School-community link in works

Richmond County Superintendent Dana Bedden, searching for ways to strengthen ties with the community, proposed Wednesday establishing an education foundation to foster greater support for the school system.

The foundation could serve a similar function as the foundations that support colleges and universities, he said after making the announcement at a Communities in Schools breakfast.

For example, community members have requested infusing arts education in elementary schools, Dr. Bedden said. An education foundation could provide resources for such a program and ensure the fine arts are properly funded.

"A lot of times in budget times we are deciding between robbing Peter to pay Paul," he said.

Dr. Bedden, Mayor Deke Copenhaver and Neil Shorthouse, the president of Communities in Schools of Georgia, were among those who spoke at Wednesday's breakfast, a meeting meant to build relationships between the community and the school system.

Phyllis Cochran, the president and CEO of Richmond Community Federal Credit Union, has volunteered at schools, but after the breakfast she said she wants to expand her involvement.

The meeting left her wanting to know what she and her business can do to better prepare students for the work force, she said.

"What can we do to help?" Ms. Cochran said, adding that she could teach budgeting and finance.

Ten people volunteered for a committee to explore the idea of an education foundation, said Louis Svehla, the director of Public Information.

Dr. Bedden said a foundation could focus the efforts of the community.

Foundations have been formed in partnership with high-performing school systems throughout the country. In 1995, the Charleston (S.C.) Metro Chamber of Commerce established The Education Foundation amid concerns that the local naval base could be closing.

"We describe ourselves as an intermediary," Executive Director Allen Wutzdorff said by phone.

Businesses want to help, but often aren't sure how, he said. Similarly, schools want help, but aren't sure how to ask.

The foundation has obtained federal grant money to create ninth-grade academies and establish career pathways in schools, Mr. Wutzdorff said. When the career pathways are fully instituted, the curriculum will be tailored to fit local business needs, business advisors will work with students, job-shadowing and internships will be created, and equipment will be donated to schools.

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or greg.gelpi@augustachronicle.com.

ABOUT THE NETWORK

The Richmond County school system has established the Key Communicators Network to keep business and community leaders apprised of what is happening in education. To sign up, contact Public Information Director Louis Svehla at (706) 826-1118 or Svehllo@boe. richmond.k12.ga.us.