Education a top, shared priority

Augusta-area schools must become the source of tomorrow’s workforce

It’s not an exaggeration: Education in Augusta has become a matter of national security.

 

As the U.S. Army assembles its cyber security forces at nearby Fort Gordon, and state and local officials build a community-wide network of cyber-related facilities, programs and companies, our youth will be called upon to help form the cyber workforce of tomorrow.

No pressure, mind you.

It would be a monumental challenge for the best school district in the nation. For Richmond County, home to 21 schools the state considers “underperforming,” the task ahead is nothing short of Herculean.

The good news is that our local education leaders – principally Richmond County Public Schools Superintendent Angela Pringle and Augusta University President Brooks Keel – have rarely been this dynamic.

Even better is the fact that the community may never have embraced its collective role in education more than it appears to be doing today.

From the Chamber of Commerce, to individual businesses, civic clubs, other nonprofits and other government entities, the Augusta area is stepping up to the plate to help our schools.

Just one incredible example: Textron Specialized Vehicles, which manufactures E-Z-GO golf cars, Cushman personnel carriers and other specialty vehicles, last year teamed up with Richmond County school officials to offer classes and even paid part-time shifts to district students most at risk of dropping out.

Officials at Textron and Richmond County schools moved heaven and earth to get it started within months – and the results have already been amazing, from the students’ attendance rates (close to 100 percent) to their attitudes to their burgeoning work ethic. The students’ self-esteem is busting through Textron’s industrial roof, too.

And through its “Business Education Advisory Committee,” Pringle says the Chamber of Commerce is “really making an effort to use community resources working with companies and community nonprofits to increase the wraparound services that are really needed to support children.”

Education has always been a shared obligation; schools don’t and can’t exist on an island. But we’re not sure the feeling of camaraderie and cooperation has ever been stronger here.

We do take issue with Ms. Pringle’s assertion in a recent interview with The Chronicle’s Amanda King that the district’s No. 1 challenge is “the perception that public schools do not work for all children.”

We would agree that public angst about schools is often overblown – and that some amazing things go on in our schools while taxpayers are busy earning the money to fund them. As society leaves almost every societal ill and shortcoming on the schoolhouse steps for administrators and teachers to deal with, the good ones are doing work that is nothing short of heroic.

But neither can we be complacent that the problem is one of perception. The state has good reasons for declaring nearly two-dozen Richmond County schools underperforming.

And while the district’s desire to avoid the introduction of state “turnaround coaches” into lagging schools, as a part of a new law passed this year, is no doubt a point of pride – and we’d be thrilled to see the need vanish – all else failing, local officials should welcome the help. Don’t we always say “anything for our kids”?

And, of course, it’s a matter of national security now.

 

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