Katika Lovett was appointed Bibb Schools Chief of Staff by incoming Superintendent Dan Sims.

Katika Lovett was appointed Bibb Schools Chief of Staff by incoming Superintendent Dan Sims.

Credit: Special to the Macon Newsroom

Incoming Bibb Schools Superintendent Dan Sims appointed two of his former coworkers from Atlanta Public Schools to top positions in a move approved by the Bibb County Board of Education on Thursday.

Sims was one of five assistant superintendents for APS before the Bibb school board voted 6-2 to hire him in May.

Katika D. Lovett, assistant superintendent of student services for APS, was approved as the next chief of staff for Bibb Schools. The position was most recently held by Tanzy Kilcrease, who resigned and now works for the Georgia Department of Education.

Lovett, of Griffin, has a master’s degree in educational administration from Argosy University. She is credited with increasing the graduation rate for special education students from 14% in 2012 to 60.5% in 2020, according to a Bibb Schools Board Brief email sent after the meeting.

Lovett worked as a special education teacher for APS. She later worked for DeKalb County Schools, where she “began her career in the field of educational leadership by serving as a District Lead Teacher for Special Education programs,” according to the Bibb Schools board brief.

Lovett returned to work at the Department of Special Education for APS as a special education coordinator in 2012.

Nelson L. Render was appointed executive officer for Bibb Schools. According to the board brief, Render has a master’s degree in educational leadership from Jacksonville State University and his job history includes being assistant principal and implementation specialist for high school college and career readiness at Atlanta Public Schools, principal at Clayton County Schools, and chief of secondary schools and associate superintendent of high schools at Madison Metropolitan School District in Wisconsin.

Nelson Render was appointed executive officer for Bibb Schools by incoming Superintendent Dan Sims.

Nelson Render was appointed executive officer for Bibb Schools by incoming Superintendent Dan Sims.

Credit: Special to The Macon Newsroom

Render’s philosophy, according to the board brief, is that “every student deserves the opportunity to have an extraordinary learning experience through educational access and equity in order to become a productive citizen.”

The district has three executive officer positions that supervise principals. Render will take the job most recently held by Jesse Davis, who resigned in April to work for Peach County Schools.

In other news, Kevin Adams was named Chief Information Officer for Bibb Schools. Adams was formerly the district’s director of research, evaluation, assessment and accountability.

All of the recommendations were unanimously approved by Board members in attendance. Board member James Freeman and Superintendent Curtis Jones were absent from the meeting.

No cellphones during the school day

Bibb County Schools students will no longer be allowed to use their cellphones during the school day this coming school year.

The school board voted unanimously to adopt the new policy on students’ use of electronic devices.

The new policy states students may bring their phones to school but must keep them turned off and out of sight during the school day. The policy defines “school day” as “when the student enters the school building and ends when the bell rings to signal the completion of instructional time for the day.”

Under the old policy, teachers had discretion on whether students in their classrooms were allowed to use personal devices.

In conversation before the vote, Board member Daryl Morton wanted to know if it was permissible for students to carry their phones in their pockets. School board lawyer Tom Joyce said the policy allows that.

Board member Juawn Jackson said he thought students being able to carry their phones in their pockets was a good idea because “if you just think about some issues that have gone on in our nation …. I would hate to be a parent who couldn’t contact their child in case of an emergency.”

Board member Myrtice Johnson, a retired educator, raised concerns with teachers having to manage students using their phones in class, which is “time taken from instruction.”

Joyce said the issue of phones in class “is difficult … but we will work on a regulation to make it easier for teachers in the classroom to know how to handle the situation.”

In other business Thursday, the board agreed to a pre-approved 20 yearslong tax break to incentivize downtown developers of downtown projects that cost more than $14 million through the Macon-Bibb County Urban Development Authority’s Heartbeat Incentive Program.

The program includes 10 and 20-year tax abatement schedules “for projects we’re hoping will come to fruition in Macon-Bibb County over the next several years,” UDA Executive Director Alex Morrison told the board during a special meeting in May. “There’s at least one project in the pipeline that would benefit from this.”

Sierra Development, which built the Lofts at 401 Cherry St. and the Lofts at Capricorn, is the only developer to benefit from the program in recent years. The tax abatement is only for improvements so the district would not receive fewer tax dollars than it had before the development.

Morrison did not respond to emails requesting further information.

District efforts to address the teacher shortage

The district continues to struggle with teacher recruitment. It had roughly 50 such vacancies as of Thursday, school Spokeswoman Stephanie Hartley said.

The board made formal agreements with several companies in an effort to help fill the vacancies.

The board renewed its contract with TPG Cultural Exchange LLC, a Delaware corporation, to provide international teachers to work in Bibb Schools through a visa program. The new contract includes 12 more teachers for a total of 20 teachers to be provided by the company or its subcontractor, Clear Horizons LLC. The district will pay an administrative fee of $11,950 per teacher to the company in addition to the teacher’s salary. The district will pay up to $358,500 to the company for teachers during the 2023 fiscal year.

The board also voted to approve a $515,000 contract with Soliant Health LLC, a Delaware-based corporation with offices in Georgia, to fill vacant teaching positions. Soliant consultant teachers will be paid $67.75 per hour and the company will bill the district weekly, according to the contract. The number of teachers was not stated in board documents but the district indicated it had already interviewed five people through Soliant.

The board voted to approve a contract renewal with Intalage Inc., an Atlanta-based company that recruits international teachers to work in American school districts through a visa program. The new contract includes 18 more teachers for a total of 34 Intalage teachers in Bibb Schools next school year. The district will pay an administrative fee of $9,500 per teacher to Intalage in addition to paying the teacher an entry-level teaching salary. The contract also states the company will provide up to 50 teachers for 2021-2024.

In another measure to address the teacher shortage, the board voted to partner with Mercer University on a three-year grant program to recruit and retain teachers for the district. The program is called GENERATE, an acronym for Georgia Educators Networking to Revolutionize and Transform Education. Mercer will establish a yearlong residency program to allow students who are working toward their master’s degree to obtain teaching certifications while also working in Bibb Schools for stipend, according to board documents. The district will support roughly 65 residents and will provide about $4 million in non-federal, in-kind matching funds to support the partnership.