Public zeroes in on school needs

At three community engagement sessions this month, small groups answered questions about the Greene County School System’s strengths, weaknesses and challenges.

 

Mark Engel

engel@lakeoconeenews.us

 

More small groups, more ideas and more sheets of paper on the walls. The third and final community input meeting for the 2017 Greene County schools strategic plan was held Tuesday night at Carson Middle School.

 

About 50 parents, teachers and staff attended the session, which concludes the first step in a four-stage process to develop a long-range plan. The first meeting on Aug. 1 at Reynolds Lake Oconee drew about 100 participants. There were slightly fewer folks on Aug. 3 at the Greensboro First United Methodist Church.

 

At each session, everyone was divided into small groups usually with a mix of ages, races, economic status and backgrounds. They addressed three issues about the school system: strengths, areas for improvement and challenges. Comments were written on large sheets of paper and hung on the walls.

 

Greene County Schools Superintendent Chris Houston says the biggest challenge for the process is to establish an identity. “What kind of school system are we going to be?” he said. “It’s the first step in knowing where to go.”

 

As he walked around the room, reading comments, Houston focused on the ideas that appeared frequently.

“Maximize facilities,” Houston told the Lake Oconee News, “we have the facilities to do that.” Greene County has a surplus of space in some school buildings and the strategic plan hopes to address how best to utilize it.

 

“Retain good teachers” is written on another sign. Houston says teacher turnover in Greene County has dropped from 48 percent two years ago to 16 percent this year but there are other challenges. “The state education system is producing 4,000 fewer teachers this year than they did in 2007,” he points out. “Teachers are leaving the profession five years into their work. As a community, we can overcome that but it’s going to take support by the community of the teachers, not just support from administrators.”

 

One example of how the community can help, he says, is to build available homes in the $100 to $200 thousand range. “There’s not adequate housing for middle income teachers in Greene County,” he said. “That means they’re driving a long way. If there’s no houses to buy and they’re not already living here, there aren’t many opportunities for them to move here.”

 

Houston is gratified by some of the nice comments he reads. “We have certain programs that we’re working on and the public is starting to recognize that they’re there.”

But he’s also frustrated by some of the expectations. “Sustainable achievement improves over time. It’s not a one year or two year deal.”

 

Of course, at all three sessions the red hot topics appeared again and again. They’re the issues that have caused divisions and resentment that have all but paralyzed progress in Greene County education:

 

  • Don’t close Union Point Steam Academy
  • All schools should have the same advantages as Lake Oconee Academy
  • The Board of Education should stop bickering
  • The administration needs to be more transparent
  • Need better communication

 

The strategic planning process is designed to look at everything – the bright spots and the warts. School officials hope to come up with plans that parents, students, teachers, administrators and the community can all buy into that will, over the long term, resolve problems that are so familiar to everyone who cares about education in Greene County.

 

“There’s consistency between these comments and what I’ve been hearing from the community for 18 months,” Houston said, “I’ve been hearing the same kind of things over and over. So, I’m hoping we can hurry into taking this information and making it a part of the plan.”

 

Although the meetings are done, the questionnaire is available until Wednesday, Aug. 15 on the school’s website (www.greene.k12.ga.us) for those who couldn’t attend.

 

Next, these ideas will be taken by planning teams made up of citizens and experts. They will create a series of Strategic Goals. Phase 3 is where action teams made up of school educators will create performance objectives. Finally, the school board and staff create action plans and report results to the community. The strategic plan process is expected to be completed by November.

 

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