Tuscaloosa City and Tuscaloosa County’s school systems hosted events today offering their employees a little new information, updates on safety and security and tied it all together with a pep rally.At Tuscaloosa County’s event, nearly 2,000 educators gathered ahead of next week’s first day of school.The Employee Institute, as it’s called, gives employees a chance to chit-chat and catch up, but it’s also a way to get everyone on the same page.Growth was a big topic at today’s meeting, considering the Tuscaloosa County School System has more than 18,400 students enrolled.Other big topics included technology and expansions to the system’s virtual learning program, along with the upcoming opening of the brand-new Holt High School.Alabama State Superintendent Eric Mackey was there, too, lending his support to Tuscaloosa County’s educators.“People here are excited for one thing,” Mackey said. “You can see there is a palpable feeling that we are going to have a great school year in the air here. … I think what this morning proves is they are going to kick off another great school year like they have in the past.”Mackey said he’s proud of Alabama’s schools, and he’s determined to prove national stereotypes about our state wrong. It’s educators like the ones in Tuscaloosa who help showcase that growth and the future of public education in Alabama, Mackey said.Meanwhile in the Tuscaloosa City School System, employees met at Northridge High School to get ready for their return next week, too.Tuscaloosa City Schools Superintendent Mike Daria said get togethers like these are great for building morale, but they’ve got a serious purpose, too.“It is a pep up day, but the message that is really important for us is school safety,” Daria said. So part of this day is revisiting our plans for school safety and learning more about how we can ensure the safety of our students and our employees.”School starts back for Tuscaloosa City and Tuscaloosa County, along with Pickens and Hale counties Aug. 8.Bibb and Greene counties return Aug. 7, Fayette County returns Aug. 9 and Walker County and Jasper City schools return Aug. 13.