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Cuts in proven school program

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May 16, 2003

Albany-- State money for a proven school program is cut in half.

State Board of Education representative for the 2nd Congressional District, Peggy Nielson, says "Georgia's Choice has taken the second congressional district to higher ground."

But, have struggling schools been left on shaky ground? Georgia's Choice is an instructional model that sets classroom standards and shows teachers how to do their job better. And, it seems to be working.

A great example is Dougherty Middle School. Long thought of as the worst in the county, some of their test scores are now competitive with the system's best. The Principal credits this drastic improvement to Georgia's Choice, and says the momentum will not be stopped even if the money is cut in half.

One third of the Georgia's Choice Schools are in the Second Congressional District that encompasses much of Southwest Georgia. This year, the General Assembly cut the budget for school improvements in half.

State Superintendent Kathy Cox sent a letter out to the Georgia's Choice schools outlining a plan to continue the program with less money. That includes having the local system's pick up more of the cost and having shared in-school coaches.

Dougherty Middle School Principal Billy Brown is doing a drive-by--that's what he calls his surprise visits to the classrooms, "So this morning, I'm going to walk in, since this is the last day of school not a whole lot of academic work is going on."

It is the last day of school, but Mrs. Ferguson's class was willing to show me how they start each day under the Georgia's Choice Program. There's always a problem of the day under Georgia's Choice, just the kind of discipline Principal Brown says was lacking when he came to Dougherty Middle two years ago, "The discipline was atrocious and people didn't think highly of this little school on the east side that supported Dougherty High."

That's changed-- you just have to look around the school. Principal Brown says, "The work done on Georgia's Choice is visible in the school, the children's behavior is visible because they our proud of what they've accomplished."

"Our district has doubled, and many cases tripled and even exceeded tripling the state improvement average." State Board of Education member, Peggy Nielson, says the schools were promised three years under the Georgia's Choice program. But this year, the General Assembly slashed the money.

"My word is my bond, we said we would support this program for three years and just because it's going to be hard is not going to be a deterrent to my bond, " says Nielson.

Principal Brown says he has made a promise too; a promise to make Dougherty Middle School a place to be proud of, with or without the state's financial support, "The good part about it is I know the road to travel for success. The bad thing is the assistance we have been getting in order to make those kinds of strides will be lessened."

Now, the school systems will have to take on more of the financial burden individually if they want to keep the Georgia's Choice . For one county, that means an additional $600,000 commitment.

Posted at 4:08 p.m. by melissa.kill@walb.com

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