MARIETTA — Amidst changes to dual enrollment and mandated school testing, Cobb County’s education system is performing well, according to State Superintendent Richard Woods.
In charge of one of the state’s largest annual budgets, of more than $10 billion, Woods, a Republican, addressed a packed crowd at the Cobb GOP’s headquarters Saturday morning.
“You’ve got a great school system here in Cobb,” he said. “Keep up the good work with what you are doing.”
Woods, first elected as state superintendent in 2014, told the crowd that the state’s graduation rate is the highest it has ever been, at around 85%, and he expects it to reach 90% in the next few years.
“We are in a very, very good spot,” Woods said. “It’s roughly grown about 12% since I took office.”
Woods said dual enrollment in Georgia has also grown over the last five years, from around 13,000 students involved in 2015 to more than 50,000 students today.
That program, allowing a student to be simultaneously enrolled in two academic institutions, is helping the state’s graduation rate and giving local children great opportunities, Woods said, adding that the number of dually enrolled students in Georgia is growing by around 10,000 each year.
“This is something that does not put a burden on them or their families,” he said. “We want to make sure that it’s sustainable, so, if we keep growing, what’s that going to look like? We will make sure the quality of the program is good.”
Woods received a warm welcome Saturday, but he was challenged by some who said more life skills, such as basic sewing and cooking, needed to be incorporated into the curriculum, as well as more national history and a basic computer coding program.
One woman said she was sad to learn some teachers do not lead students anymore in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Woods said he’s trying to get Georgia “down to the federal minimum” of mandatory testing, so students can receive more individualized education, and he announced plans to introduce personal finance courses in schools — something he said is on his bucket list.
“Georgia and our education system became about a test instead of about the kids,” Woods said. “I’ve always been a strong proponent that education is a right of the state, and if I could, in the blink of an eye, I would get rid of the U.S. Department of Education.”
Legislation before the Georgia General Assembly aims to decrease the time students have to be in a testing environment, Woods said, as well as place tests as close to the end of the school year as possible.
Under Senate Bill 367, five tests would be scrapped, including exams in American literature, geometry, physical science and economics. The bill passed unanimously out of the Senate on March 3 and now heads to the state House of Representatives.
Woods thanked Gov. Brian Kemp and the General Assembly for supporting education, but said “success does not roll from the top down” and that it’s the local educators making the real difference.
Woods said he’s working with local school districts to create district-specific career pathways, particularly those in the technology sector, and that Georgia is a leader in this field.
“The opportunities that our children have are amazing,” Woods said. “Georgia is going to be the first state to get it right, and that’s because we’re focusing on our children and not an agenda.”
Randy Scamihorn, a Cobb County School District board member, was at the meeting and told Woods the $3,000 pay raises for public teachers approved by lawmakers last year allowed the board to be competitive in attracting and retaining the best teachers possible.
Kemp campaigned on a promise to raise teacher salaries by $5,000 and is pushing to get the remaining $2,000 approved despite budget cuts prompted by slow tax collection.
“I believe this well-deserved pay raise will go a long way to incentivizing our best and brightest to stay in the classroom,” Kemp said recently during a visit to McEachern High School in Powder Springs.
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