A two-day, one-night "team building" retreat at the Ritz-Carlton at Lake Oconee has been approved for the staff of Lucy C. Laney Comprehensive High School as part of a federal school improvement grant the school received last month.
The retreat – which will involve 85 faculty and staff members, occurring today and Friday – will cost $12,458. The site is where country music star Carrie Underwood recently got married, and according to the hotel's Web site the location was named among the World’s 500 Best Hotels in Travel + Leisure Magazine in 2008.
School officials are quick to note that the retreat was part of the federal grant and that its cost falls well below a budgeted amount of $35,000 that the grant had allowed.
“The grant proposal budgeted up to $35,000.00 for this retreat, which was approved by the state,” states an e-mail sent by Richmond County schools spokesman Louis Svehla. “In negotiation with several sites, the Ritz-Carlton at Lake Oconee in Greensboro, Georgia, offered the best hotel rates, acceptable food service costs and room meeting rates.”
Svehla said that the normal room rate for this time of year at the Ritz-Carlton is $244 per person. “However, for this training session the discounted room rate will be $70 per person or $140 for a room for two people (double occupancy),” Svehla stated in the e-mail. “The hotel is waiving all meeting room rentals.”
The retreat comes as part of a turnaround reform model Laney is having to undertake in accepting more than $1 million in federal school improvement funds for the coming school year - an initiative of the Obama administration.
The turnaround model requires the school to replace half its staff and have them reassigned to other schools. Several of those positions have been accounted for through attrition and some teachers being reassigned from an eighth-grade academy that Laney won’t have this school year.
“Now that the selection of staff is nearing completion, the staff will be required to attend the retreat,” Svehla stated. “At this retreat, there will be an agenda and various activities designed to enable the newly selected and returning faculty and staff members to become fully oriented with the vision and mission of the school relative to the implementation of the Turnaround Model of the School Improvement Grant at Lucy C. Laney High School.”
The $12,458 cost of the retreat, Svehla stated, includes lodging, several meals and meeting rooms for the 85 faculty and staff, which equals $147 a person for the two days and one night stay.
“Accordingly, while the name of the hotel carries a perception that there may be some added expense, in reality, the rates are very reasonable and discounted after thorough negotiations,” he stated.
Two other Richmond County schools that also received more than $1 million each from the school improvement grant, though, aren't traveling for their retreat. Svehla confirmed that Glenn Hills and Josey Highs will be holding their gatherings at their respective schools.
Svehla said the decision about where the retreats were to be held was left up to each schools' principal.
Glenn Hills Principal Wayne Frazier said he chose to keep his school's retreat local because he'd rather use all grant money in the classroom and in professional development of teachers. He said doing a retreat at his school is also better because it puts the teachers in the environment they'll be working in.
"My leadership style does not lend itself to that type of retreat, with the present economy crisis," Frazier said of his opting not to travel or stay over night somewhere for a retreat.
Svehla said Laney's situation is different from Josey and Glenn HIlls, though, noting that only Laney is having half of its staff reassigned, and only Laney is having to train for the first time in some new processes involving college board training and a plan called America's Choice.
"It’s a way to get away with each other and really form a team,” he said.
Columbia County school officials say they can't recall ever sending a group to a Ritz-Carlton for training or a retreat and lately have been trying to keep retreats and other training local unless the training is only offered at an out-of-county location.