I think most people will agree that Columbia County has a school system that its citizens can be proud of.
They have good reasons.
Test scores are consistently well above state averages. Graduation rates are commendable. The facilities are excellent and being improved each year. Its teachers are dedicated to the children and loved by parents. Sure, there are faults and blemishes to be found, but that is to be expected.
To put it plainly, we have the best school system in all of east Georgia, and one of the best in the state. Some might want to argue against that, but they would be foolish.
Why? Because there is one test that trumps just about any other argument you might muster. That is, where do parents want to send their children to school?
Those parents have been voting on which schools they see as the best for more than two decades. Without a doubt, the school system is one of the main drivers of growth in Columbia County.
Looking ahead at the growth coming in the next decade, as Fort Gordon swells with new missions and more civilian jobs, schools will be the biggest attraction for new families moving to the area.
Fort Gordon officials have predicted at least 60 percent of those families will move here and enroll their children in county schools. My guess is that number is too low.
Our school leadership has a big task ahead of them, planning for hundreds of new children each year, while continuing to maintain the high standards that attract their parents to this county.
So, it’s understandable that school leadership is wary of ideas that don’t fit with their plans, such as the Columbia County School for the Arts charter school.
Recently, the school board rejected the charter school’s petition, citing numerous problems with its plan, from academic rigor to financial soundness, based on a report from a panel composed entirely of current school administrators and lawyers. The decision was no real surprise.
From one perspective, it might seem the charter school was destined to lose, playing against the house with a stacked deck.
Perhaps. But I can’t claim a bit of expertise in this area, so I’ll withhold judgment.
It is certain, however, that approving a charter school, no matter how wonderful, will still have an impact on the county’s budget as state funding for teaching positions is siphoned away with the new school’s enrollment.
On the other hand, if done well, such an institution could become another jewel in the county’s academic crown, and another draw for parents looking for the best educational opportunities for their kids.
Now the decision rests in the state’s hands, and there is a good chance the petition will be approved next month.
If so, the county leadership and the taxpayers will have another decision to make.They can get behind this new school and do their utmost to make it a success and an asset to our county, or they can all stand back and watch this idea wither and die on the vine.
Which one would you be proud of?