Dave Belton

Dave Belton

By Dave Belton

Every now and then, I write a column to update what is happening in our schools. This year started very well, with very little of the complications that usually arise. Quite to our surprise, Assistant Superintendant Debra White unexpectedly left for family reasons and has been temporarily replaced by just-retired super-principal Jean Triplett at half-pay. I can not discuss why Ms. White left, but can tell you she did it for the most noble of reasons and we all wish her well. Mr. Ty Snyder seems to be doing a great job as the new principal at the elementary school and has made a good impression of every teacher and parent I’ve talked to.

We just got back our CRCT scores (MCES and MCMS) and they were great. We had five-year highs in “Exceeding Expectations” in nearly every Reading and Social Studies score, and that was after five-year highs in most Language Arts and Science scores from last year. And I hope you will remember that MCES and MCPS had the BEST Common Core scores of ANY county in the state last year. Wow.

MCHS just got its AP Scores from May, and they’re the best we’ve ever had. We quadrupled our AP Scholars in four years and doubled our National AP Scholars. Overall, we had a 45 percent pass rate – up from 16 percent in 2007 – while quadrupling our participation from 34 to 128 students. Overall, 31 percent of MCHS students take AP tests compared to 17 percent in Georgia. We doubled Georgia’s participation, yet scored only slightly lower at 45 percent vs. 55 percent (our freshmen and sophomores are completing against their juniors and seniors). That is incredible, proving the success that ALL our schools are achieving.

How did we do compared to the nation and the world? Digging through a lot of data I’ve found that only 6 percent of U.S. students (compared to our 31 percent) participate, and they passed at a 20 percent rate (we passed at 45 percent). Worldwide, less than 1 percent participates, but those select few have a very high pass rate of 61 percent. Remember, your AP child is not only competing with 83,000 kids in Georgia, but also with the 0.9 million AP students in the U.S. and an additional 1.3 million AP students across the globe.

Our ACT scores just came in, and again we beat our scores from last year…and by an average of 10 percent, recording five-year highs in every category! We also beat Georgia in every category, and Georgia rose to tie the nation. The ACT is an alternative to the SAT that is used widely in the Midwest, and is a much better predictor of college success.

Our 86 percent graduation rate last year was 13th best in the state, putting us in the top 7 percent of Georgia yet again. A record 240 students graduated last year and we had a record 82 percent acceptance rate at UGA and Georgia Tech.

Our budget this year is 9 percent lower than five years ago. Our cost per child ratio has fallen from $9,047 to $8,171, well BELOW average PRIVATE school tuition in Georgia ($8549). Our teachers have suffered a 6 percent pay cut, and staff was slashed 10 percent. Another 25 teachers were lost this year, resulting in an additional 6 percent cut. And we returned the millage rate to the rollback rate six years in a row.

The Boys & Girls Club and the unique partnership they have with the middle school is another success story. It’s very hard to believe, but none – and I mean zero – of the children who participate in the Club have ever come before a disciplinary tribunal! That is amazing. If you have the time or resources to help this organization, please do so. It really helps.

I’d also like to address the new Common Core curriculum. It is NOT a federal plan. Washington had NOTHING to do with it. Georgia and 45 other states created this curriculum, which intends to “prepare students for college and career for the 21st century workplace.” To this end, MCHS has created a Youth Apprenticeship program as well as 12 Career Academies that focus on “tech” (or “career”) as well as college. Common Core is designed to prepare students for either path. It is also much harder. For example, third graders are doing fifth grade work, a trend that is necessary if our kids are going to compete in this new global market.

Finally, I’d like to address teacher morale. The board is very aware of the financial and academic pressure we’ve put on them. So far, scores show the more we ask of these dedicated professionals, the better they perform. But as any leader knows, there is a breaking point. A professional, positive  climate in all our schools  is critical.  A recent survey indicates we need to continue to develop and maintain such a climate. We’ll continue to seek feedback from our teachers about our schools and monitor the situation very carefully.

Teachers are paramount. They’re the ones who are actually doing what’s worth doing… teaching our children. Everything else is ancillary.

It’s never been harder to be a teacher than right now. There is way more scrutiny than ever before. Our teachers are NOT union, make far less money than they did before, yet their responsibilities constantly increase and the state just tripled their workload by changing curriculum three times over the past four years. Like the private sector, OUR teachers are doing more with less – and they are doing it with superlative results. Please don’t confuse them with what is going on in Atlanta.

Any objective analysis shows that our poor, rural-county schools far exceed expectations. Morgan County should be proud of our better-than-expected schools and should expect a huge portion of future businesses to locate here. The economic benefits should be obvious.

Dave Belton represents District 5 on the Morgan County Board of Education.