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Dr. Vickie Beard officially became the Giles County Director of Schools last week when her contract was unanimously approved by the Board of Education.

The contract has a four-year term that would expire May 31, 2024, if it is not renewed before that time. The contract can be renewed, but cannot be extended beyond a total of four years.

“I am humbled and honored to be chosen to serve our community in this capacity,” Beard said after the meeting. “I look forward to this opportunity and am excited to be able to continue with the projects we’ve begun.”

Under the contract, Beard will be paid $119,000 per year and her performance and salary is to be evaluated each year.

The contract generally spells out the relationship between the board and the director, stating: “The board, collectively, or individually, shall promptly refer to the director for study and recommendations all criticisms, complaints and suggestions called to their attention relative to the director of the school district. The director shall share with the board, wherever and whenever possible and as appropriate, criticisms, complaints and suggestions concerning the school district that come to the attention of the director.”

According to the contract, the director of schools must maintain primary residence in Giles County.

The board’s approval of Beard’s contract came at its May 7 board meeting. In a work session the week before, Beard provided the board with her evaluation of where the school district is, where she would like to see it go and how she wants it to get there.

Beard started her presentation with a quote from former University of Tennessee Women’s Basketball coach the late Pat Summitt: “Responsibility equals accountability equals ownership.”

A sense of ownership and trust will be the glue that holds the Giles County School District together, Beard said.

Looking at Giles County’s data and where it ranks in the South Central Region and in the state, Beard noted that despite some promising numbers she wants to see Giles County improve in many areas.

“We have to get out of some comfort zones,” she said. “Great things never came from comfort zones. We don’t grow when things are easy. We have to challenge ourselves and make sure we’re keeping up with our accountability.”

Beard presented a plan on how to get there that starts with high quality instructional materials and continues with a new student assessment system designed to give teachers and supervisors real time information.

First, she asked the board to consider an amendment for the current school budget to purchase textbooks for the upcoming school year. The budget amendment, which passed on first reading at the May 7 meeting, is for $460,000 and covers the purchase of ELA (English Language Arts) textbooks for all grades for the next six years.

“Up until this year we’ve never purchased textbooks before July 1,” Beard explained. “That could be the silver lining in this unfortunate pandemic that we’re in right now, is that we have some money left over because we haven’t been in school for the last few weeks.

“This would be getting [teachers] the high quality materials. It would also be getting them the professional development they need in the early summer,” she added. “It’s been often times that these books aren’t ordered until after July 1 with the new budget year. Sometimes they’re not even in the building until the middle of September. This would give them lots of opportunity to begin planning and becoming familiar with the new curriculum.”

In addition to curriculum and instruction, Beard said evaluating students is vital to the kind of growth she wants to see throughout Giles County schools.

With that in mind, she presented a plan to implement CASE Assessments throughout the school system at a cost of $70,000. Three Giles County schools have been piloting the CASE Assessment system.

The CASE system, Beard said, gives teachers and district supervisors real time data to allow teachers to reflect, refine and modify their instruction and enhance student achievement. She said the observation process is also more conducive to the teaching and learning environment.

Beard explained her goals for the school system, which included specific data driven goals and goals for the mindset of everyone in Giles County schools.

“We are not happy just meeting the benchmarks or just being right below the state,” she said of current data. “What we would like to see is that we increase our students who are on track or mastered by 4 percent in K-11. We would like to see our ACT data more in line with the comparable districts.”

She said she would like to see the school system continue to participate in the state’s Grow Your Own Initiative that helps local students interested in careers in education with the cost of their post-secondary education. Giles County currently has four people in the assistant administration academy, according to Beard.

Other goals the new director set in her presentation included:

• Getting school buildings renovated and upgraded as soon as possible.

• Establishing a virtual school.

• Increasing the district’s average ACT composite scores to 21.

• Encouraging and emphasizing a growth mindset.

“We don’t want our challenges and our failures to make it look like we’re a poor district,” Beard said. “We want it to be a spring board for how we’re going to grow and how we’re going to stretch from where we are.”

Beard added that in order to reach that mindset, the Giles County School District must, as Summitt said, not be afraid to make a mistake.

“We can’t be afraid of or hide our results,” Beard said. “We don’t need to shut our classroom doors for fear of revealing our weaknesses. We have to support, encourage, uplift each other. Talk, share, address our issues and get better. Just think of what we would attempt to do if we knew we couldn’t fail. We don’t grow when things are easy.”

Beard is a Giles County native from Minor Hill, who graduated from Giles County High School in 1986. She received her bachelor’s in English from Athens State University, her master’s in School Counseling from the University of North Alabama and her doctorate in School Leadership from East Tennessee State University.

Beard served her first four years in education as an English teacher in Marshall County. She began as an English teacher at Richland in 1998, also serving as the school counselor and assistant principal during her tenure at Richland. She was appointed principal of Minor Hill School in 2012 and was chosen to serve as acting director of schools for Giles County in June 2019.

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