PAGE One Magazine January 2021

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Educator Well-Being Amid the Pandemic ◆ Cultivating Calm Inside and Outside the Classroom ◆ Peaceful Pursuits ◆ An Emotional Journey

PLUS: Advocacy 2021 ♦ Georgia’s Legislative Process ♦ Scholarships & Grants Exclusively for PAGE Members

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Contents January 2021

Vol. 42 No. 2

Feature Educator Well-Being Amid the Pandemic

16  Cultivating Calm Inside & Outside the Classroom

23  How do you Cope? What Advice do you Have for other Educators?

24  An Emotional Journey: One Educator’s Story

27  Peaceful Pursuits

2  From The Executive Director: In This Issue 3  From The President: Stand in the Gap and Share Your Story 4 Task Force Develops PAGE Legislative Priorities 5 2021 PAGE Legislative Priorities

6 Spotlight on the General Assembly 11 PAGE Advocacy: Your PAGE legislative team is the eyes, ears, and influential voice of Georgia educators at the Capitol

28 Legal: Voicing Your Job-Related Concerns

12 How A Bill Becomes Law 14 Member Opportunity: 2021 PAGE Educator Grants

PAGE One Official Publication of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators Our core business is to provide professional learning for educators that will enhance professional competence and confidence, build leadership qualities and lead to higher academic achievement for students, while providing the best in membership, legal services and legislative support.

January 2021

26 Member Opportunity: 2021 PAGE Foundation Scholarships



Executive Director Craig Harper

President Larry Lebovitz

Production Coordinator Megan Willis

Executive Editor Ramona Mills

Publisher John Hanna

Graphic Designers LaTria Garnigan Dolly Purvis

Editor Cory Sekine-Pettite

Advertising/Sales Sherry Gasaway 770-650-1102, ext.145

Graphic Designer Jack Simonetta


In ThIs Issue Emotional well-being is essential to a healthy life – and especially critical during times of crisis. As the pandemic wears on, it upends so many of the activities and practices that help us maintain emotional, physical, and spiritual balance. This issue of PAGE One addresses the many ways you are taking care of yourself and others as we all learn new ways of doing work, connecting with students and peers, and finding ways to stay positive and hopeful. The culture and practice of education are based on relationships, demonstrations, face-to-face interaction, and reaction to the dynamics of learning moments. All of those foundational elements are hampered with social distancing, faces and expressions covered by masks, and virtual learning. On top of that, new ways of work take more time for planning and, for some, more time for instruction as they juggle in-person and virtual classes. In our feature story, educators from throughout Georgia describe how they cultivate calm inside and outside the classroom and the strategies they’ve developed to lessen the sense of isolation from students and peers.

new session of the General Assembly getting under way, you’ll learn more about how the legislative task force developed the PAGE priorities for this session, what the PAGE lobbying team has accomplished over the last few years, how the legislative process works, and how your voice matters on critical issues for educators and public education. And, in an example of how educator advocacy makes a positive difference for students, our PAGE president shares a story of success for a student who needed someone in his corner. Finally, we encourage you to apply for a 2021 PAGE scholarship or educator grant. These awards provide funds to assist with career advancement, professional development, and resources for you, your team, or your school. Check out the member opportunity pages for application details and insight from a few 2020 recipients as to how they’ve utilized these awards. Thanks for all you do every day to take care of yourself, each other, and your students.

One of the key coping strategies to battle stress, anxiety, and isolation is busying your mind and hands with something else. Renewed interest — or new interest — in hobbies provides comfort for many. In Peaceful Pursuits, educators share many of the creative ways they’re discovering to get through this difficult time. Craig Advocacy plays a role in making things better for you, for students, and for public education. In the legal column, you’ll find guidance on how to approach individual issues with workplace concerns. And, with a 2  PAGE ONE

Harper Executive Director

January 2021

From The President Stand in the Gap and Share Your Story The long-term relationships I built with my homeroom students were the highlight of my years as a high school teacher. Long before I had my own child, I thrived on being their “school mom” from freshman year to graduation. That experience was incredibly rewarding and joyful. One of those students who stayed with me all four years was especially dear to my heart. He struggled at school and at home. I constantly fussed and encouraged him, like teachers do with students who don’t grasp their potential. Despite demonstrating his capabilities and making progress in many areas, major setbacks always seemed to follow. His determination to persist through challenges motivated me to do my part to help him through it all. He loved soccer, and that kept him “in the game” for most of his high school years. I really wanted him to experience success and overcome his hardships. About two weeks before graduation, he got into trouble that rightfully resulted in serious consequences. Our administration took away his opportunity to walk at graduation. I was devastated. Although I knew consequences were necessary, depriving him of this significant life milestone seemed harsh. I went to work advocating for him with administration. Finally, I convinced them that he could face the consequences for his misbehavior through other means. He walked at graduation! Calling his name as he received his diploma was one of the most rewarding moments of my career. His face beamed as he made his way across that stage. This culmination of his journey, his struggles, and his successes made me incredibly proud because I had a small part in making that moment possible. I am not sharing this story to sing my praises but merely to encourage you to continue advocating for our students even when it’s hard. We make a difference when we step up and speak out for them. My student simply needed an advocate who knew how to find a path to a better outcome. He needed someone to stand in the gap when he didn’t know what to do. January 2021

We want every student to succeed and to prevent them from “falling through the cracks.” We need to empower students to tell their story and find the means to overcome barriers. Every student lives with his or her own set of challenges – whether poverty, home life, academic struggles, or behavior. Our challenge is to stay focused on advocating for every student to fulfill their potential. Advocacy comes in many forms. I know so many teachers who are shouldering the burdens for their students, especially due to the pandemic. We must continue to bridge the gap and advocate for them for equal access to resources, digital devices, internet connectivity, socialemotional supports, and so much more. Taking care of students’ needs should be our passion. Likewise, educators need someone to advocate for us. PAGE members know that our legislative team will represent us well this session of the General Assembly as they do throughout the year. The pandemic can’t stop PAGE’s strong efforts for Georgia’s teachers and students. Let’s help our PAGE team continue to carry the banner for our students and us by responding to surveys, attending local government forums, and talking with our local representatives and senators about the real issues we face every day. Many of us combining our voices and working together makes a real difference. We must tell our story. We can be proud of our journey and what we do for those we serve. Be heard, be seen, and stay safe!

Lindsey Martin PAGE President


Task Force Develops PAGE Legislative Priorities


ach fall, educators representing each of Georgia’s 14 congressional districts — in addition to the PAGE Board of Directors — convene to develop PAGE’s legislative priorities. Volunteer members of the PAGE Legislative Task Force serve two-year terms and work in a number of education roles in their respective communities. This group of policy and politically minded educators tracks the work of the Georgia General Assembly throughout the year and shapes PAGE advocacy efforts by communicating student and educator concerns to PAGE staff, who draft the annual legislative priorities. In 2020, the routine in-person Task Force meeting was disrupted by the pandemic, necessitating a two-part virtual meeting. PAGE legislative staff provided Task Force members with an update on the state legislature and emerging state-level education policy issues under the purview of the legislative branch. Task Force members broke into virtual small discussion groups to identify the top legislative issues impacting their school communities. Small groups reported these issues to the larger virtual


assembly, and PAGE’s legislative priorities began to take shape. These educator-identified issues became the 2021 PAGE Legislative Priorities, which before becoming final, were provided to the entire PAGE membership for feedback. [Draft priorities were e-mailed on Nov. 9, 2020 to all members who have opted-in to receive PAGE communications.] After membercomment closed, the priorities were finalized and distributed to many groups: PAGE members, state legislators, executive branch staff, state agencies, education partners, and state media. PAGE legislative staff identified independent research and survey data supporting the PAGE priorities, and the team uses this supporting information and the Task Force-developed 2021 Legislative Priorities to chart PAGE advocacy under the Gold Dome. The PAGE Legislative Task Force is essential to PAGE advocacy efforts. To inquire about serving on the PAGE Legislative Task Force, contact PAGE Legislative Affairs Specialist Josh Stephens at

January 2021

2021 PAGE Legislative Priorities Personalized Instruction Foster personalized instruction: •  Create learning conditions that support the essential relationship between students and educators. •  Invest in broadband and technology that facilitates learning in classrooms, at home, and other settings. •  Fund locally determined, targeted interventions that address pandemicrelated student learning loss. •  Ensure adequate support staff are available to serve students, allowing teachers to focus on teaching. Mental Health & School Climate Promote student and educator mental health: •  Increase funding to provide school counselors for all students. •  Enhance access to external mental health supports, including telecommunication and mobile counseling in rural and hard-to-staff districts and collaborations with state agencies and other service providers.

January 2021

•  Support the development of hubs in schools, which can coordinate and leverage community and state resources to meet students’ mental health, physical, and developmental needs. •  Ensure educator well-being by protecting planning time and duty-free lunches, and providing mental health supports. School Funding Invest in Georgia’s public school students and their future: •  Eliminate the $1 billion austerity cut implemented in the Fiscal Year 2021 budget. •  Do not expand Georgia’s two private school voucher programs or establish a third one. •  Institute transparency and accountability measures on Georgia’s $100 million tuition tax credit private school voucher program. Public Health Transparency Institute transparency for student and educator health: •  Ensure Georgia Department of Public Health transparency of COVID-19 reporting in schools.


Spotlight on the General Assembly

The 2021 General Assembly has begun. Legislators returned to the Gold Dome on Monday, Jan. 11.


very legislative session is unpredictable, and the upcoming one is especially so given the pandemic and economic downturn. How lawmakers carry out their committee work is uncertain as are the specific issues that will emerge as priorities. Budget cuts, responses to the COVID19 virus, private school vouchers, and


teacher evaluation will likely be among the issues they debate. •  Budget Cuts. $1 billion was cut from Georgia’s public schools in the state’s Fiscal Year 2021 budget the result of a 10 percent decrease to the K-12 funding formula, the Quality Basic Education formula. Most other educa-

tion programs are coping with a 10 percent drop in state funds. While their size is uncertain, these cuts will likely continue in the 2022 state budget. They worsen the financial strain districts face with rising costs due to the pandemic and persistent shortfalls in state funding for student transportation, school counselors, and sparsity grants.

January 2021

Another financial challenge districts may face is lower state funding due to declining enrollment. Enrollment in public schools across the state slipped about 2 percent since the 2019-2020 school year with the largest slides in kindergarten and other elementary grades. This is an unusually large decline, suggesting that families, concerned about virtual instruction for younger students, may have opted to delay kindergarten or temporarily homeschool or enroll in private schools. As enrollment this year helps determine state funding next year, schools could see state dollars fall in the 2021-2022 school year even if enrollment rebounds as expected. Lawmakers could use a temporary “hold harmless” approach to the state’s education budget, which would keep funding at the current level and minimize disruption. •  Responding to COVID-19. The pandemic has harmed student learning and increased districts’ costs. Students must have opportunities and resources to recover learning losses, to address mental health concerns, and to continue progressing academically. Districts are coping with unexpected health and safety costs. They must be able to provide reliable devices to all students and training to school staff so that educators can deliver engaging instruction in face-to-face, virtual, and hybrid school settings. Affordable broadband is also essential for every student and educator across all of Georgia’s communities. •  Private School Vouchers. Almost every year, voucher proponents in the legislature push to expand the state’s two existing private school voucher programs or create a third one. The existing programs lack accountability and have meager transparency. Expanding vouchers, especially when public schools are coping with a $1 billion cut and escalating costs, is an unwise use of limited state dollars. •  Teacher Evaluation. Interest in reviewing how teachers are evaluated has emerged among some policymakers. This interest reflects concern that current practices neither fully match educators’ diver-

January 2021

gent needs nor open opportunities as they gain experience and build expertise. The PAGE legislative team will follow these and all education-related issues throughout the session – advocating every day for policies that support Georgia educators and the students they serve.

PAGE at the Gold Dome

The PAGE legislative team actively engages lawmakers throughout each session on an array of issues that affect educators and students. Consistent focus areas include school funding, teacher evaluation, assessment and accountability, the Teachers Retirement System, and preventing the expansion of private school vouchers. The team highlights specific issues within these areas and, with guidance from the PAGE Legislative Task Force as well as emerging information about political opportunities and challenges, adds to them as needed. The team often works collaboratively with other education groups including the Georgia School Boards Association, the Georgia Association of Educational Leaders, the Georgia School Superintendents Association, and others to advance public education in Georgia.

Margaret Ciccarelli (right) Director of Legislative Services Josh Stephens (center) Legislative Affairs Specialist Claire Suggs (left) Senior Education Policy Analyst

On the following page, we've highlighted PAGE legislative priorities, actions, and results for the last three sessions of the Georgia General Assembly.


2018 PAGE Legislative Priorities

2019 PAGE Legislative Priorities

2020 PAGE Legislative Priorities

•  Education Budget

•  School Safety and Security

•  Assessment and Accountability

°  Raise educator salaries °  Add student poverty weight to the K-12 funding formula °  Fund struggling schools •  Teacher Pipeline °  Strengthen the state’s teacher mentor program °  Expand the teacher pipeline by increasing funding for the Teacher Career Pathway offered in high school •  Student Assessment & School Accountability °  Oppose increases in statemandated testing °  Promote comprehensive accountability systems that incorporate multiple measures of student progress

°  Increase resources in school safety infrastructure °  Invest in mental health supports and wraparound services •  Teacher Pipeline °  Invest in teacher recruitment, retention, and retirement •  Quality Basic Education Funding Formula Update °  Conduct cost study to determine needed funding level °  Modernize 35-year-old funding formula •  Assessment °  Examine current assessment practices °  Implement assessment systems that incorporate flexibility and enhance accountability to local communities.

•  Successfully advocated for passage of Senate Bill 362, which established a pilot to examine assessments that could serve as alternatives to state assessments •  Stopped creation of a third private school voucher program in Georgia

°  Eliminate A-F grading of schools °  Ensure teacher and leader evaluation system provides constructive support •  Mental Health & School Climate °  Fund school counselors, social workers, and psychologists at recommended levels °  Invest in mental health training for educators °  Enhance access to external mental health supports •  Preserve Teachers Retirement System °  Maintain funding for TRS °  Require comprehensive costbenefit analysis of all proposals to modify TRS •  Private School Vouchers

2018 PAGE Legislative Highlights •  Successfully promoted the elimination of the 16-year cut to the K-12 funding formula

°  Reduce standardized tests

2019 PAGE Legislative Highlights •  Successfully promoted passage of a $3,000 pay raise for certified educators, and a pay raise for other school staff members. •  Stopped approval of two bills that aimed to create a third private school voucher program in Georgia •  Supported approval of school bus safety enhancement bill

°  Oppose expansion of existing private school voucher programs and creation of a new one °  Strengthen inadequate accountability and transparency requirements for Georgia’s two existing voucher programs. 2020 PAGE Legislative Highlights •  Successfully advocated for passage of Senate Bill 367, which eliminates five state-mandated standardized tests •  Prevented expansion of one of Georgia’s two existing private school voucher programs •  Deterred efforts to alter TRS, which is vital to teacher retention  n


January 2021



Georgia educators need information about education-related issues before the Georgia General Assembly. The PAGE legislative team connects you. To better inform PAGE members about education-related news at the state Capitol and to connect Georgia educators with state policymakers, the PAGE Legislative Department plans a series of webinars focused on education issues Georgia legislators are considering. Please join us for the following:

State Education Budget Overview Webinar When: During the second or third week of the 2021 legislative session, after publication of the initial version of the state education budget What: Discussion of funding for Georgia’s Quality Basic Education school funding system, including teacher salaries. Review of Teachers Retirement System funding and other important education budget items

Virtual PAGE Day on the Hill 2021 When: Tuesday, Feb. 16 What: Information sessions on pressing education issues under the Gold Dome, guest speakers including state policymakers, and virtual advocacy opportunities for PAGE members

Proposed Private School Voucher Expansion Webinar When: To be announced during the 2021 legislative session What: An exploration of proposed private school voucher expansion in Georgia, PAGE member virtual advocacy opportunities Watch the email address associated with your PAGE membership for Day on the Hill and webinar registration details. To ensure you’re signed up to receive PAGE legislative reports and invitations to Day on the Hill and other virtual legislative events,, click on the legislative tab, and register to receive the PAGE Capitol Report.

 PAGE ADVOCACY Your PAGE legislative team is the eyes, ears, and influential voice of Georgia educators at the Capitol. The PAGE legislative team develops, communicates, and advocates for policies that support Georgia educators and enables them to thrive professionally. The team’s core focus is on state policy, but it also works on federal issues. The team’s most visible work happens during the legislative session, but it advocates on behalf of PAGE members year-round. Policy Development. The team collaborates with the PAGE Legislative Task Force and draws on the annual legislative survey to identify the policy areas most critical to members. It supplements these resources with information from lawmakers, state agency staff, education advocates, and other stakeholders. Communication. Sharing information with PAGE members and other stakeholders is a core part of the legislative team’s work. Key communications produced by the team include daily legislative reports, research reports, and legislative bill analyses. January 2021

Advocacy. During each session of the Georgia General Assembly, the legislative team is the eyes, ears, and influential voice of Georgia educators at the state Capitol. The team meets with lawmakers year-round to highlight the issues most important to PAGE members. During the legislative session, team members are at the Capitol every day — monitoring and analyzing all education-related legislation, meeting with legislators, attending and often presenting at committee meetings, and promoting beneficial legislation while working to stop harmful bills. The team also organizes Day on Capitol Hill each year to ensure that lawmakers hear directly from PAGE members about their concerns and hopes for education in Georgia. The following pages depict the process for how a bill becomes law.  PAGE ONE  11



Legislator drafts a bill.

 

Legislator files bill with Clerk of House or Secretary of Senate.

Bill assigned to committee.

VOTE Bill goes to full chamber for consideration.




Bill goes to Rules Committee.

Commitee hears testimony from the bill’s author as well as proponents and opponents.






    

Download the 11x17 poster at 12  PAGE ONE

 




Originating chamber considers bill.





Conference Committee works out differences

 


January 2021





Commitee hears testimony from the bill’s author as well as proponents and opponents.

Bill assigned to committee.


Bill goes to Rules Committee.

Bill goes to full chamber for consideration.


Bill moves to other chamber.

 








Both Chambers Consider Conference Committee Bill.

Crossover Day is the last day that a bill can be passed in one chamber and sent to the next chamber. Bills that do not receive a floor vote by Crossover Day are not eligible to pass during the current legislative session unless added to another bill.



January 2021

Bills can be revised at multiple points in the legislative process: committee meetings, floor debate, and conference committee. PAGE ONE  13

Member Opportunity: 2021 PAGE Educator Grants Would $500 make a positive difference to you and your students? If so, apply today for a 2021 PAGE educator grant for resources to support your work. In the words of a few of our 2020 winners: “These are going to be a game-changer! Some of the products can be used to facilitate a sensory integrated classroom.” Marti Yelverton Dougherty County School System

“Thank you so much PAGE for the great resources! I’m so excited for my kids to dive into these incredible works of literature!” Bronson Stinnett Pierce County Schools

“I’m definitely more prepared for distance learning for the upcoming school year thanks to my PAGE grant! I used my grant to purchase a large whiteboard, document camera, ring light, and math manipulatives.” Katie Farrar Rome City School District

Applications available through January 31. Visit for full details and application information. 14  PAGE ONE

January 2021

Educator Well-Being Amid the Pandemic

Cultivating Calm Inside & Outside the Classroom By Scotty Brewington


his school year has brought new challenges to the classroom with schools across the state, split among inperson, hybrid, and all-virtual learning options. For students, it has been an unprecedented year. And for teachers, the work-life balance has never been tougher. In addition to the stress of mastering new technologies, hours are longer, isolation from family and friends continues, and anxi-

ety levels are high. Teachers everywhere share universal concerns about when school (and life) will ever return to “normal.” How are Georgia teachers managing their stress both inside and outside the classroom? How are they safeguarding their emotional health while navigating education during this most unusual time? We talked with educators throughout the state and asked them about their strategies.

Caroline Suggs

Kindergarten Teacher, Youth Elementary School, Walton County School District


uggs’ school, which has been back in-person since Aug. 1, has “Sometimes it feels like many safety precautions in place, but you’re walking underwater. ensuring that kindergartners follow the rules – properly wearing and You’re going through the handling masks, not sharing supplies, motions, but everything takes etc. – adds another level of complexity to the school day. more effort and more time.” “It also takes more intentional effort to build relationships, especially with younger children, handmade medals to the veterans in their because so much of it is in facial expressions. families at home and then shared their photos That smile you give your students when you with the school community. come to class – sometimes that’s harder to get “So much has changed, but the things that across,” said Suggs, a 17-year teaching veteran are really important have stayed the same,” who has been at Youth Elementary said Suggs. “Veteran’s Day is very close to my for seven years. “I make it a point heart. I remember when I was in elemenduring the day to move my students tary school we had a similar program at our to the back of the classroom so I can school. I have so many great memories about sit up front, take off my mask, and it.” read to them so they can see my face.” It was at one of these programs that Suggs Educators at Youth Elementary was able to honor and recognize her own were determined not to let a pangrandfather, also a veteran. She didn’t realize demic ruin their annual Veterans Day how important it was to him until after his Program. Since 2014, faculty, staff, death when she and her siblings found the and students at the school have come medals they had made him displayed alongtogether each November to honor its side those he had earned and received during veterans. Though the program looked his time in the military. different in 2020, the community was “This was the seventh year of our program still able to celebrate its heroes. here, and we just couldn’t not do it. It looked Fifth grade students worked different, but it felt normal,” Suggs said. within their “pods” to record vocal “Everyone is craving a sense of normalcy – a performances that were shared on sense of connection and belonging. Finding the school’s social media accounts. these touchstone moments, now more than Students presented certificates and ever, is why we do what we do.” 16  PAGE ONE

January 2021

Tameaka McKinney

STEAM Lead of Innovations and Special Projects, Clayton County Public Schools


n Clayton County, social and emotional learning (SEL) has been a focus for some time and has been especially important this school year in ensuring teachers’ well-being is always at the forefront. “We start all of our meetings with SEL check-ins and recommend that teachers start every lesson with students with one as well,” said Tameaka McKinney, the district’s STEAM Lead of Innovation and Special Projects. “We ask everyone how they are maintaining and talk about the challenges with virtual.” In the STEM and science departments, teachers and administrators have stepped-up to collaborate and offer extra support. At the district level, McKinney and her team have created STEM and science “chats” every other Tuesday where teachers can join online to ask questions, make suggestions, and share concerns in an informal setting. One of the biggest challenges in the virtual environment is that some teachers are more tech savvy than others. The upside, McKinney said, is that those who were challenged by technology in the past are catching up fast. Another benefit to being virtual is that students are also practicing new skills. Primarily, they’re learning to type. “We used to have typing classes, but now that everything is virtual, it’s forcing students to type more, which is increasing their abilities,” McKinney said. Personally, it has been a whirlwind school year for McKinney. Her very first day in her role with the district was March 13, 2020 – the first day of the shutdown. In addition to having to learn the ropes of her new job virtually, McKinney also

"The mental health of staff and teachers is the most important thing. If we’re not healthy, we’re not doing our students any good.”

January 2021

has three sons at home attending school virtually in Henry County. McKinney’s advice to teachers struggling this year: Support each other. “I love to tell people that sharing your wealth of knowledge doesn’t cost you anything,” she said. “Find your group or find yourself a strong mentor – someone familiar with the world of remote learning and virtual instruction – and get as much information from them as you possibly can. Also, self-care is so important. Pull back, unplug, and take a moment for yourself. The mental health of our staff and teachers is the most important thing. If we’re not healthy, we’re not doing our students any good.”


George Greene

Principal, DeKalb School of the Arts, DeKalb County School District


eing completely virtual has brought unique challenges to DeKalb School of the Arts. But, as they say, the show must go on. “We’re trying to balance the expectations of what we do at school and what is going on in our students’ lives,” said Principal George Greene. “It has been a challenge to adjust expectations and prioritize what we teach and how we assess what students can produce in a virtual environment.” Teaching virtually can be especially stressful for teachers, requiring more planning and extra hours at work. This makes it more

“You have to be able to walk away from it. You have to schedule your free time because answering parent e-mails and checking-in on teachers – it all takes time. What are you doing to care for yourself?”


important than ever for self-care and downtime, Greene said. “I meet with our teachers every morning, and we start with a reflection. I ask them, ‘what have you done to check-in on your students’ social emotional needs; what have you done to plan; and what are you doing to care for yourself,’” Greene said. “We have to take care of people first and make them feel safe and comfortable.” On Mondays, there’s a motivational meeting with teachers on Microsoft Teams. Meetings begin with an inspiring quote and exercise that teachers can do from home. Sometimes it’s five minutes of yoga or a quick mindfulness exercise. On Fridays, there’s an online dance party. “I play music, and everyone gets up and dances for the first 15 minutes. Then, we talk about what is going on at school, share feedback, and recognize those who have really gone above and beyond that week,” said Greene. “It’s a good time. We’re a performing arts school, so it’s definitely their vibe.” Greene said one of the biggest challenges to being virtual is building a sense of community with students new to the school. He hopes the school’s strong club presence – there are more than 40 clubs for a school of only 400 students – can help fill that gap by meeting online and making students feel they are connected and part of the school community. There are also personal challenges. Greene has two sons who are also learning virtually. To further complicate things, a teacher was recently out on leave and Greene, who taught for 10 years before becoming a principal, had to fill in and teach world literature for several weeks. “I have to schedule an hour a day where I close the computer and go for a walk,” Greene said. “You have to be able to walk away from it. You have to schedule your free time. Be honest with yourself, your students, and your families. This is not normal. I think I say that every morning.”

January 2021

Mary Ellen Pierce

First Grade Teacher, Westwood Elementary School, Dalton Public Schools


ary Ellen Pierce has taught for 25 years – 24 of those on the same elementary school hallway at Westwood Elementary School – but she’s never seen a school year like this. “We’ve had four first days of school this year,” Pierce said. “The first group of hybrid students came the first day, then the second group came the second day. Then, we had another first day when all of the hybrid students were face-toface together.” Though starting over is hard, Pierce said it has been exciting to see her students welcome each other to class. No one is as excited to be back as she is. “I’m alive when I’m with them. I was so glad to be back,” she said. In Pierce’s classroom, everyone wears a mask, and students stay with her all day. “I thought that was going to be a challenge with no peace for lunch or anything, but I sit here and eat my lunch and they eat their lunch and we talk. It’s actually been nice,” said Pierce. “Yes, there are challenges, but they don’t outweigh the good. I’m so glad kids are back at school and learning, and the parents are also glad.” Pierce said that because teachers spend most of their time in their own rooms, it’s more difficult to socialize with each other. Thankfully, her grade level colleagues and school administrators have been there for support. “We never really leave the room, so except for my grade level, we don’t see other teachers very much. I’ve been here so long that some of my best friends are on the other side of the building, which is hard, but in our group, we have laughed and cried together,” Pierce said. At home, Pierce said she has had to isolate from her parents. She looks forward to when she can go back to volunteering with a local women’s recovery program, where she visits once a month to play games and share pizza with the residents. Encouraging others comes natural to Pierce. “Get out and look for those who are struggling. When you see someone falling apart,

January 2021

send them a text or put a sweet note in their box,” she said. “We have a star on top of a small mountain here that’s normally lit during the Christmas season. It has been lit since all of the COVID stuff began. It’s a symbol of hope for our community. I see it every morning as I get to Westwood. It always makes me smile and remember that this too shall pass.”

“Yes, there are challenges, but they don’t outweigh the good. I’m so glad kids are back at school and learning, and the parents are also glad.”


Dr. John David Leaver

English/Language Arts Teacher, The Bradwell Institute, Liberty County School District


iberty County School District in Hinesville, Georgia, opened virtually in early August. Just three weeks later, schools had moved to a hybrid model with roughly 30 percent of students returning face-to-face. Today, at the Bradwell Institute – one of two county high schools – there are signs in the hallways to manage one-way traffic flow, daily temperature checks, and mask-wearing is strongly encouraged.

But the challenge of teaching both virtually and in-person simultaneously remains the biggest stressor for many teachers. “I have students both virtual and face-toface,” said Dr. John David Leaver, an English/ Language Arts teacher at the Bradwell Institute. “It’s like you’re trying to juggle and play soccer at the same time. Motivating and keeping in touch with virtual students while doing the traditional thing in person requires totally different skill sets. It’s a big challenge.” A veteran teacher with 25 years of experience, Dr. Leaver says that finding a work-life balance is critical in a year like this one. “I walk away at the end of the day. Maybe that is the advantage of experience,” said Leaver. “It is very easy to get engaged in things you can’t do anything about. I think if you have stayed in the profession over the past 10 years, you have arrived at the conclusion that you must take time for yourself.” To ease stress and anxiety, Dr. Leaver has offered his students more flexibility and grace this school year – extending deadlines and providing extra support. He uses his planning period and lunch to reach out to his virtual students. Dr. Leaver’s advice for teachers struggling with the challenges of the pandemic is to ask for help when you need it. “Talk to your colleagues and try to build on solidarity because we’re all in this together,” he said. “Talk to people and ask for help. The bottom line is that teachers look out for other teachers. That’s how we keep people in the profession. No one can do this alone. We truly are all in this together.”

“It’s like you’re trying to juggle and play soccer at the same time. Motivating and keeping in touch with virtual students while doing the traditional thing in person requires totally different skill sets. It’s a big challenge.”


January 2021

Dr. Nicole Dahlberg

EIP/ESOL Teacher, Hasty Elementary School Fine Arts Academy, Cherokee County School District


s an EIP/ESOL teacher, Dr. Nicole Dahlberg provides support to students in kindergarten through third grade. Schools in the county are mostly face-to-face, though there are still some virtual students. Dahlberg supports both. “This school year, there has been some stress. There are a lot more things teachers have to do. As we switch groups, there is added cleaning and sanitizing,” she said. “You have to make sure that you always have enough materials for students when they’re working individually so that they have what they need and are not sharing materials.” Dahlberg encourages her students by giving them pep talks and holding daily morning meetings, checking-in with students to discuss various SEL topics. Though she had some concerns about returning to the classroom, Dahlberg said administrators made her feel at ease. At home, to decompress and take her mind off daily stressors, Dahlberg has been sewing. Her specialties are quilts and masks. “Sixteen years ago, I learned to quilt from my aunt. With everything going on and being stuck in the house, I needed something to do to escape, and I had plenty of projects that I had started over the years,” she said. “I also tried different patterns for masks. I thought if we were going back to school and wearing masks, I was going to have fun with it.” To date, Dahlberg has made over 575 masks in all kinds of themes from school spirit to fall designs. She’s made them for her daughters, husband, and many of the teachers at her school. Currently, she’s working on a Christmas collection. “There is something about sewing. When I sit down to make a quilt, I’m able to focus on the task at hand. You have to focus so that you don’t make a mistake. Everything else just goes away. It’s calming to me,” Dahlberg said. “One of the things I would like to continue after the pandemic is keeping the focus on my family and myself. During this time, we’ve really had time to come together as a family and gotten to know each other again.”

January 2021

“One of the things I would like to continue after the pandemic is keeping the focus on my family and myself. During this time, we’ve really had time to come together as a family and gotten to know each other again.”


Alishia Gaston

American Government Teacher, Lowndes High School, Lowndes County Schools

“If you focus on the negative, it will take a toll on your mental health. Even in the midst of all of this, there’s a reason you chose teaching as a profession. Remember your ‘why’, and that will carry you through the challenges.”


lishia Gaston has taught middle and high school for 21 years, but after a year like this one, sometimes it still feels like her first year in the classroom. In Lowndes County, some educators teach virtual students while others are solely face-toface instructors. Gaston chose to teach face-toface since the first day of school. Even though she was unsure about how the classroom expe-


rience would look this year, she knew it was where she belonged. “I tell my students – bloom where you’re planted,” she said. “I knew I wasn’t going to stop teaching. I knew teachers are always the unsung heroes. I made a decision to go back, mask up, and wipe down every single desk after every class period.” Gaston said at first, her new routine made her feel like the school day lasted 15 hours. Now, it’s just part of her regular day. “It’s just something you have to do. The kids wait outside until I sanitize the classroom. It has been overwhelming, but not as bad as I thought it would be. I’m grateful for that,” Gaston said. Gaston said she has been touched personally by the pandemic, having lost several family members, friends, and even a sorority sister. Outside of school, she has limited social interactions. She leans on her strong faith, starting each day with a prayer and daily devotional. She also reads a lot of inspirational material. “If you focus on the negative, it will take a toll on your mental health,” said Gaston. Gaston’s back porch was recently damaged in a storm. Fixing it up so that she could sit outside became a priority. Now that it’s fixed, she finds her time outside calming and relaxing. During quarantine, Gaston said she also started cooking, trying out some of her grandmother’s recipes, and even trying her hand at crafting. Gaston also made some changes to her classroom. “I wanted my classroom to feel comfortable and peaceful, so I changed it to earthy tones and posted inspirational quotes around the room,” she said. “I wanted my students to know, ‘I’ve got you. I know things are different and stressful, but we’re going to make it through.’” Gaston’s advice for fellow teachers this year is simple: Remember your “why.” “Even in the midst of all of this, there’s a reason you chose teaching as a profession,” Gaston said. “There can always be something that comes up and disrupts the normalcy. Remember your ‘why’ and that will carry you through the challenges.”  n

January 2021

Educator Well-Being Amid the Pandemic

How do you Cope? What Advice do you Have for other Educators? “My advice is to set boundaries and get good teacher friends you can share with. Keep those social ties alive. Even when I call parents, I ask them to turn their cameras on so that we can see each other. It feels more like you are talking to a real person.”

“I’ve really had to set some clear boundaries for myself. I have a time every night when I turn off my computer and do things like exercise or play board games with my family. I’m taking a course at church. Every Monday, I have a Zoom meeting with my class, which has brought me a lot of stress relief. I also have to read and prepare, which helps me set boundaries with school because I know I have to also prepare for my class.”

— Jessica Jackson-Briscoe, 5th Grade Math/Science, Evansdale Elementary, DeKalb County

— Ashley McKenna, 5th Grade, Silver City Elementary, Forsyth County

“I am really big in my faith. I’m constantly staying prayed-up. I have also come into a season of self-care being a priority. I have mentally decided that if I can’t get it done, eventually it will get done. I can’t afford to stress about it. I try to not take any work home at all. I have two younger kids, and I decided I have to spend time with them and enjoy my family. That’s part of my self-care as well.” — Valerie Wilson, Math Teacher, Tift County High School

“We started a monthly yoga group here at work where we take a moment to find our zen. A yoga instructor comes in and teaches a 45-minute class for anyone who wants to attend. A few minutes before the instructor gets there, we have time to talk and check-in on each other. It’s a moment of social time to decompress and talk with other educators who understand what you’re going through.”

“I’m the SEL coach as well, so when I talk to teachers, I remind them to have some structure. Cut things off at a certain time. If not, the work is always there; you’ll just keep working. We talk a lot about balance. In our own family, every two weeks, we have a family Zoom to ask how everyone is doing. We have family from Georgia to Louisiana, California to Chicago. There have been as many as 20 of us on at once. We’re building knowledge of the family and building relationships.” — Ann D. Head, Restorative Practices Coach/Dean of Student Support 6th Grade, David T. Howard Middle School, Atlanta Public Schools

— Amber Kemper, 7th Grade LA, Youth Middle School, Walton County

January 2021


Educator Well-Being Amid the Pandemic

An Emotional Journey: One Educator’s Story

From left, Jenny Holt, Jennifer McClane, Laura Ann Davis, Laurie Young, Melinda Owens, and Cheryl Bowdry.


or Jenny Holt, a first-grade teacher at Jerger Elementary School in Thomasville City Schools, the stress of this unprecedented time extends beyond the classroom. Last March, Holt’s youngest daughter became ill and was taken by ambulance from their local hospital to a hospital in Gainesville, Florida. From there, she was transferred by flight to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta to see a specialist. That same day, schools across Georgia shut down because of COVID-19. “Even the days you “Over text and FaceTime with my first-grade team, feel like you’re failing, we had about two hours you are probably to come up with a plan for moving our students to reaching more kids online learning that would

than you think.”


begin Monday,” said Holt. “I taught many lessons from a hospital room as my sweet girl underwent surgeries that would save her life. We adapted the best we could, talked as a team daily, and gave it all we had.” Holt continued teaching from her daughter’s hospital room – uploading daily lessons, staying in contact with students and parents, and never missing a beat. One parent, Shelley Busby, was so impressed that she nominated Holt for the Juicy Juice 100 Percent Thankful Teacher Contest. Holt ultimately won the $10,000 award as the top choice of more than 1,400 teachers. School wrapped up in May, and over the summer, Holt’s daughter had another surgery. At the same time, Holt was chosen to be the designated virtual teacher for all first graders at her school who chose to remain virtual the first nine weeks.

January 2021

“I was terrified. I went through some training with our local RESA, watched lots of tutorials, talked to other teachers, joined Facebook groups, and just had some good ole trial and error,” Holt said. “My students and their parents have been very supportive as we’ve worked through all of this.” Today, Holt – a 17-year teaching veteran – is still the virtual teacher for 30-plus first graders across the three elementary schools in her district. “The hardest part for me is feeling like I don’t have the same connection I would have with students if we were face-to-face. We have to guide them through everything. All of the computer programs – everything – is new to them,” said Holt. Holt teaches her virtual classes from her classroom at school, which also allows her to see her

January 2021

co-workers during breaks. To help deal with the stress, she works out after school and teaches a Zumba Kids class at the YMCA twice a week. “It has definitely been high stress. As teachers, we take it personally how our kids do academically. We also worry about their social and emotional health,” Holt said. “But we pull together as a team, put together a plan and roll with it.” Holt’s daughter, a 7th grader, is doing well. Holt’s advice to teachers struggling with challenges both inside and outside the classroom is to stay calm and stay positive. “My advice to other teachers is ‘breathe,’” said Holt. “Some things are out of our control. Just do the best you can and take a deep a breath. Even the days you feel like you’re failing, you are probably reaching more kids than you think.”  n


Member Opportunity: 2021 PAGE Foundation Scholarships The PAGE Foundation invites members to apply for a 2021 scholarship award. Available to educator-pathway college students, teachers pursuing advanced degrees, and paraprofessionals studying to become teachers, PAGE Foundation scholarships help propel Georgia educators to the next level. In the words of a few of our 2020 winners:

“It opens up doors for me to pursue a separate certification so that I may work with a wider variety of students.” – Lindsay Gregg Peaster

“Being a recipient of a PAGE Foundation Scholarship is important to me as it is a muchneeded investment towards my education, and it ensures that I will be successful in all my endeavors as I enter my final semester as a music education major.”

– Faith Alexis Parker

“This scholarship will help me reach my goal of a leadership endorsement so that I can have a positive impact in the future on the students and families with whom I work.”

– Daniel Lawson Stansberry III

“As a 51-year-old single mother of three teenagers, going to graduate school for a master’s in special education was not an easy decision, and this scholarship helps me realize that I am capable and truly blessed. Thank you.” – Theresa Lee Schulte

Applications available through May 31. Visit for full details and application information. 26  PAGE ONE

January 2021

Educator Well-Being Amid the Pandemic



PAGE members know the vital importance of emotional well-being – especially during challenging times. On the following pages, nine Georgia educators share a few of their favorite stress-reducing activities and hobbies.

“My hobby has been to learn to grow and raise my own food with my children. We planted many vegetables and have started to raise animals such as chickens, pigs, and sheep. The dedication and hard work that it takes to see the fruits of our harvest is rewarding, and the hard work takes your mind off current events and gives a sense of stability.” Juli Whipple Jefferson County School District

January 2021


“One of my civic groups serves the community, and we also build awareness pertaining to health and other matters to keep the community informed. Sometimes playing ‘dress up for a tea’ is relaxing even when we are staying at home and enjoying each other’s company virtually.” Tecia McGruder McKay Johnson County Schools

“[Hobbies] that I use to reduce stress and improve my relaxation [are] drawing and painting [which] have always been a part of my life. I incorporate [them] into my classroom by allowing my students to illustrate famous people we are learning about. They also have an opportunity to draw a picture on their TIP chart (term, information, and picture chart) for new words we are learning about.” Suzanne McWhorter Bleckley County School District

“Art-making is one of the hobbies I use to cope with stress and it also allows me time to develop creative and technical skills. [It] also gives me the tools to expand the breadth of skills, concepts, and techniques I can offer to my students. Recently, we have been able to add digital drawing and 3D printing to our curriculum.” Clint Robinson Heard County School System

“Crocheting helps me to reduce stress and relax. It is a hobby that you can either concentrate fully on or do while you’re watching your favorite show.” Kassendra Paulk Coffee County Schools


January 2021

“Stress just seems to melt away when I sew. I liked being able to succeed at something in a time when things were so uncertain. I can start and stop when I want to. I am not in a hurry. Sewing is my therapy.” Kelly Powell Bryan County Schools

“The view and sounds of waves crashing at the beach is soothing and relaxing. It decreases a lot of stressors that I face throughout the days and weeks. Whenever my students occur anxiety or stressful moments, I provide ear plugs to listen to relaxing music, a stress ball, or Rubik’s Cube (in the form of molecules).” Joy Felton Peach County School District

“When I am sewing, I have the ability to focus on something other than what is going on in life. There is something about cutting the fabric, planning how the pieces will fit together, and sitting down to sew it all together that takes all the cares in the world away. Just as listening to a waterfall or the sounds of nature can bring a calm over someone, the sound of the sewing machine does the same thing for me. Dr. Nikki Dahlberg Cherokee County School District

“Golfing is a good and safe way to exercise and help relieve stress. It doesn’t matter how well you play because being outside is good for the body and soul.” Julie Anderson Coffee County Schools

January 2021



Voicing Your Job-Related Concerns


n light of the disruption that COVID19 has wrought throughout the world, it may be beneficial to review methods that Georgia educators and other school personnel can use to voice concerns about policies or practices surrounding the pandemic and other workrelated issues. Put Your Concerns in Writing School personnel should avoid publicly airing grievances on social media. Instead, if you have concerns regarding the work environment, one of the best things you can do is privately deliver those concerns in writing to your direct supervisor. Initial 30  PAGE ONE

verbal conversations are fine. However, be sure to follow up with a concise written description of your concerns to memorialize the key points of the conversation – and then email it to the party with whom you were conversing. This simple yet effective step not only creates a record but also increases the likelihood of your concerns being addressed. Escalating Your Concerns to the Next Level If you do not feel that your direct supervisor adequately addressed your concerns, you should escalate those concerns to the next appropriate level as

determined by your district policies or practices. Sharing your concerns with your supervisors is a flexible process. While your next steps should be taken in a timely manner, there is typically no specific timeline you must follow. You can proceed at your convenience. Further, as stated earlier, while we recommend initially documenting your concerns in writing, thereafter, you may proceed in person, over the phone, virtually, in writing, or some combination thereof. If preferred, it can be handled discreetly behind closed doors. The most important thing to remember when following your district process is to avoid January 2021

skipping over anyone. Be cognizant of who is officially next in line and give that person the opportunity to address your concerns. For example, a teacher who has a concern regarding social distancing at his or her school should not begin by contacting central office. Instead, he or she should first bring that concern to the principal’s attention. If, for whatever reason, the matter is not resolved, the teacher can then go to the principal’s direct supervisor and so forth. In most public school systems, the superintendent is the top administrator. Share Your Concerns with the Board If you have concerns about board policy and are a resident of the district in which you work, you may also be able to share your concerns with the board of education. You should follow and complete your district’s process for resolution. But, if that does not provide relief, this may be a viable avenue. Be sure to follow

local protocol when requesting that you be added to the agenda for an upcoming board meeting. If you are placed on the agenda, you can then make a brief statement to the board. Keep in mind that boards of education do not typically get involved in personnel matters. If your concern is primarily about local policy, you are much more likely to be heard.

For more information about this or other related matters, please contact the PAGE Legal Department at 770-2168555 (option 1) or 800-334-6861 (option 1). You may email them directly at​.  n

Whistleblower Protection The Georgia Whistleblower Act (O.C.G.A. §45-1-4) was enacted in 1993 to, in part, protect from discipline or retaliation public employees who, in good faith, disclose fraud, waste, or abuse in state programs. Employees of Georgia public school districts are considered public employees under this law. Please note that not every concern will constitute an allegation of fraud, waste, or abuse. Be sure to consult a PAGE attorney to determine if you qualify for protection under the Act.

Leonard D. Williams Staff Attorney

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January 2021


Need to Contact PAGE? Here’s How: Legal Services 770-216-8555 (option 1) 800-334-6861 (option 1) Member Services 770-216-8555 (option 2) Legislative Services Margaret Ciccarelli 770-216-8555

Professional Learning Angela Garrett 706-459-0302 General Inquiries 770-216-8555 (option 3)

Professional Association of Georgia Educators Have You Transferred Systems? If you transferred from another school system where you were on payroll deduction, you must complete a short application (online or paper) to transfer your membership otherwise, your membership will expire. Student Members Your PAGE student membership does not cover you for a paid position in a school – even if your student membership has not expired. Please upgrade your student membership to professional, taking advantage of your first year half-price discount. Update Contact Information Please review and update your online profile to ensure that we have accurate contact information – including a personal email address as some school system filters will prevent receipt of messages.

Visit to find your membership services representative. You can do all this at

OFFICERS President: Lindsey Martin President-Elect: Megan King Treasurer: Lamar Scott Past President: Nick Zomer Secretary: Dr. Susan Mullins DIRECTORS District 1 District 8 Dr. Oatanisha Dawson Joy Robinson District 2 District 9 Brecca Pope Jennie Persinger District 3 District 10 2021 Quarter PG ads.indd 3 Mary Case Khrista Henry District 4 District 11 Rochelle Lofstrand Amy Carter District 5 District 12 Dr. Shannon Watkins TaKera Harris District 6 District 13 Melanie Lockett Daerzio Harris District 7 Lance James

The articles published in PAGE One represent the views of the contributors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, except where clearly stated. To submit a topic for consideration, visit Contributions/gifts to the PAGE Foundation are deductible as charitable contributions by federal law. Costs for PAGE lobbying on behalf of members are not deductible. PAGE estimates that 7 percent of the nondeductible portion of your dues is allocated to lobbying. PAGE One (ISSN 1523-6188) is mailed to all PAGE members, selected higher education units, and other school-related professionals. An annual subscription is included in PAGE 12:18 PM Periodicals class nonprofit membership dues. A subscription for others is 1/5/21 $10 annually. postage paid at Atlanta, GA, and additional mailing offices. (USPS 017-347) Postmaster: Send address changes to PAGE One, P.O. Box 942270, Atlanta, GA 31141–2270. PAGE One is published three times a year (January, May, and August) by New South Publishing Inc., 9040 Roswell Road, Suite 210, Atlanta, GA 30350; 770-650-1102. Copyright ©2021.



January 2021

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Melissa Silva ‘19 UNG graduate and Fulbright scholar now teaching in Hall County Schools.



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YOU Throughout this challenging year, teachers, counselors, and school leaders like you have remained passionately committed to supporting students and families—making many sacrifices to ensure that learning continues successfully. We see you. And we appreciate you.

JORDYNN EDWARDS ’20 B.S.Ed. in Elementary/Special Education - The Holistic Child Alexander II Math and Science Magnet School Bibb County School District

Learn more about Mercer’s partnership and professional learning opportunities.

Mercer University graduate Jordynn Edwards, ’20, is embracing the unique challenges of 2020 during her first year teaching in Bibb County School District, one of Mercer’s school system partners. We partner with teachers, leaders, schools, and communities across Georgia to provide:


• Field placement opportunities • Educational leadership pathways • Professional learning programs • Tuition benefit agreements (called Enterprise Learning Partnerships) Mercer University is here to support you.





Mercer University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). Education programs that lead to initial and advanced certification are approved by the Georgia Professional Standards Commission (GaPSC).

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