The healthy change is coming about in large part because the public voted to revamp the Richmond County Board of Education, which in turn refocused its efforts on improving the quality of education.
The first move came last summer, when trustees hired Dr. Dana Bedden, a visionary school superintendent who so far has kept his promise to run an open and transparent school system in an effort to forge a communitywide partnership to work toward a resurgence in education.
He's off to a good start, notwithstanding that there have been some bumps in the road in the form of discipline problems. But Bedden has been reaching out to parents and civic groups, and he ordered an audit of the school system that, though it contains some contentious proposals, also points toward innovative ways to make savings and efficiencies that could considerably benefit education throughout Augusta and Richmond County.
Moreover, the county's three magnet schools provide a sound foundation for Bedden to work with. They each have been highly successful, attracting state and national attention -- especially John S. Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School, which often has been cited as one of the best schools in the nation.
There's strong sentiment in the community that we hope Bedden, as he gets deeper into his job, will pick up on -- and that's to expand the magnet school concept countywide. If educational excellence can be achieved in three magnet schools, why not four, five or six? Every Richmond school should be a magnet school.
Indeed, we hope Bedden and others in education -- at the state as well as local level -- will be open to expanding the range of options parents have in schooling their children. Last year, the Georgia General Assembly did a good thing in giving the green light for disabled students to have school choice in Georgia. That freedom to choose should be extended to all students.
It could be done in small steps. Start with allowing voluntary enrollment in schools outside one's neighborhood. That would allow parents to remove their kids from the worst and most disruptive public schools and force those bad schools to clean up their act to compete for pupils; or, for that matter, to survive.
Public education should be moving in the direction of more parental choice, because that would dilute the influence of teachers' unions and compel schools to be more customer-friendly. That is the direction in which our community and our state should be encouraged to move.