Teacher Interview – Ocee Elementary, Alpharetta, GA

Posted by Jeff Aughey on Tuesday, November 11th, 2008 at 3:42pm.

ocee elementarySandra Gifford

Education is the cornerstone of any community’s future. While local government attends to the infrastructure to serve our people and the legislators craft laws to protect them, Sandra Gifford and her peers are educating and preparing the next generation of local leaders. Ms. Gifford has been a teacher for 23 years and is currently teaching 2nd grade Ocee Elementary and has been at Ocee since it opened in 2000. Previously, she substituted for five years at other Fulton Schools, so she is familiar with a number of schools in the district.

What do you enjoy most about teaching at Ocee Elementary? I enjoy working with such a dedicated group of teachers. The facility itself is a beautiful, well designed location for educating children.

What are some of North Fulton District’s strong points?

The North Fulton Schools still have a band and orchestra program that starts when the children are young and I believe this type of training is important to a well-rounded education. Other schools have phased these programs out.

Your children attended local schools — were you happy with the quality of their education?

When we moved to the Atlanta area, we based our location on this school district and on Dolvin Elementary, Taylor Road Middle, and Chattahoochee High in particular. Being an educator, I had done the research and wanted my own children in this system. I believe they received an excellent education with challenging classes, a variety of topics and AP (advanced placement) classes which are unavailable in many other school systems. I feel my daughter and son were both well prepared for college.

Chattahoochee had an exceptionally good band program and people I know have moved to this area specifically for the band and orchestra programs here. Our orchestra is impressive and was recently selected as one of the top five high school symphonic orchestras in the US.

Do the teachers get the support they need from the administration?

Yes, and one of the things that the administration is pushing right now is the Professional Learning Community. We, as a community of educators, meet regularly to share what works and what doesn’t work in the classroom to maximize the effectiveness by trying new methods and new approaches and comparing our results. We then incorporate what is proven effective and discard those methodologies which do not help children achieve their educational goals and our goals for them.

Do you have any criticism of the system?

I feel that if there is anything that is less than ideal, it would be the sheer amount of homework assigned in the middle school students. I think it’s a heavy load, considering the students’ ages. This is especially true for the TAG (Talented and Gifted) program participants, but by the time the kids enter the high school honors classes, the workload is a bit more balanced.

Do you have anything else to add?

Currently, there is a movement to align our schools to the national performance standards. We implemented the language arts a couple of years ago and added mathematics last year so that if children move between school systems, they will be able to pick up in the same place in the core competency classes. Also, I recently attended a graduation at Woodward Academy North (a private elementary school) and had the opportunity while there to see their facilities, talk with the teachers and review the curriculum. I know our guidelines in North Fulton County are rigorous, even on the elementary school level. After this visit, I believe the education we offer here is equivalent to this private school in most areas and even exceeds the quality in some areas. I find that impressive and I’m proud to be apart of it!

Sandra Gifford, Teacher

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