence for all throughout our school system,” Waller remarked. “It is our goal to find out what success looks like for each child, and to do whatever necessary to help them achieve that.”
Waller presented several academic statistics of the school system and explained how these statistics compared to the 10-county RESA region in which the system is located.
Both Lyons Upper Elementary School and Toombs Central Elementary School are above the state level in their proficiency levels for reading and math. According to RESA, 70.8% of Toombs County 3rd Grade Students are on or above a 3rd grade reading level upon completion of the grade, which is 7% higher than the state average of 63.8%. Also, 40.3% of Toombs County 3rd graders are reported to demonstrate proficiency by receiving a 4 or 5 on the English Language Arts (ELA) milestones test, while the state average for proficiency on the ELA milestones is 36.4 %. Approximately 60.6% of Toombs County 3rd grade students are reported to demonstrate proficiency in math by scoring a 3 or 4 on the annual milestone testing, while the state average is 43%.
The graduation rate for Toombs County High School also is above the state average, and has been for at least three years. In 2020, the TCHS graduation rate was 95%, while the state rate was around 83.8 %. Since then, the graduation rate for the school has barely changed, as it was 94.4% in 2021 and 93.1% in 2022, but continues to be almost 10% higher than the state rate.
“We are very happy with our graduation rate; we wish it were 100%, but there are a lot of details that can make that difficult,” Waller remarked. “When students begin 9th grade, they become a part of their graduation year’s cohort. When students get behind or move, if they do not enter the same grade level at a school that is a ding to our record. We have a lot of migrant population students; so if they leave here and return to Mexico or Central America and do not enroll in a school, that also counts against us. [The distance from our graduation rate to a perfect graduation rate] is not just about students that drop out.” Opportunities in Middle and High School Another fact that Waller said made Toombs County Schools different from other schools is the many opportunities that students have to explore their interests and gain academic rigor throughout middle and high school.
At Toombs County Middle School students have the chance to take advanced academic and gifted classes, and may even earn a few high school credits in core classes prior to their freshman year. They have a wide variety of extracurricular activities and connection classes to choose from, where they may explore many interests, from agriculture to art and more. Students are also periodically given a “power hour” during the school day, where they may receive remediation in subject areas with which they are struggling, or they may complete more challenging work in the subjects in which they are excelling. Occasionally, Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM) exploration time is also implemented into the school year.
TCHS provides students with a variety of choices for pathways, as the school encourages students to complete at least one pathway during their high school experience. The school strives to help students prepare for the future, whether that is through advanced academic classes in preparation for college, or career education at both the school and the Southeastern Early College and Career Academy (SECCA) in preparation for entry into the workforce.
Waller said that pathways, such as the most recently added Heavy Equipment Pathway, are evidence of the school’s focus on the Toombs County Workforce as well as on local economical development. First class facilities and a variety of extracurricular activities also help students to broaden their horizons and learn more about their interests and talents through available resources.
During a question and answer portion of the presentation, Waller addressed the boundaries of the district and the process for students who are out of districts to join the school.
According to Waller, there is no definitive regional boundary that determines which students attend Toombs Central Elementary and which students attend Lyons Primary School or Lyons Upper Elementary. It is the decision of the student’s parents that determines which school the child attends; yet, if attendance becomes an issue, the student is encouraged to attend the school closest to home. Also, school bus routes within the city limits of Lyons do not run to Toombs Central Elementary School; thus, those dependent on bus transportation may decide which school to attend based on bus routes.
The Toombs County School District includes the entire county except the city limits of Vidalia, which is the Vidalia City School District. If a student from outside the district wishes to attend Toombs County Schools, the school system does not charge tuition, as most districts do, but rather evaluates the student’s academic, attendance, and behavioral records. If the student appears to be in good standing in these areas, they are accepted into the school system. “We welcome those from out of the district,” Waller commented. “If you’re a good student and want to attend our schools, we want you here.”
Th e attendees were then guided through a tour by TCHS Principal Marissa Morris and Assistant Principal Joey Montford, who showcased the TCHS CTAE department in an effort to explain all that the school may have to offer. Attendees were able to speak to instructors and students in a variety of classes, including work-based learning, engineering, art, agriculture, audio-visual arts, and food science.