New approaches to education are needed to prepare students for the world they will face when they become adults, two local school superintendents told members of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce Thursday.
“The world has changed and I would suggest to you that we had better change,” Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield said during the chamber’s meeting at Chattahoochee Country Club. “The Asian tigers are knocking at our doors; Eastern Europe is waking up; India wants everything you have, And we better start looking for ways to train our children to have the skills and capacities and the character to compete on the worldwide market.”
Schofield and Gainesville City School System Superintendent Jeremy Williams were the featured speakers at Thursday’s chamber board of directors meeting. The two school leaders spoke separately, but both shared challenges that require changes in education.
Williams talked about the ethnic diversity in his district where 60 percent of students are Hispanic and 40 percent are “English learners.” He said the student population in the city’s eight schools is made up of students who speak more than 40 different languages.
“What that means is we’ve got a wide range of services just within that English language (learners) community,” Williams said. “You take the kid who comes from Guatemala with limited formal schooling or who’s never been in school. They don’t even know the Spanish language. How are they going to learn English?
“Congolese who are moving into our area that are highly educated, but on the language side, they have to learn from the French to the English. So, even when you look at our English learner population and the range that we have to serve there, we have to go and look at it on almost a case-by-case basis.”
Williams said he is also concerned with equity in education and is looking for ways to help kids learn.
“We have special-needs kids that are scoring just as high as our African-American students,” Williams said. “That shouldn’t happen … We need to make sure we that we have the tentacles in every community to help serve the needs of every child... We need to engage our students. We need to make sure we’re finding what they love to do. Every kid loves to do something. I can tell you now, it’s not sitting down with a worksheet and filling it out like we could get excited about.”
Scofield expressed concerns about the 18,000 to 30,000 students in Georgia who “leave our schools without a diploma” each year.
“They left our schools without a high school diploma, without any employable skills and most importantly, they left our schools with no hope,” he said. “That’s not just a Georgia issue, it’s a nationwide issue.
“What we will not do in the Hall County School District is more of the same,” he added. “And when somebody comes in and says, ‘All you need to do is get on that kid and make them work a little harder,’ I’ve got some news for you, you’re looking through some rose-colored glasses. Those of us who say, ‘School used to work so great,’ we just don’t have very good memories.”
Schofield said students should be encouraged to follow their passion and gifts rather than the idea that a four-year college degree is necessary for a successful life.
“God has gifted everyone of the 36,000 students in Gainesville and Hall County with certain kinds of gifts and certain kinds of passions, and if the best road to get to those gifts and passions is going to be a two-year program, go to a two-year program,” he said. “If it’s going to the wonderful University of North Georgia and getting a four-year degree, go to the University of North Georgia.
“But we are working really hard with our schools and with our parents and with our communities to say, ‘Please quit making children feel broken if they’re just not finding a four-year degree that meets their passions and meets their gifts.’ We want folks to be where they can be to be successful and be happy.”
Both superintendents said they would like to see more collaboration between the two school districts.
“It’s important to me that we make sure we explore those opportunities, that we explore partnerships, we explore better ways to serve our kids,” Williams said. “What doesn’t make sense is to try to duplicate efforts when you can just combine efforts and serve the whole child.”