Originally created 02/24/03

Schools want to protect faculty



The number of National Guard and Army reservists called out of the classroom and to active duty is small.

Still, the call to serve has left some key positions vacant in Columbia County, and school officials are now creating a policy that will extend more benefits to reservists.

Lakeside High School Assistant Principal Suzy Roper was one of those recently called to duty. The position has been temporarily filled by Debbie McMurtrey, a certified educator and former assistant principal who already was a parent volunteer at the school.

"It was a little bit of a shock, but we had a few days' notice, so we got the wheels going," Lakeside Principal Jeff Carney said. "At first, we were trying to help Suzy because there's such a transition from being an assistant principal to all of the sudden being in Atlanta processing people to ship out."

Others changing from school colors to fatigues include a technology support person, a Greenbrier Middle School teacher and a paraprofessional, said Connie Davis, the Columbia County school system's personnel director.

The Columbia County Board of Education is expected to get a first look at the proposed policy at its meeting Tuesday night in Appling.

"We are working on a policy to try to hold their positions for them - just to make sure we show our support for our employees who are defending our country, to go beyond what is required," Ms. Davis said.

By law, the school system has to pay their salary for 18 days.

"But we are writing our policy to guarantee their salary for up to two years," Ms. Davis said. "We'll make up the difference between the military pay and what they would have been making with us. Upon their return, they would be able to request the additional pay. It's something we feel strongly we need to do to support our people."

In Richmond County schools, the number of National Guard and Army reservists called to serve in Operation Noble Eagle - homeland defense - and Operation Enduring Freedom - the international fight against terrorism - has had little impact.

"We've had six employees to date that have been activated through the reserves program," Richmond County school spokesman Justin Martin said. "They include custodians, a schoolteacher and a guidance counselor. We have about 4,000 employees."

In November, Walter Reeves, the Richmond County schools improvement coordinator and an Army Reserve lieutenant colonel, returned from a year of active duty at Fort Gordon.

"It's a change of pace," he said of his job with the Army Reserve.

Though he was working in this area and stayed in touch with his office, the transition back was still an adjustment, he said.

"In a lot of ways it was like starting over," Mr. Reeves said. "I do a lot of work with schools, and there were personnel changes - new principals, assistant principals - and I had to learn those folks. Things move on while you are gone, they don't stand still."

Reach Melissa Hall at (706) 868-1222, ext. 113, or melhall@augustachronicle.com.