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exposure to those with special needs, Goode has worked extensively as both a parent of an individual with special needs – having been a member of her son Reed’s individualized education plan (IEP) team since his 3rd birthday and a special education teacher – instructing in a variety of settings, such as self-contained, co-taught, resource, and reading intervention classes — to learn how to best serve the special needs community for over 25 years. Also, for 15 years, Goode served as a lead special education teacher at both the elementary and middle school levels, as she was responsible for calculating the full-time equivalent (FTE) instruction and reviewing IEPs.
“Although nothing compares to the life lessons that Reed has taught me, my experiences as a parent throughout the special education process has allowed me to gain valuable knowledge that I have taken with me as I became a special education teacher more than 20 years ago,” she emphasized. “[And out of all which I have been responsible for,] “None of those duties are as important as service as an advocate for all students.”
She continued, ““I am a firm believer in doing what is right. Special education is my passion, and even when no one is looking, and even if you stand alone, you should still stand for what is right. As a parent and mentor to beginning teachers, I have often offered the following words of wisdom: ‘When you are aware of wrong being done, but yet you choose to remain silent, then you are also contributing to the wrong being done.’” Goode said that because she was unable to speak directly about personnel issues, she would choose to offer several points about how leadership should act within the department.
“Parents, guardians, and caregivers should be welcomed as contributing participants and members of the IEP team instead of being viewed as an opponent, or seen as an opposing team,” she explained. “When teachers and leaders embrace the parents as valuable members of the IEP team, a sense of trust is built and better outcomes will exist for the students. Will IEP members always agree? Absolutely not. But when the foundation is strong and trust has been established, a consensus can more than likely be reached without the need for outside involvement.”
She also emphasized the importance of leaders within the special education department being active within the schools, and being contributing members of the IEP team and process, rather than only dealing with those within the department when problems arose. “Leaders within special education should provide an environment that welcomes, encourages, and embraces new ideas and questioning of the status quo or current procedures instead of those being frowned upon. Differences of opinion, thoughts, and beliefs should be seen as opportunities to evolve and grow, otherwise changes will never take place. Without change, you will continue to see the same results,” Goode remarked.
“In other words, don’t encourage a ride or die system,” she clarified. “Instead, students are deserving of the loyalty and should be the very ones being advocated for – not your leaders. If everyone is working towards the same goal of meeting the needs continued from page
of the students, there isn’t time for much else.”
Goode stated that from her perspective, some within the Special Education leadership roles in Montgomery County Schools had been blaming and faulting others for actions, rather than finding the source of the problem itself.
“Even if you are not in charge of personnel – even if you are not in charge of making this decision or that decision – should that be your response to all questions and problems presented to you? Instead, a simple ‘I will check on that,’ or ‘That is a good point,’ or even ‘I will get back to you,’ would be a far better response,” she remarked. “Just think: what if the same amount of time and effort were spent finding solutions and answers? What if the same amount of time and effort was spent being better than you were the day before? When you know better, you should do better. Being better should be the focus every single day. Your students have deserved nothing less.”
She referred to an unspecified special education class in the school system that had experienced excessive turnover – having had at least 2 teachers and 6-7 different paraprofessionals (not including substitutes) within the past 3 years. “How much more time will pass? How many more students will be affected before someone acknowledges that by continuing to replace teachers and parapros in that classroom without addressing the problem, the same results will continue to be yielded? When will someone decide to solve the problem by determining the common denominator?” she asked.
“Now that you are aware, when will one of your decide to stop being a silent active participant in the wrong that continues to be done? When will someone speak up for the students who are not able to advocate for themselves at this age or any age? For the sake of all the former teachers who have fought the good fight, withstood the blame, withstood the gossip, and experienced the abuse of power, don’t let their efforts be in vain. If just two changes in leaders are made to ensure the special education department not only meets the needs of the students – but those needs are being met in the least restrictive environment— then, I am sure those teachers would agree that it would have all been worth it,” Goode told the Board. “Now is the time to be a voice, now is the time to be an advocate, and now is the time to be the change for the students in Montgomery County that they need and deserve.”
She told the Board that she would leave them with a quote, which she had read from an unnamed Board Member’s Facebook page. The quote read, “Great employees quit because of the poor management and toxic environment – not because they can’t handle the work.”
“I can’t think of any truer words, and maybe with change, students would stop suffering and more good teachers would be retained,” she concluded.
Montgomery County Citizens and Vidalia Lions Club Members Charles and Linda Page also spoke to the Board during the meeting, as they shared their disappointment in the District’s decision not to utilize money donated from the local Club to purchase equipment for students.
On October 31, the Vidalia Lions Club – which includes members from both Montgomery and Treutlen Counties – presented Montgomery County Schools with a check for $8,800, which was intended to be used to purchase a Welsh Allyn Spot Vision Screener. This machine would allow Montgomery County students to have regular eye screenings, and help to detect any issues that may deter their academic growth.
The Club currently has an agreement set up with Walmart to provide eye exams and glasses to students in need at no cost; thus, once any issues were identified through the screenings at the school, the Club planned to ensure that those who needed glasses received them.
Yet, according to Charles Page, he was informed that the school did not want to buy the machine and planned to keep the money to buy glasses at the Club’s meeting on January 9.
“That was not the way that it was given to y’all in our contract. So, if you want the eye machine, that is fine; but if you don’t, we’ll take the money back because we have other places we can put that money,” he told the Board. “We gave y’all the money to buy an eye machine – it was discussed before we gave it to you, and you knew what it entailed.”
He emphasized that he would be elated for the school district to receive the machine, as he felt it would be an excellent resource for the students, and even referenced that Treutlen County Schools, who received an identical donation, had already purchased the machine and completed the necessary training to operate it. “If you have students that need glasses, we buy glasses and test [the students’ eyes] at Walmart. It does not cost the student any money,” he stressed. “This machine was to allow all students to be screened, so we may know better who to send there.”
His wife, Linda, followed his address, as she emphasized the impact that having the screening machine may have on a student.
“I was 21 years old when I found out that I needed glasses. I’m a high school dropout who got a doctorate degree – I was a straight A student when I quit school. I probably could have done better if I would have done better if I had my eyes tested, but there was no such thing available,” she remarked.
According to Page, she moved schools often throughout her childhood – even moving as much as 9 times in 9th grade. “A young teacher asked my mama on that 9th move to Washington County could she please come get my few clothes I had and let me live with her the rest of the year,” she recounted. “Of course, Mama wouldn’t let her, but there are kids in this school system and every school system that will move just like I did.”
She gave an example of this, as she said that many years ago, while serving as an instructional coach in Wilcox County, there was a student that moved regularly, just as she had. One day, Page was told by a respected and beloved coworker that the faculty had a betting pool on how long the student would stay within the district. “I was outraged,” she recounted. “I said, ‘How dare you? How do you think she’d feel if she knew y’all had that pool? I bet she offered and told her mama to move on and she’d pay the rent here.’ Now, y’all know that is not possible – the child cannot help when she has to go. I wanted to stay a lot of places and didn’t want to go where I went.”
She continued, “There are going to be children through this school that if that machine is here, it can test them when they come and before they go. We can possibly change their life.”
According to Page, the Vidalia Lions Club would also get the training on the machine, so that they could come help with screenings. “We will get the training. We told you – this is not on an individual. We will come and do mass trainings – you tell us when and where. But, what about me? What about the child with a different face from me but the same story?” she asked the Board.
Page concluded her address by thanking the Board members for their time, and asked for another small favor – to not hold meetings at the same time as the Montgomery County Commission, as had been recently occurring. “It is our right as citizens of this county and country to be at meetings. I do not think you are deliberately trying to keep us from coming, but we need you to remain aware of the meeting times,” she concluded.
During the Superintendent’s Report, Superintendent Stan Rentz informed the Board and the public that Montgomery County Middle School (MCMS) Student Taliyah Jackson had won the district spelling bee, and would be moving on to the region competition. Fellow MCMS Student Shaan Momin came in 2nd in the district competition.
Montgomery County High School (MCHS) Senior Rebecca Hong was announced to be the school’s STAR Student, after having the highest SAT score in her class. Hong chose MCHS Teacher Melissa Barrow as her STAR Teacher.
Rentz said the school system planned to announce their Class of 2024 Valedictorian and Salutatorian the week of the meeting, and on Friday, January 19, Rebecca Hong was named Valedictorian and Dev Patel was announced as Salutatorian.
The Board will recognize MCHS Sophomore Evan Hardeman at their next board meeting for earning a perfect score on the U.S. History Milestone standardized assessment.
Montgomery County Eagle Academy Teacher Leslie Thomas will present the school’s new math lab at the Georgia Association For Gifted Children Conference in March, according to Rentz.
He also shared that the Little Eagle Learning Center is at maximum capacity and continuing to run smoothly. Rentz informed the Board that the district has gained 2 sets of Virtual Reality headsets and 1 set of Occulus Headsets for the 8th Grade Georgia History classes.
Also, according to Rentz, 4th and 5th Grade students will be participating in a regional science fair on February 2, and Pre-K teachers will begin training for literacy instruction in February.
During the Action Items sector of the meeting, the Board approved its meeting dates for the year. Work sessions will occur on the following dates at 5 p.m. at the Montgomery County Board of Education: February 8, March 14, April 8, May 7, August 13, September 10, October 15, November 11, and December 9. Meetings will occur on the following dates at 6 p.m. at the same location: February 13, March 18, April 15, May 9, June 17, July 11, August 20, September 17, November 18, and December 16.
Several personnel options were also approved. Montgomery County Middle School Special Education Teacher Callie Higgs was released from her contract, while resignations were accepted for Athletic Director and Head Football Coach Don Vandygriff, 1st Grade Teacher Donna Wilcox, and Paraprofessional Sherri Wallace. Elizabeth Shannon, Peyton Spell, and Marie Shumans were all hired as substitutes.