By Rachel Shirey and Johnny Jackson
ATLANTA — The Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education hosted their seventh annual “An Inside Look at Education in Georgia” media symposium at Georgia Public Broadcasting and addressed 10 issues to watch in 2013, among other topics.
Aside from school safety, guest speakers addressed science, technology, engineering and math education in local schools, common core curriculum, career pathways for students and school funding.
“We are not where we want to be,” said Mike Buck, chief academic officer at the Georgia Department of Education.
However, Buck said he believes Georgia has the potential to grow.
School safety was among the first issues raised during the symposium and whether administrators should be allowed to carry weapons to protect the student body.
“I would never recommend that to a board of education,” said Herb Garrett, former Henry County School’s superintendent and speaking as executive director of Georgia School Superintendents Association.
The Henry County Sheriff’s Office reported that it intends to add a handful of retired and reserve deputies in addition to its school resource officers in schools to provide an increased presence in Henry County Schools.
However, the Clayton County Board of Education plans to discuss safety procedures in the next few months.
Clayton County currently has two school resource officers (SROs) in the high schools and one SRO in middle schools, but none in the elementary schools.
Local districts have also been dealing with a decade of state funding cuts that school officials have had to mitigate, said Garrett.
“Overall state revenues are behind what is needed just to fund state agencies for this year,” said Garrett. “We’ve been involved with austerity cuts for so long that people forget that it is there.”
Garrett pointed to the lack of raises for state employees and teachers.
“State employees and teachers haven’t had a raise in years and I don’t see that on the horizon,” he said.
Garrett said school funding will be a top issue facing Georgia’s public schools.
“We cannot expect American children to embrace the American dream without the necessary tools,” said State Rep. Edward Lindsey (R-Atlanta).
One of the top 10 issues to watch in 2013 addressed at Friday’s symposium addressed the significance of science, technology, engineering and math in local schools.
Henry County is actively pursuing grants to pilot programs that use wireless technology in the classroom.
Students at Stockbridge High School, for example, will use wireless devices to learn about STEM subjects.
“The demand for STEM jobs in Georgia mirrors the national trend. By 2018, the number of STEM jobs in Georgia will increase 17 percent, providing 200,000 new jobs,” according to the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education’s “Top 10 Issues to Watch in 2013.
“In fact, despite an unemployment rate that hovers around 9 percent, there are currently two available STEM jobs for every unemployed person, compared to one non-STEM job for every 4.5 people.”
Clayton County appears to be actively implementing these subjects into its schools. However, there is still room for improvement.
For example, Lake Ridge Elementary school currently uses iPods and laptops in their curriculum daily to make math and science more engaging for their students.
North Clayton Middle school was also awarded a $500 grant to purchase programs for their virtual science laboratory, and it is currently the only school in Clayton County involved in the First Lego League (FLL) robotics competition.
Career Pathways and Core Curriculum.
The state is still struggling to overcome a graduation rate of 67 percent in 2011, the third-lowest in the country.
Buck said the school system plans on implementing career pathways and common core curriculum into the school systems, like Henry County, in order to keep more students engaged.
He said they are losing the students’ interest because classes aren’t considered relevant or interesting.
Beginning next school year, high school freshmen will be choosing an education plan to help tailor their education to their job preferences.
The students will be offered real world experiences in local classrooms for the first time.
“We think it’s important to ensure that they like their professions and have some skills in it,” Buck said.
He also said it’s important to discover what professions they enjoy early on instead of at the end of their education, like a teacher who discovers they don’t like kids after student teaching.
“We have to help boys and girls find their passion basically,” Buck said.
Buck said he also believes that the new common core standards will help improve the graduation rate.
Common core is structured to be a an accurate measure on student’s success, where the caliber of a students education is not dependent upon zip code.
“The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them,” according to the website.
“The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers.”
Parents can find a full list of resources on the Common Core Georgia Performance Standards at http://www.doe.k12.ga.us/Curriculum-Instruction-and-Assessment/Curriculum-and-Instruction/Pages/CCGPS.aspx.