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Parents, educators explore the future of public education

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

Southern Crescent parents, teachers, and school administrators added their input to deliberations on the future path of public education in Georgia.

The group took part in a community forum Thursday, held at Henry County High School in McDonough. Hosted by the Georgia School Boards Association (GSBA) and the Georgia School Superintendents Association (GSSA), the forum is a part of the associations' "A Vision for Public Education in Georgia" initiative, which is designed to gather, and weigh, public input and guidance on the subject.

The associations have hosted four of eight planned forums around the state, allowing participants opportunities to express their vision of what public education should be, according to GSBA Communications Director Laura Reilly. The information collected, Reilly said, will go into a report of new and updated strategies schools may use locally to improve public education.

"This is the first time that I have experienced this in Georgia, from the ground up," said Lois Wolfe, principal at Luella Elementary School in Locust Grove.

Wolfe, who has 35 years in education, said she felt energized by the associations' effort to gain a more comprehensive vision on public education. "They are pulling information together to see what the stakeholders have to say, and giving us a chance to dream and imagine what Georgia public school systems could be like, if there were no boundaries," Wolfe said.

"Thinking about the possibilities for our students, I'm hopeful for the future of public education," she continued. "I was reminded that we must always hear the voices of our stakeholders, that their input is so valuable in creating a successful school. When everybody contributes, our children will succeed."

GSBA Assistant Executive Director Mark Willis said the group's initiative has managed to pull together discussion forums with a diverse sampling of school communities. "We have a very good cross-section of people," Willis said. "People are interested and care about public education, and are willing to get together and discuss how to improve it."

Parent David Melton said he learned more about different, and similar, perspectives among school communities -- parents, teachers and administrators. He said he traveled from Griffin to take part in Thursday's discussion. "I definitely got a lot out of it," he said. "It sounds like teachers and parents all seemed to have the same idea of what they wanted."

Erik Charles, a member of the Henry County Board of Education, said he believes discussions like the one Thursday are the start of transforming public education.

"Everyone has their idea of what the school of the future should look like," he said. "The question is, how do we get the frame work around everyone's opinions to make it happen? The main thing is to get back to engaging the community to get involved in the public schools. And, hopefully, what will come out of this is that we'll have a guide to tell us where to go to have a futuristic school."

Parent Tamara Hill is president of the Parent-Teacher Organization at Moreland Road Elementary School in Griffin, where two of her three school-aged children attend. She said she went to the forum with her two youngest sons, to see what change could happen in public education, for her children and others.

"I felt very positive that some things will be changed," she said. "I attended the meeting because I wanted to know exactly what was going on with public education, what new ideas were coming about, and what improvements were going to be made."

Classroom instruction ranked high on her list of concerns. "I want to see more effective teaching and more support for teachers, so that teachers can teach smaller groups of kids," she said. "That way, they can teach more to the child, and not just to the group. I think we need some serious improvement. I think it's important that we're reaching every child, and not just reaching the mass majority."

One of Hill's greatest concerns -- student access to technology -- was a recurring issue among discussion groups during Thursday's forum. "This is the information age," she said. "Students need to be more computer-literate."

Hill said she also believes that classroom instruction should include more parental involvement. "I think there needs to be some responsibility and accountability among the kids and their parents in the work that they're supposed to do," she said. "It can only happen, if we make it known to all the parents that we're not just giving children a pass, so that no child is left behind. But they have to do the work and put forth the effort and learn, and parents have to support the schools in that."

To learn more about the "A Vision for Public Education in Georgia" initiative, visit www.visionforpubliced.org.