Create an 'Augusta model'

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When you're behind by a couple of touchdowns late in the game, you don't run the ball.

Likewise, the Richmond County school district is behind, and it's getting late. It needs to put the ball up in the air.

In football, the West Coast offense is all the rage.

In education, it's the Gainesville model.

The 5,000-student Gainesville district near Atlanta has essentially converted its schools to magnets called "academies" designed by teachers and other locals to appeal to student needs and wants.

Students get tested at the start of the year to see what they need to work on - then again at the end of the year to see if they've made progress. How radically basic!

There's also an important element of school choice in the Gainesville model: Parents can sign their students up for certain schools, and even for specific teachers.

But accountability - so lacking under the regime of former Richmond County School Superintendent Charles Larke - is the keystone of the Gainesville model. We had to send in the CIA to get any information about Larke's annual evaluation; in contrast, Gainesville Superintendent Steven Ballowe's was put online for everyone to see.

Several Richmond County school board members have visited Gainesville to see the district in action. New board member Frank Dolan is nearly uncontainable in his excitement for it, and we don't blame him. We need bold ideas to fix Richmond County's school problems - which have included having all 10 middle schools on the state's "needs improvement" list.

But this is why we have elections - to get new blood and fresh eyes and untempered enthusiasm such as Dolan's.

Fact is, Dolan is stumping for Gainesville super Ballowe to become Richmond County's next superintendent. Applications are open through March.

The thing is, we would encourage other elected officials, such as Augusta commissioners, to get on the bandwagon with Dolan. This is not just a board of education issue; the quality of Augusta's schools will say a lot about the city's economic future. It's an open secret that perhaps the biggest drain on population here, particularly of young families, has been the school system.

That's a community-wide challenge that requires everyone's participation.

"As Augusta continues to move forward," says Mayor Deke Copenhaver, "one of the most crucial issues facing our community is the hiring of a new school superintendent. With regards to increasing our efforts to bring in new residents, it is absolutely essential that we improve the quality of our schools and that we, as a community, renew our focus on the educational needs of our children."

Board members are talking about having a town hall meeting of sorts to introduce the Gainesville model to the public. Great idea. Do it.

Even so, the Gainesville model can't be picked up and dumped into Augusta - at more than 33,000 students, it's simply a different animal. What we need to do is borrow the best elements of it and create an Augusta model.

We should be doing that anyway - especially since the Georgia General Assembly may soon make it possible for entire school districts to act like "charter" schools, which are able to throw off many state mandates and feature more local control and creativity. Credit Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle for that tremendous idea.

And give credit to the Richmond County Board of Education for taking a look at someone else's playbook - and considering throwing the ball down the field.

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patriciathomas
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patriciathomas 03/04/07 - 04:11 am
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It really highlights the

It really highlights the condition of the Richmond County school system when teacher accountability and ending the 'secret operations' of the superintendent and board are considered radical changes. It would also be very nice if these changes really happened. Then, after two or three years, it would be nice if the parents could have some input with school choice. There's nothing like competition to accentuate accountability. With the history of this school system, I'm hopeful but pessimistic.

bone
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bone 03/04/07 - 08:21 am
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What the editorial fails to

What the editorial fails to mention is that the Gainseville model was a teacher-led initiative. Dumping this "accountability" model on Richmond Co. teachers isn't necessarily going to lead to the buy-in that is so important for faculty. Parents always have school choice: the area you raise your child in will be the area that is transported to a certain school. You don't like the area? Move. If you are willing to provide transportation and the school your child attends has missed AYP for several years, then take your child to another school. As far as parent intervention in the daily operations of a school, forget it: there's enough micromanaging by know-it-all parents who cannot fathom the complexities of working for a large population of learners. Sure, oversight is never a bad idea if it assists teachers and administrators in keeping high standards; but to have parents actually become involved in the day-to-day educational structure for all students? No way. The well-intentioned parents I've dealt with on this issue are focused on only their student's needs; as a teacher I have to consider all of the students and I can make only so many individual accomodations fairly.

patriciathomas
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patriciathomas 03/04/07 - 05:53 pm
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School choice would allow

School choice would allow parents to pick a school that has a record of positive results. Micromanaging would be done by the administration, as it should be. All parents would have to do is send their children,and tax money, to the school that turns out high achievers. That's accountability, not just for teachers,but for all concerned. There are plenty of non-interfering parents that are satisfied with the baby sitting, or general status quo, to allow most schools to operate as usual. All I'd like to see is a majority of schools that operate at a level equal to or higher then the local magnet schools. School choice would encourage that.

TheTruth
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TheTruth 03/04/07 - 11:57 pm
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Any hopes for improvement in

Any hopes for improvement in Richmond County schools must be built around one key word: accountability.

All of the educationeze in the world won't suffice. Holding teachers accountable for failure rates, test scores, and student evaluations is the only way to get there. Teachers that teach and have a good reporte with their students won't have a problem with accountability...teachers following their own agenda and/or just collecting a check will.

concernednative
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concernednative 03/05/07 - 09:13 am
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Try to contain your

Try to contain your excitement. I was born and raised in Augusta and move to Brunswick(Glynn County), GA about 4 years ago. Two years ago we got Dr. Michael Bull the former assistant superintendent in Gainesville. Many people credited him with the innovative ideas in Gainesville. However, he has made very limited progress in Glynn County. I don't have all the answers but one ideaology or person is not going to fix all the problems.

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