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One-size-fits-all schooling needs to change, school leaders say
Hall school chief proposes letting students choose different paths
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The age of a singular pathway for high school students has come to an end, say leaders of Hall County schools. In fact, they said, that age should have passed years ago.

Earlier this month, Will Schofield, the superintendent of Hall County Schools, presented the county’s local legislators with the system’s “Hall County Workforce 2020 Competitiveness Plan,” a proposal that aims to create alternative pathways to a high school diploma, effectively producing a more qualified, skilled labor force.

“This is just kind of a culmination of conversations we’ve been having across the state for the last five years — at a minimum,” Schofield said. “That is, there seems to be some fairly widespread agreement that a one-size-fits-all educational system that, my goodness, we should’ve moved from that a long time ago, but we don’t ever seem to get beyond the lip service to it.”

What Schofield and the system want to do is “actively petition state policy makers, the state Board of Education, the Technical College System and University System of Georgia to recognize rigorous alternative pathways to a college/work/citizenship credential.”

Schofield said the current system is “based upon antiquated seat time and in his experience only serves the needs of about 60 percent of students.

“My informal survey of 27 years in the business tells me there’s probably 40 percent of our kids that the current system just doesn’t work for,” he said.

“My board and I believe that school — particularly in this day and age when we have the opportunity to individualize with the use of technology and career technical pathways — gosh, it’s just got to look different for students that don’t want to pursue the traditional liberal arts path,” he said.

But Schofield and his team know that changing the entire system overnight is impractical, if not impossible. Their hope is to test it on the local level with a small group of students.

“When we look at transformational changes in any bureaucracy, and let’s just be honest that education is a bureaucracy, that if you try and change the whole system at once, my experiences tell me you rarely get anywhere,” he said.

“What we’d like to do is go to all of these groups and say: ‘Let us try this with 100 kids. Let us try it with 500 kids. Let us show you that it works.’ We’re just convinced there is a better and more efficient way.”

But some school systems now have the flexibility to individualize pathways for students who choose to opt out of a traditional education for a more technically-infused high school experience.

That freedom, they said, comes with a lot of responsibility.

Gainesville City Schools is a charter system, meaning it is exempt from some state regulations. In short, students at either of the system’s high schools can, in theory, replace traditional classes with career-oriented courses.

“As a charter system, we are exempt from all the graduation requirements because they are state statues,” said Merrianne Dyer, Gainesville superintendent. “However, what we’ve learned is there are so many other variables that link you to other entities that you have to approach it very cautiously.”

Gainesville students must complete their freshman and sophomore years on the state-aligned path before they can switch gears and choose a technical, career-aligned path.

“The question we have to ask ourselves is, at that point, are we willing to limit their post-high school options?” Dyer said.

“Are we willing to help them make a decision to not take the courses that would meet the Board of Regents requirements that would allow them to get into a two- or four-year university?”

But, Dyer said, it’s not commonplace on their high school campuses, mainly because limiting a student’s academic route could prove costly if they change their mind on future endeavors.

“We’ve replaced the state-required courses very conservatively in their junior and senior year,” Dyer said. “We haven’t done much of it at all because we weren’t sure what the ramifications for the child would be.”

That’s part of what Schofield and his team are working through. He hopes to get all the “moving parts” together at the table: state board, law makers and the university systems.

Until all those can agree on ways to make this proposal a reality, “I hope that the conversation will create an opportunity to get around the table,” Schofield said. “Because if you don’t, the technical system and the university system on board, it’s a non-starter. You can’t offer children a pathway that leads nowhere.”