Fayette schools good, but challenges remain


Some findings from the Fayette Visioning Initiative Competitive Assessment:

“Stakeholders are fiercely proud of the local schools and recognize the importance of protecting and further nurturing such an asset.”

“The education system has been the jewel for the community and a beacon that has brought many families to the county.”

“There is little doubt that public schools in Fayette County are among the best in the state of Georgia.”

It’s the kind of stuff that makes me, as a school board member, so proud of our hard-working teachers, administrators, staff, students, and our wonderfully supportive community.

We know that we support education here in Fayette County. After all, we are highly educated as a group ourselves.

We support our schools as parents who make sure their kids know that education is important. We support our schools as volunteers. We’re coaches and mentors. We support our schools with our wallets, paying a 20-mill tax rate, and we approved a SPLOST in what generously could be considered a politically turbulent time.

We know that the value of our homes is dependent on the value of the education our school system provides.

And we’ve been pretty successful as a system so far. Gold medal winning, even.

But that doesn’t mean that we stop and rest on our laurels. We want to continue to improve. We want the best school district anywhere. “One of the top in the state” isn’t our goal. We want to stay on the podium every year.

So we’re embracing technology and putting more emphasis on staff development. Our students are video conferencing with students and teachers all over the world. We’re expanding opportunities for high school students so every student can take meaningful electives. We’re developing unique partnerships with industry leaders so our students learn real things on real equipment.

Our students will learn how to create using state of the art animation software. We’re expanding our leadership opportunities for kindergarteners as the Leader in Me program expands to more schools.

As a school board member I support all of these initiatives to make education meaningful for our children’s futures.

But even as we race forward, we know we have challenges holding us back.

How are we going to make sure we continue to have an excellent school system when faced with issues like our aging population and our declining student enrollments? We have more than 500 fewer 1st graders than seniors who will graduate this year.

How are we going to excel with fewer and fewer residents who pay school taxes? More and more of our residents are eligible for school tax exemptions as they reach age 65.

We know that even though residents of Fayette County all want the same things – a nice place to raise a family and grow old – that there remain tremendous differences in the perception of how well the community embraces all its residents.

There are also tremendous differences in the reputation of our high schools. We need to address this head-on rather than pretend it doesn’t exist.

We can help combat this perception of school inequality by showing where some of it comes from. Our standardized test system has grown quite good at creating all sorts of data like graduation rates and CCRPI scores.

Those show some differences between our schools because of what and how they measure — measures that aren’t necessarily impacted by teacher quality or school climate. So we need to make sure we are using systems that measure our schools for what we think is important.

We also need to combat the perception of school inequality by making sure there is no reason for it. We need to make sure that all of our students continue to have access to every available opportunity for academic success, that each student is educated in adequate and safe facilities, and has access to quality athletic and extracurricular programs.

But most of all, combating those perceptions means that we must be open to other viewpoints and consider other people’s perspectives.

The Competitive Assessment report underscores what I see first-hand when I visit our schools. We all want the same thing. We have differences of perspective and language.

For example, if you’re in economic development, you might be in favor of “career readiness” classes. Someone in education might be advocating for “project-based learning.” If we don’t slow down and listen to each other, we’ll never discover we both want the same class.

This visioning process is an opportunity for all us to come together. Whatever our differences might be – race, religion, geography, politics – we all live in Fayette County together. We all moved here for the same reasons.

We came for the school system. And it’s the system that almost all of our children attend.

We need to pay attention to what is most important. For every decision, whether it’s made at the state or county or city level, we need to make sure it supports our school system.

That means figuring out how to attract young families to come to Fayette County like we did. It means making sure our county feels welcoming to all potential residents. It means continuing to support our schools and the goal of making our district the best.

Please participate in the visioning process. And get involved and engaged in your local governments. This is our county. Let’s remember why we live here.

A Fayette Visioning Initiative public meeting will be held Wednesday, March 5, 2014 from 6-8 p.m. at the Sandy Creek High School Auditorium, 360 Jenkins Road, Tyrone.

Attendees will hear a presentation from Market Street Services, Inc., and will have the opportunity to give feedback and suggestions about where they want to see Fayette County in the future.

An online forum for citizen input, online discussion and comments can be accessed at http://FayetteVision.MindMixer.com.

[Leonard Presberg was appointed in November 2011 to an open seat on the Fayette County Board of Education. Presberg says he and his wife Elizabeth Moore, a local obstetrician and gynecologist, have been raising three children, Emma and Eli who attend Sandy Creek High School, and Isaac who attends Flat Rock Middle School, in Fayette County since 1997. Presberg represents Post 5 on the board, and last week announced his intention to seek election to that post after District 5 recently was redrawn by court order.]