Georgia Communities in Schools director urges support

Newnan’s Rotary Club received an update about the revitalization of the Coweta County Communities In Schools program, which expects to begin student support efforts in 2014.

Neil Shorthouse – the President and State Director of Communities In Schools of Georgia – talked with Rotarians about his organization’s efforts to serve at-risk students with the goal of increasing high school graduation and reducing dropout rates.

Shorthouse recognized and thanked a number of local leaders for their efforts to reinstate Coweta’s communities in schools program, notably Newnan Utilities Manager Dennis Mcentire, who chairs the local board, as well as Coweta superintendent of schools Steve Barker and Central Educational Center CEO mark Whitlock, both of whom have supported the effort.

“You have a great school system… an innovative system here in Coweta County,” said Shorthouse. He said that Georgia and the nation’s future lay with the success of students in public schools, and praised teachers for the work that they do with those students every day. “But there are also social issues - issues that have nothing to do with schools, and don’t start there – that pull us back,” he added.

Shorthouse urged Rotarians - and business and community leaders generally - to focus on the challenges faced by students who live in poverty. He encouraged club members to become involved with Communities in Schools as a way to support at-risk students to community resources that could help them learn, flourish at school and graduate. Communities In Schools began in the 1970s, when founder Bill Milliken created an organization focused on bringing community resources inside public schools, and developing a model that keeps the efforts accessible to students, coordinated and accountable. By partnering with partner with local businesses, social service agencies, health care providers and volunteers, the organization places site coordinators inside schools to assess students’ needs and provide resources to help them succeed academically and socially.

With 183 such programs in 27 states, Communities In Schools is considered the nation’s leading dropout prevention organization, providing at-risk children with academic assistance, school supplies, health care, counseling, family support, food, and positive community role models. In addition to strengthening community outreach to children most in need through their schools and school systems, the organization also encourages greater involvement by parents in their children’s education, and offers students ways to take greater responsibility for their own learning and development.

Coweta County’s Communities in Schools maintained a strong program for many years under the leadership of the late Bonnie Garrison. The program has been revitalized in the last year following organization and support by Leadership Coweta, the Newnan-Coweta Chamber of Commerce and the Coweta County School System.

The local board is led by Chairman Dennis McEntire, Vice Chair Lisa Smith, and members Carole Ann Fields, Garnet Reynolds, Arthur “Skin” Edge, Matt Brass, Sally Hensley, Kristy Lilly, Rhodes Shell, Jac Counts, Vince Bass, Beverly Yeager, Lisa McDonald and Gerald Kemp. The board is working towards initiating programs aimed particularly at elementary-aged students in 2014, and is approaching the community currently for funding and marketing of the efforts.

“Communities In Schools has had a long track record of success in Coweta County,” said CEC’s Mark Whitlock. “That success has set the stage for a broader program today focused particularly on younger ages, and focused on the barriers faced by young students that can prevent them from being successful in school.”



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