Leaders of the Gainesville and Hall County school systems fielded questions from Rotary Club members Monday as part of the civic group’s State of the Schools presentation.
Gainesville Superintendent Merrianne Dyer and Hall County Superintendent Will Schofield answered questions ranging from fiscal concerns to teacher quality.
Schofield said although all 34 Hall County schools met Adequate Yearly Progress this year under No Child Left Behind, there is much work to be done.
“I think the children are well, as the old African adage goes, but have we arrived? No,” he said. “... We’ve got to strive to get even better. The stakes are too high.”
Schofield and Dyer said local charter schools are proving to be the keys to untying teachers’ hands to allow them the creativity, flexibility and innovation needed to engage students and get results. The superintendents said they are increasing emphasis on foreign language, technology and teaching methods that encourage higher order critical thinking.
Schofield called for more foreign language in early education. He also said equal education for all is inherently unequal, and schools need flexibility, as at the da Vinci Academy, to cater to children’s individual learning styles while using less funds to deliver engaging instruction.
Much of the conversation fell in step with the nation’s economic woes. Dyer and Schofield expressed concerns about the underfunding of education in Georgia and the Quality Basic Education formula concocted in 1985. The superintendents voiced a need for reform in education finance.
“What we have is outdated and is not working,” Dyer said. “Too much is being asked of local funding.”
The majority of Georgia’s 180 school systems have maxed out their millage rates, according to Georgia Association of Educators President Jeff Hubbard. He said the state has cut education funding $1.9 billion in the past seven years.
In addition, Schofield said Hall County’s tax digest is shrinking annually about 2 percent, largely as a result of senior tax exemptions and the county’s aging population.
“We’re going to have to sit down and ask ‘How are we going to fund public education in these austere times?’” he said. “... I’m about as conservative as they come, but at the end of the day we have to sit down and talk about revenue sources and where they’re going to come from.”