Forsyth County boasts great schools but faces new pressures from the vast growth in the region. We asked the two District 2 school board candidates to answer these three questions related to those challenges:
1. How much of Forsyth’s academic success owes to its higher-than-average socio-economics? Is the system doing as well by its students as it should?
2. Is the system taking sufficient measures to deal with growth? What more should it be doing?
3. What innovations would you like to bring to Forsyth County schools?
Democrat Camille Fareri is an assistant professor of literacy at Brenau University in Gainesville. She has a doctorate in education and more than 30 years in the field. She is the mother of two daughters and the grandmother of one boy.
1. Forsyth County has made tremendous strides in the last two decades. Much of its academic success may be owed to its higher-than-average socio-economics, but this can neither be proven nor disproven. South Forsyth High School., which has seen an influx of high income families, currently ranks 208 among public high schools nationally. Obviously, that is an extremely good ranking. I’d like to see the remaining high schools in the system also reach a high ranking among public schools nationally. I feel the system must continue to offer the high quality programs that have brought success to all its students. In particular, the system must continue to provide the appropriate services for its special populations, ESL, special needs and gifted students, as well for the average student in the county. The district needs to continue to attract and nurture quality teachers who can foster critical thinking skills in our students.
2. The system has undertaken building projects to deal with the growth of the area. The district needs to assess its building projects to make sure that there is sufficient space for all its students to be taught in small classes with qualified teachers. In addition, the district needs to assure that students have access to a full curriculum including the Arts, Physical education, a complete athletic program and sufficient AP ( Advanced Placement) courses.
3. I’d like to see an innovative curriculum that stresses critical thinking skills and not just the results on standardized tests. I’d like to see a thoughtful teacher evaluation system that is not dependent on a one-day performance on standardized tests. Teacher accountability should be based on a dynamic evaluation of the teacher’s instruction in the classroom. Is the teacher motivating, does he or she engage learners, are students learning to their full potential? Good teaching is not teaching to the test, and good teachers are the engines behind good schools.
Kristin Morrissey is a mother of two children in Forsyth schools and has a degree in computer science. She is former vice president of Brookwood Elementary School’s PTA.
1 Forsyth County has been recognized for being one of the wealthiest counties in Georgia and nationwide, one of the “Top Places to Get Ahead” and most recently one the nation’s “100 Best Communities for Young People”. While a healthy home life is crucial to a child’s overall well being regardless of their socio-economic status, I attribute the success of the schools in Forsyth to that and a variety of factors. New technology has been incorporated into the schools to make our classrooms and homes more efficient and cost effective. Our children learn and embrace technology in a way that wasn’t possible when we grew up. These electronic tools are just that however, tools that assist with education but are not a replacement for high quality teachers. FCS continues to hire and retain top notch teachers that are dedicated to our students’ achievement. To prepare our children for the real world and the global economy, we must look at a variety of ways to gauge the success of our students and teachers beyond just that of standardized testing. We need to continue to highlight and reward success stories in the classroom as well identify and address areas in need of improvement.
In September, FCS was awarded a $4.7 Million grant for Engage ME – P.L.E.A.S.E., a program that combines technology and teacher input to tailor design a learning program on a student by student basis. We are also blessed in Forsyth County to have a high level of commitment and volunteerism amongst parents, local businesses and the community that helps our schools continue to make great strides.
The PROPEL Initiative now under way, is a joint effort between the Cumming Forsyth Chamber of Commerce, the school system and local community stakeholders. The goal of PROPEL is to raise the graduation level from its current level of 89%, to the mid 90’s and ultimately 100% by identifying and eliminating obstacles to academic success. Comparing our schools on both a national and at the state level will help to raise the bar and allow Forsyth to continue on its path of excellence.
2. Years ago in better economic times, county had the foresight to plan ahead for continued growth. Last year, five new schools were opened, helping to address some of the overcrowding issues in our schools and reducing the number of portable classrooms from 174 to 53. Our IE2 contract with the state gives our school system even more flexibility to reach its goals. With the added flexibility the contract brings, the school system is held to higher standards and yet we can use this local control to make adjustments in staffing on a school to school basis helping to keep our class sizes lower.
In September, the FC BOE voted to move forward with the building of Kelly Mill Elementary School with construction starting early next year. With the slow economy it’s taking longer acquire the funds to both build and operate the new schools to accommodate our growing population. In the meantime, we must continue to look at changes from within, particularly for those schools in the north that are still struggling with overcrowding. It is the obligation of the BOE to guarantee equitable educational opportunities for all our children throughout the county.
3. I’d like to see additional opportunities in vocational studies for students who are looking for an alternative to traditional postsecondary studies. We should explore the potential of schools to offer specialized trade-like courses from automotive repair to cosmetology to medical technology to music and the arts. We are fortunate to have facilities like Northside Hospital, Lanier Tech and several other successfully owned and operated businesses. Joint venture programs like these could further prepare our students for employment upon graduation.