The Professional Association of Georgia Educators, in conjunction with the Regional Educational Service Agency, held a conference Wednesday at Liberty County’s Performing Arts Center in Flemington.
The conference, titled “Your Reality — Your Voice: Educating the Changing Faces of Georgia,” was meant to give educators and others interested in economic development a factual look at “where we are in Georgia with regards to student growth,” according to PAGE Executive Director Dr. Allene Magill.
She said that while funding for public education in Georgia has gone down in recent years, the student population continues to rise.
With over 1.6 million students in the public-education system across the state, Magill said the goal of the conference was to raise awareness of students’ changing needs and the importance of local communities’ involvement.
One major focus of the conference was the growing rate of poverty across Georgia. According to Magill, Georgia ranks sixth in the nation in low-income students, and roughly 60 percent of students across the state qualify for free or reduced-price lunches — a figure that is even higher in Liberty County.
“We’re hoping that we can come to some solutions about how do we move those students out of the poverty cycle and into skills development that really benefits them, not just as a young person, but as they get families,” she said.
Magill said that post-secondary education is critical, both in breaking the poverty cycle and developing a thriving workforce in Georgia, which will have an impact on economic development.
“We think technical colleges are a great choice, because a lot of those people can attend a technical college and get on that career development path,” she continued. “Those are the kinds of things we’re having conversations about.”
The summit in Liberty County was one of five conferences held across the state last week. Magill said she was holding similar events in Albany, Macon, Athens and Cartersville, hitting one city each day.
She said the conference originally was held over the summer in Atlanta. However, a large number of interested educators across the state were unable to attend that conference, and Magill said she received numerous requests to hold another summit. She said she organized the traveling tour as an “offspring of what we did this summer.”
The final portion of the conference included discussions about how to take the information back to local areas for “community conversations.” Magill said that informing local communities about the state of public education is crucial to making the progress she envisions.
“We’re doing what we believe is right. Right for kids, right for the students in the state — but just as importantly, right for teachers, because teachers have got to know their ‘who’ to make a difference,” she said. “Helping us identify the change in the population — the changes in faces that we work with every day — is highly important.”