Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield believes that the answer to closing student achievement gaps and better preparing pupils for life outside the classroom begins with asking the right question.
“Perhaps it’s that we’re still riding a horse that our great-great-grandparents rode that just doesn’t get the job done any longer,” he told attendees during a forum hosted by the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education at the University of North Georgia in Gainesville on Tuesday, Sept. 18. “We are measuring the wrong things. The world has changed.”
Schofield is talking about structural change. Overhauling the system. Fixing a broken model that restricts workforce development in Hall County and Northeast Georgia.
Developing a pipeline of educated workers, whether in the trades or liberal arts, doesn’t just ready the next generation of craftsmen and professionals – education is imperative to the regional economy and quality of life.
There are huge public costs, otherwise, in health care, incarceration and other social services.
But there is a lot to be gained.
For example, if the high school graduation rate in Georgia rose to 90 percent from 80.6 percent in 2017, it would produce $60 million in additional income for residents of the state; $10.5 million in additional tax revenue; $600 million in healthcare savings; and $200 million in home sales, according to the Georgia Partnership.
The demands for a skilled, educated workforce are also large.
Across the state, employer job openings have grown more than 150 percent since 2010, and by 2025, 60 percent of jobs will require some form of post-secondary education, the Georgia Partnership reports.
Right now, just 48 percent of young adults have a post-secondary credential.
Dr. Steve Dolinger, president of Georgia Partnership, said collaboration among public and private entities is different in each community, where the general population may know the record of a school’s football team but not the school’s graduation rate.
Maintaining momentum by having strong leaders who can carry educational and community goals across generations is critical to improving education in Georgia, Dolinger said.
In Gainesville and Hall County, connecting schools at every level with local businesses, nonprofits and other community organizations has become the new standard.
Whether it’s partnering with the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce to expand work-study opportunities for high school students, or coordinating social services for students and their families with the United Way of Hall County, collaboration is growing.
Much of the focus is on supporting students and their families, many of whom are living in low-income households.
According to census figures compiled by the United Way, 18.3 percent of the county is considered “extremely poor.” That’s a family of four earning less than $25,000 a year.
Meanwhile, 21.8 percent is considered “very poor or low-income” and 14.3 percent is “financially burdened.”
Just 45.6 percent of the population (a family of four earning $60,000 or more annually) is “self-sufficient.”
Joy Griffin, president of the United Way of Hall County, said at the Georgia Partnership forum that the area is rich in the people, passion and resources needed to address the intersection of poverty, education and health.
Connecting them is the challenging part.
The United Way already partners with Gainesville City Schools to have school social workers coordinate the nonprofit’s Compass Center, which provides case management for families in need of services like access to health care, financial resources and basic needs.
But a bigger, two-generational roadmap to care for parents, too, so their children can be prepared for educational and life success, is on the horizon.
On Thursday, Sept. 20, the United Way will publicly release its “Community Game Plan,” which the organization describes as a “long-range strategy to align collaborative efforts and position Hall County for effective collective impact to address poverty.”
“It’s going to take that kind of collective alignment and collaboration for us to address these issues,” Griffin said on Tuesday.
Gainesville City Schools Superintendent Jeremy Williams said partnerships, such as with the United Way, open doors to the wider community.
“We as a community have all the resources we need,” he added. “It’s just making sure we know about each other and we’re pointing each other in the right direction.”
The challenges are unique for Gainesville City Schools, where 30 percent of the approximately 8,000 students in the district are learning English as a second language.
“What our students need and what our families need to thrive for generations is more than just a short-term fix,” Williams said. “We’ve got to make sure we’re looking out for them long term.”
Gainesville and Hall County school districts partner with other organizations, such as the Boys & Girls Clubs of Lanier, YMCA and Gainesville Housing Authority.
Local manufacturing firms, for example, are also steady financial contributors.
Hall County Schools now offers 35 programs of choice, which “bring innovative curricula to students in a more concerted effort to meet their individual needs,” according to school officials.
That’s a start for Schofield.
But there’s much more to be done to better prepare young children and set them up for lifelong success as part of the workforce of the future.
“We’re trying to fix 18-year-olds and building prisons,” Schofield said, “instead of ensuring children in all communities are ready to go to school.”
United Way of Hall County Annual Campaign Kickoff
What: “Community Game Plan” strategy to address poverty
When: Thursday, Sept. 20 – free breakfast at 7:30 a.m.; program begins at 8 a.m.
Where: First Baptist Church, banquet hall, 751 Green St. in Gainesville
More info: Visit www.unitedwayhallcounty.org