In an interview with Times Journal Inc. at the Georgia State Capitol on Wednesday, Georgia’s new governor who was sworn in on Monday shared his current stance on education issues which would impact the local school systems.

Standardized testing and aligning school calendars state-wide were both issues discussed with local legislators during December’s joint school board meeting held with Floyd County and Rome City Schools.

‘Too many standardized tests’

Newly-elected Gov. Brian Kemp made it clear that he believes the number of standardized tests students are forced to take each year hinders the ability of teachers to do what they do best — teach.

“We have too many standardized tests,” Kemp said. “I want to free them up from some of this testing … One issue I’ve heard from parents and teachers alike is that we are spending more time teaching to the test than we are teaching our children. I don’t think it’s been beneficial.”

Melinda Strickland, a board member of FCS, led the discussion which focused on the same issue with Reps. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, and Eddie Lumsden, R-Armuchee, during a joint meeting between legislators and local school board members in December.

“Research shows the number one strategy to keep kids in schools is to build positive relationships,” Strickland said.

Strickland said in order to do that the state should not bombard teachers constantly with standardized testing. While she is all for evaluations and testing, she said she believes teachers cannot focus on a student’s well being if they are so focused on testing.

Kemp says he’s open to the idea of approving waivers for districts who pitch alternatives to the state tests, but says there must be a way to hold teachers and students accountable without “tying their hands.”

“We have to trust people at the local level to teach the children in their community,” he said. “If they’re not, people are not going to live there. They’re going to move, they’re going to send their kids to other schools and they’ll vote with their feet.”

 School calendars

 Kemp didn’t hesitate to wade into the school calendar debate either, saying he campaigned on being “a local control guy.”

An 11-member Senate Study Committee made up of four Republican state senators and members of the state’s travel and tourism industries recently recommended the Legislature put in place “guard rails,” lengthening Georgia summers by requiring that school districts start class later in the year.

Recommendations included mandating that public schools start within seven to 10 days before the first Monday in September, with an end date on or around June 1.

The committee heard from the Atlanta Braves as well as top executives from Six Flags Over Georgia, Callaway Resort and Gardens, and Stone Mountain Park, who all pushed for later summers, citing the importance student labor has on Georgia’s tourism industry as well as the impact a summer job has on youth development.

FCS Superintendent addressed this issue in December during the meeting, stating he would try and see if the school system’s charter could exempt them if any legislation was passed that would lengthen the schools’ summer.

“It is not an issue for our community because we don’t need student workers in the office,” Wilson said.

Rome City and Floyd County should not change their schedule because it benefits Savannah and Atlanta, Wilson said. Those decisions should be left up to the local school boards.

 “I think there are a lot of good arguments for letting the locals decide their own calendar,” Kemp said, citing the Richmond County School System’s tradition of blocking out the entire week of the Masters when the tournament is played in Augusta each spring.

That said, Kemp called it “crazy” that some systems start at the end of July or the very beginning of August.

“But if folks don’t like that they can run for their local school board,” he said.

Rome City Schools began the 2018-2019 school year on Aug. 3 and Floyd county Schools began their school year on Aug. 2.

FCS Board Chair Tony Daniel said Friday this schedule is set by the superintendent and his staff who meets with teachers as well as sends out surveys which determine the start time. The school calendar is set based on what works best for the teachers Daniel added.

He said the city and county superintendent will even meet to discuss their schedules, even though this isn’t a deciding factor in the final outcome. The superintendents will bring the final school calendar to the board of education who then approve it.

See Sunday’s RN-T to read more about what Kemp had to say in a Q & A. 

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