School system's professional learning department gets busy

COVINGTON - Samantha Fuhrey has had a busy year, and she's gearing up for more next year.

After serving as principal at Indian Creek Middle School at the beginning of the year, she made the move to the Newton County School System's central office in July to take over as the director of Professional Learning, which was once a part-time position.

Since then, she has worked to create a program for teachers and staff in the Newton County School System to encourage them to "make connections through professional learning" and development.

Fuhrey said her department provides school- and job-specific learning that is aimed at improving student achievement.

"We want to do this by retaining highly qualified, exemplary teachers and increasing the effectiveness of instructional techniques of all teachers in all classrooms and the effectiveness of all school leaders," she said in a presentation to the Newton County Board of Education during its November meeting.

Currently her department is focusing on student achievement in math, reading and language arts, aiding limited English proficiency students, and maintaining schools as safe and drug-free environments staffed by highly qualified teachers.

To do this, the department is offering a variety of professional learning opportunities, classes and leadership development programs and by enhancing the use of technology in schools.

Her department has created several groups of teacher leaders that meet on a regular basis to focus on certain areas of need.

One group is focusing on schools that did not make Adequate Yearly Progress and other schools that request help, while another group focuses on new teachers and staff. In other groups, teachers and administrators attend intensive training on an area and develop a plan for implementation and workshops to share with their schools.

Some teacher leaders are also visiting schools and meeting with principals and fellow teachers to identify best practices and learn from previous mistakes, Fuhrey said.

The teachers and staff who attend training sessions and take classes are encouraged to share what they've learned with other teachers at their schools - and other schools, if possible.

Already Fuhrey said hundreds of educators have attended workshops, classes and other training sessions and are working on professional development projects.

"We are pleased at the initiatives being taken for teachers, paraprofessionals and administrators," she said.

In the future, educators will sign up or continue taking classes in the district or at other locations and online, and the Professional Learning department also plans to create and send out a survey to gather information about school needs and the next steps needed in the area of professional development.

Michelle Floyd can be reached at michelle.floyd@newtoncitizen.com.