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State schools superintendent checks in with local programs
Cox champions projects that give students alternatives for learning
0610cox
Georgia Superintendent of Schools Kathy Cox, right, gets a tour of the Interactive Neighborhood for Kids with the facility's executive director, Sheri Hooper. - photo by Tom Reed

It is one thing to create a program, but it is something totally different to see it in action.

With that in mind, State Superintendent of Schools Kathy Cox decided to visit to several local programs on Tuesday.

Cox’s first official stop was Johnson High School in Gainesville, where she was able to observe first-hand one of the state-funded Project Express sites.

"Project Express is a way for (the Georgia Department of Education) to help high school juniors who failed the science or social studies portion of the high school graduation test," Cox said.

"Project Express involves an intensive, two-week remediation session for students and, at the end of the program, students are given the opportunity to retake the exam. It’s all about helping students start their senior year on track. If they start on track, the less likely it is that they will drop out."

The idea for the state-funded program grew from previous experiences and also from necessity, Cox said.

"We knew that school systems would be holding summer school for credit recovery, but with money being tight, we also knew that most systems couldn’t afford to do a lot of remediation for the graduation test," Cox said.

"We had a lot of success offering a similar summer school remediation program for the eighth-grade math portion of the (Criterion Referenced Competency Test), so we decided to utilize some of the remaining school improvement money to create a program for high school students."

Although every high school isn’t a Project Express site, there are many sights across the state, including Johnson High and East Jackson High School in Jackson County.

"We hired the best (science and social studies) teachers in the state for Project Express," Cox said.

"We also have written into their contract a clause about incentive pay. If 80 percent of their students pass, they will receive (a bonus). If that works, we may take a closer look at how we pay our teachers (during the regular school year."

While in town, Cox also toured the Interactive Neighborhood for Kids on Chestnut Street.

"I met Sheri (Hooper, facility director) at a joint Kiwanis and Lions Club meeting and she told me about INK," Cox said. "I told her that I would stop by the next time that I was in Gainesville. I think it is a really great concept. Anytime you encourage children to get away from the TV and use their own imagination I think that is great."

INK houses a miniature community that includes a hospital, grocery store, bank and post office. Children are allowed to visit each of the centers and engage in pretend play. They can do everything from purchase groceries to take a flight aboard Grandpappy Airlines.

"We were very excited and honored when we found out Superintendent Cox was coming," said Sheri Hooper, INK director. "As a nonprofit organization, it is very necessary for us to have the support of our state leaders."

Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, also visited INK on Tuesday.

"We spend so much time at the Capitol, but it’s important to for us to come out and spend time in the community," Rogers said. "It’s impossible to see everything, but it’s good to get out as much as we can. It’s a good way to pick up ideas, hear input from the citizens and to make good contacts."

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