Originally created 07/24/99

Meeting analyzes schools



If the governor's education reform committee will be the architect of an improved state school system, then Augusta-area residents provided detailed specifications Friday.

Teachers, parents, pastors, administrators and business leaders told the panel during a public hearing at Augusta Technical Institution what is working and what isn't.

Putting less emphasis on standardized tests, making sure high school graduates are employable, increasing funding in arts and making sure credits from two-year colleges are transferable to four-year institutions were among the main concerns.

Gov. Roy Barnes appointed the commission June 1 to review the system and present a blueprint for improvement by April 15. The committee is studying funding, accountability, school climate and a way to provide a seamless education for students.

Georgia's educational system has not been thoroughly reviewed since 1985.

Andy Baumgartner, a teacher at A. Brian Merry Elementary school and 1999 National Teacher of the Year, was the first speaker.

Mr. Baumgartner said he has noticed huge discrepancies in schools during his travels across the state.

"I have visited the EPCOT-like school of some of our rich suburban areas, the overcrowded, dilapidated, depressingly ugly schools in some of our inner-city areas and the resource-deprived schools of some of our poor, rural areas," Mr. Baumgartner said. "Furthermore, I hear that our emphasis on raising standardized test scores to the exclusion of all other tasks and responsibilities will weaken rather than strengthen our schools.

"As you the politicians, the public and the press demand accountability from us, you must also demand more accountability from yourselves. Our public education system belongs to everyone," he said.

Former Augusta Technical students Aaron Cohrs and Ron Fisher talked about the difficulty they faced when trying to transfer credits from a two- to four-year college.

Jennifer Clark, a freshman at Augusta Tech, said her high school didn't prepare her for higher education.

"What I don't understand is while I was in school, I was expected to give 100 percent to my teachers and in my classroom, when my teachers never gave half to me of what I needed," she said. "I guess that's one of the reasons I spent three years in the 10th-grade, because no one tried."

Business leaders agreed that some high school students are not qualified for employment.

Neal Doolittle, employee relations manager of E-Z-GO, said his business would like to hire more high school graduates, but many applicants don't have basic skills.

"As an employer of this area, what we need from the educational system is very simple," Mr. Doolittle said. "We need more of the three Rs -- reading, writing and arithmetic. If the education system will give students these basic skills, we will train them in the process."

Paul Martin, a science teacher at Hephzibah High, said everyone has to recognize students' needs.

"Children do not fail themselves," Mr. Martin said. "We the educators, parents and politicians fail to motivate, challenge, praise and discipline the children that we come in contact with. If we expect positive results, we must exercise consistency."

DeeDe Chatelain said she didn't come to ask the panel for anything, but to tell it what she expects.

"I expect for my child to go to school in a safe environment," she said. "I expect for my child to go to school and receive the skills that are necessary for him to become a productive human being because I don't want him coming back home and living with me. I do not believe in test scores. I don't think everything a child learns can be tested."

Gov. Barnes expects to present recommendations from the commission to the General Assembly next year, but he wants the group to continue monitoring education after the April 15 deadline.

"I think that's one of the problems that existed with the last reform effort -- the commission ended and that was it," he said. "My intention is to keep it going at least 12 to 24 months to make sure we can refine (it) if there is a problem and continue to monitor."

Gov. Barnes said increased performance is the goal.

"I want to have a substantial increase in the competitive nature of children measured against nationally normed standards in performance," he said. "This is all performance-based and I want an increase in the performance. Do we measure that by tests? Yes, among other things, but it is a substantial part.

"I don't like standardized tests," Gov. Barnes said, "but there is a standardized test coming in life whether it's here in the schools or in the unemployment line."

Faith Johnson covers education. She can be reached at (706) 823-3765 or faithj@augustachronicle.com.