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Gainesville City Schools board discusses changes in learning
System is part of Race to the Top policy
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It’s a time of unprecedented change for education.

Education policies since the 1940s have taken American classrooms from reading, writing and arithmetic to science, from citizenship to national security and from a “settling out” of student population to making sure no student gets left behind.

“The purpose of education today is shifting. It’s being viewed as economic security and global competitiveness. There’s a need to replace the baby boomers in the workforce,” Gainesville City Schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer told board members at their Monday work session.

“There’s approximately one-third of children in the U.S. today as there are baby boomers ... Students are not graduating with the skill sets needed for jobs ... There’s too many high school graduates going to college and needing remedial assistance ... All of these things together is resulting in this policy shift.”

The policy of note Monday night was Georgia’s Race to the Top grant. Georgia is one of a select few states that received the $4 billion federal grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to support school improvement.

The grant was applied for by the Governor’s Office, the Georgia Department of Education, the
Governor’s Office of Student Achievement and education stakeholders.

Gainesville City and Hall County schools are two of the state’s 26 districts chosen to pilot Race to the Top. The systems represent Georgia demographics such as poverty, ethnicity and achievement. The rest of the school districts will be added to the grant over the next four years, Dyer said.

“Race to the Top is not something to stop and start. It’s policy that’s being crafted for Georgia based on changes in federal policy,” Dyer said.

The most challenging part of today’s education shifts are that there are so many, Dyer said. In addition to having the Race to the Top funding, Georgia is adopting the Common Core curriculum, a new teacher and leader evaluation system and a career-focused curriculum, to name a few.

“What we’ve tried to do is walk a fine line,” Sarah Bell, director of academic programs and standards for Gainesville City Schools, told board members. “We know there are a lot of initiatives going down and we want (employees) to be informed.”

Jamey Moore, director of curriculum and instruction, broke down the four Race to the Top goals — improving standards and assessment, improving teacher and leader quality, using new data systems and turning around the lowest performing schools.

The data systems, he said, might include an iPad application principals can use to input data from teacher evaluations that will be stored in a districtwide database.

Moore said no Gainesville City schools fall in the lowest performing schools classification, so instead the system will focus on learning support.

In addition, the city’s schools have their own goals of using more science, technology, engineering and math in classrooms as well as having teachers and leaders on state and local focus groups.

Priscilla Collins, principal of Gainesville Exploration Academy, said with Gainesville City Schools being a Race to the Top district, it gets increased funding for personnel and stipends for teachers who take on additional leadership and mentor roles. The system was also able to fund two technology specialists in each school.

“Research is showing that once you get past the home and student motivation, the most important fact that increases student achievement is the teacher you have in that classroom,” Collins said. “If nothing else comes out of Race to the Top than we get a quality teacher and leader evaluation system, we have greatly improved our students’ chances of being successful in life … We’re all pedaling as fast as we can so we make sure we go by (Georgia’s) scope of work. We’re all in this together. It’s not a ‘is this something we should do,’ it’s work we must do because it’s really going to impact student achievement.”

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