Barker: Strong community keeps enrollment up in Coweta schools

By REBECCA LEFTWICH
rebecca@newnan.com
Nearly nine weeks into his second year as superintendent of schools for Coweta County, Dr. Steve Barker says its the community that keeps enrollment climbing in local schools while neighboring district numbers continue to decline.
"Enrollment is an indicator of strong community and civic-mindedness, and I'm very proud of that," Barker told Newnan Rotary Club members at their Friday meeting at Newnan Country Club.
Coweta County School System currently serves 22,715 students.
"There are a lot of moving parts to educating this many students," Barker said. "It's been a very good start to the school year, but it's been busy."
Barker highlighted accomplishments and outlined some of the goals and incentives of the Coweta County School System, including:

• Smokey Road Principal Laurie Barron's being named National Middle Level Principal of the Year.

"She doesn't run things like a regular public school," Barker said. "I've learned it's best to just get out of her way."

•  Central Educational Center, which was named an "Innovator" by the Southern Growth Policies Board and nominated for a STEM Education Award by the Technology Association of Georgia.

"The industry of science, technology, engineering and math and public education are pulling in the same direction, trying to find better ways of educating students for the 21st century workforce," Barker said. "CEC is pushing very hard in that direction, and it's also an area we're continuing to explore."

• End-of-course testing, which replaces the Georgia High School Graduation Test; SAT vs. ACT tests as an indicator of college readiness; and the College and Career Readiness Performance Index, which replaces Annual Yearly Progress now that Georgia has been granted a waiver from No Child Left Behind mandates.

"CCRPI uses a broader brush to see how schools are doingâ ¦ instead of just test scores," Barker said, eliciting chuckles when he added, "I wish I could tell you how it's calculated, but they haven't told us yet.

"I think it will be a good thing," he said.

• ESPLOST IV, the education-earmarked, one percent special purpose local option sales tax, which will allow up to $130 million in collections from 2012-15. The school system plans to use the funds for school renovations and expansion, technology and transportation.

"This is difference in that we are approaching it from pay-as-you-go," Barker said. "We're not anticipating borrowing any money up front this time."

Expansion will include increased high school space, Barker said. Using funds from previous ESPLOST campaigns, the school system recently completed extensive renovations at Newnan High School, with similar work planned at East Coweta High School. Previous ESPLOST funds also provided ninth grade campuses, classroom technology, bus fleet expansion and construction of the new Corinth Road Middle School, set to open in fall 2014.

• Eighth Grade Charter College and Career Academy, a first-year program in which a group of middle-schoolers is taking all coursework at CEC.

"So far, the model's been very successful and we're getting great feedback from students," Barker said

• Bring Your Own Technology program, in which students are encouraged to use devices such as smartphones and tablets to increase classroom technology capability.

The Shenandoah Georgia Youth Science and Technology Center, now based in Grantville, is aiding the effort by sponsoring a tax-free donation program for used devices in good working order. Donations will be distributed to students who do not own devices.

• Inaugural Technology Summit for Coweta County educators, held in July to encourage the use of technology in classrooms.

• System Leadership Academy, a mentoring and leadership skill development program for Coweta educators who are interested in becoming administrators.

"We're trying to grow our next generation of leaders," Barker said.

• Dual enrollment, in which students have the opportunity to earn college credit while completing high school. Barker said more than 150 students currently are dual-enrolled, an increase from last year.

Barker, when asked to comment on the hot-button charter amendment debate, pointed to CEC as a "great example of good chartering."

"It is a national model supported by both local and state boards," he said.

After briefly outlining the process of charter application, Barker said November's vote "is about who gets to decide about granting a charter."

"I encourage you to educate yourself," Barker said. "I'm not going to stand up here and tell you how to vote."



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