State Sen. Freddie Powell Sims: The new school year is off to a start

Published 5:15 pm Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The 2017-18 academic school year for K-12 Southwest Georgia students is off and running! Needless to say, parents, guardians and entire communities are absolute partners in the educational process of children. Community leaders, economic forecasters, economic developers, employers, in addition to property owners, weigh-in regularly on expectations for academic achievement in local school districts. Successes and failures of entire communities are ultimately decided by the educational output of school systems.
Just what are communities looking for in “great schools” and how can it get done? Quality educational systems are developed through community connectivity and world class leadership, beginning with county school boards; central office of the superintendent; moving downward to the building level principal and staff; and ultimately the classroom teacher. Not to minimize at all that the most important partnership in the educational landscape is that of “parent-school” partnerships! Schools absolutely need cooperating, concerned parents and parents need continuous collaboration from schools. Parents and guardians should forge positive relationships with schools that educate their children. Also, as parents connect with community stakeholders, both should embrace and accept college and career readiness as the new economic exchange and workforce-ready students as the new education driven normal (long overdue!).
For the past several years, under the leadership of Governor Nathan Deal and Lt. Governor Casey Cagle, the State of Georgia has dedicated extensive time and effort in reforming educational opportunities for students in preparation for today’s workforce.It is widely recognized that educational reforms tend to come and go, but educational pathways leading to career readiness will likely lead to world class economies.
To the surprise of many, hundreds of jobs across Georgia remain vacant (even in Southwest Georgia) because of a lack of skilled laborers. The Educational Reform Commission, appointed by Governor Deal, listened attentively to P-20 educators and dozens of other interested stakeholders, especially business and industry. Reports focusing on the number of job vacancies were astounding! Clearly, there was an urgent need for the delivery of academic rigor supporting preparation, retention, and graduation of students from high schools through strong career oriented educational pathways.
Individuals tasked with educational reform were also concerned with teacher and administrative preparedness; shrinking financial resources (especially in rural districts); expanded student testing; and curricula that support academic success. Increasing teacher salaries and teacher recruitment remain major concerns for school districts throughout Georgia also. The last major economic recession prompted endless furlough days and reduced pay for teachers, but in spite of statewide reductions in teacher salaries, most school districts continued an upward trajectory. Teachers never stopped giving their best! During the 2016 State Budget, teachers were appropriated a 3% pay raise that most school districts used to erase teacher furlough days.
This year’s legislature again appropriated 2% pay raises for teachers, fulfilling the promise to rid school districts of all furlough days and increase teacher salaries.
After months of meetings, the Educational Reform Commission set new goals and standards for creating blue-ribbon districts in 159 counties! Ambitious, but doable! Georgians want school districts that support labor markets and prepare students ready to earn more than just a livable wage. The Education Reform Commission defined high quality educational systems as:
– fair, equitable, and having available financial resources for all children, both rural and urban;
– highly qualified and effective school personnel;
– well designed instructional programming;
– college and career ready students;
– partnerships with business, industry, and postsecondary communities;
– rigor in the classroom and through on-the-job training;
– parental involvement, in addition to, wrap-around services for all children;
– service learning; and
– discipline, order, and structure among the student population.
Finally, educational reformist continue watchful eyes over districts that move towards a quest for educational excellence, ready to assist wherever and whenever. Across this great Country, education remains the most debated issue in State Legislatures, but undoubtedly, the most important issue for children and for the survival of communities.

State Sen. Freddie Powell Sims, D-Dawson, District 12
Member of The Georgia Education Reform Commission