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State superintendent makes rare visit to area school
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State Superintendent of Schools Richard Woods (left) answers questions from students who are part of the county's Student Advisory Council. Bryan County superintendent Paul Brooksher and Richmond Hill mayor and high school teacher Russ Carpenter (in back) also attended. Photo by Mark Swendra.

School safety and mental health concerns were on the minds of local high school students who had a chance to speak directly with the state superintendent of schools.

The Student Advisory Council, made up of 17 students from Richmond Hill and Bryan County middle and high schools invited State Superintendent Richard Woods to Richmond Hill High School on Thursday. Woods was in Savannah attending a superintendent's conference.

Richmond Hill High School Principal Debi McNeal, here for six years, couldn't remember the last time a state superintendent visited their school. "This is a big deal," she said.

Upon arriving, Woods wasn't in a hurry to leave. He spent more than an hour answering questions from the students.

Woods,  a former history teacher and school administrator from Tifton, GA, is in his second term in office, and explained to the students his role as the state's school chief.

"I represent you -- the students," Woods said. With 1.8 million students in Georgia, Woods said "I'm the big cheerleader for public education."

He told the students it's his goal to "prepare (them) for life and to give them opportunities to succeed."

One of the first questions asked had to do with students' fear about their safety in this era of school shootings. What is the state of Georgia doing to protect them? 

Woods, who said he is part of a Homeland Security Council group that addresses this issue, said he wished he could say schools have found a full-proof way to prevent such a tragedy from occurring, but some people simply don't care about laws or consequences when breaking a law.

"A lot is handled at the local level," Woods said, adding that the state provides each school district money to initiate safety plans.

Like many across the country, Bryan County schools have police officers on campus, require visitors to check in at the office, and conduct safety drills.

Drills are important, Woods said, citing the importance and success over the years of other drills, such as fire. "Georgia has not lost any student to a fire," he said.

The students also had questions about school curriculum choices and about the best way they can become better leaders.

Wood's visit was facilitated by RHHS student Isabella Martinez, a member of the state superintendent advisory group who has made visits to Atlanta.

Bryan County Superintendent Paul Brooksher welcomed Woods to Richmond Hill by telling him that the high school here is one of the fastest growing schools in the state, in one of the fastest-growing counties. 

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Students from throughout Bryan County listen to State Superintendent Richard Woods. Photo by Mark Swendra.

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