Sometimes it's the car. Other times it's the driver.
In the case of Richmond County's school system, it has been a bit of both. But past problems appear closer to being solved than we have seen in a while.
The new "driver" is Dr. Frank Roberson, and as the new superintendent of Richmond County schools, he is looking under his car's hood. One of his ideas to soup up the engine is to harness the power of magnets.
Unlike more conventional schools, magnet schools foster academic success through specialized curricula and instruction in certain academic disciplines. The magnets in Richmond County -- A.R. Johnson Health, Science and Engineering; C.T. Walker Traditional; and John S. Davidson Fine Arts -- have been wildly successful. You can't ignore success. Dr. Roberson certainly isn't.
He asked himself the question that others in Augusta have been asking for years: Since the schools' magnet programs are so positive and productive at select schools, why not spread that enhanced instruction to other schools?
Put another way: Why not make every school a magnet school?
Dr. Roberson says there's no reason the tone and method of magnet programs can't be duplicated. That's why he's leading the school system into bold -- and smart -- territory: Magnet programs are being planned or proposed for nine Richmond County schools over the next few years.
Many magnet proposals don't yet have a focus. But three high schools -- Butler, Cross Creek and Josey -- are fleshing their plans out. So are Morgan Road Middle School, and Hephzibah Elementary and Middle schools.
A special School for Science and Mathematics is proposed for A. Brian Merry Elementary School. A School of Discovery at Hains Elementary School would emphasize science, math, engineering and technology. Lake Forest Hills Elementary School is applying to be the site of a Primary Years Programme, sanctioned by the nonprofit educational foundation International Baccalaureate, or IB.
There already is an IB diploma program at the Academy of Richmond County. There's also a new Advanced Placement Academy at Laney High School.
One of the most exciting projects is a vocational magnet school that would sit on, and integrate with, Augusta Technical College's main campus.
All these programs rightfully differ from one another, because the schools and their pupils are different. That's important to remember. Cookie-cutter curricula that require all teachers to instruct the same way surely can't be the only, or the best, answer. Already, a lot of teachers out there fight a good fight daily -- often uphill -- to keep their classrooms innovative and engaging.
Look at how widely magnetic energy is radiating.
In Tampa, Fla., two magnet schools are being planned for next year -- one just for boys, the other just for girls. Four more are either eyeing IB programs or opening joint "creative science" programs.
In Cincinnati, when the enrollment period was announced this month to sign children up for a set number of the city's most popular charter schools, lines formed days in advance, with parents often setting up tents during their entrenchment.
Some magnet schools play well to an area's strengths. In Groton, Conn., home to a crucial U.S. Navy submarine base, a magnet school specializing in marine science is slated to open in August.
We hope Dr. Roberson's ideas mark the start of an exciting and invigorating era for Richmond County schools. Magnets could pull Augusta's pupils toward brighter futures.