Richmond County evaluates new educational model

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First at Five, May 11, 2007

AUGUSTA, Ga.---60 school districts across the state are now using parts of an educational model that originated in Gainesville, Georgia. Gov. Sonny Perdue believes it's the best system in the state.

Now Richmond County is looking at the program.

It's a new approach to teaching in which educators teach students based on their individual needs.

Gainesville's superintendent, Dr. Stephen Ballowe, says it's a common sense approach that's working by putting children first.

"Every decision must be what is best for the children," he said. "It should not be what is best for the politics or community leader, but what is right for the children."

The Gainesville model starts at the bottom, first letting parents decide which academy or school they want their child to attend. Then, every nine weeks, students are given a pretest. Their scores then determine what they need to learn.

At the end of nine weeks, post-test scores show how well the students learned the curriculum and if any changes need to be made. Scores are then posted online and in the schools for teachers and parents to hold each other accountable.

"We can guarantee every child will be taught all standards and every child will succeed," Dr. Ballowe said.

The numbers don't lie. The Gainesville school system is beating the state's average scores for every standard.

Richmond County educators liked what they saw.

"The beauty of this is you see someone talking about it and can show results behind it," said Butler High principal Dr. Walter Reeves.

The Gainesville model relies heavily on parent and community support and participation, and educators say their involvement today shows that the system may be just what Augusta needs

"If it's worked well for other students, it should be able to work for us if we're dedicated," said parent and grandparent Debra McCord.

"We owe it to the kids and the citizens in our community to give them the best education we possibly can, and I hope we will and I think we will," said concerned citizen Aubrey Highsmith.

Gainesville only has six thousand students in its district, so in order for the program to work here in Augusta, Dr. Ballowe says we would most likely need to split into clusters.

The cost is the same because you are using the same staff and facilities, just teaching differently.

No word yet on what the school board plans to take away from today's meeting.

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