Midway Middle School hosted a guest Monday morning — Georgia State Superintendent Richard Woods.
While in coastal Georgia to speak at an education conference, Woods visited schools in the area to hear from students, educators and community members on different matters.
In attendance for the visit were Midway Mayor Dr. Clemontine Washington, Midway police Chief Kelli Morningstar, Liberty County School System Superintendent Dr. Valya Lee, Board of Education members, selected students, staff, parents and former educators.
Principal Debra Frazier highlighted some of Midway Middle’s achievements and school programs. She talked about serving a diverse population of students that includes rural areas and Fort Stewart and the iPad learning experience. Frazier said the attendance rate is 95.6 percent and credited that to the staff creating an environment that students enjoy.
Lee said of Woods, “He came in with an agenda. He promised to look at certain things that were of concern to teachers and administrators across the state. He did something that I’ve not see done by a state superintendent. … He ran a survey amongst teachers to say, ‘What's going on with you? What’s going right? What should be our concern?’ Teachers were very candid.”
She went on to say that he immediately went to work on finding solutions to problems that teachers identified.
“We’re grateful for the heart you have for our state,” Lee said, addressing Woods.
Woods talked about the proposed state Senate Bill 364, called the Quality Basic Education Act, which would reduce the weight of student test scores used in teacher evaluations from 50 percent to 30 percent.
“So much of what a teacher does is not based on a test, given a day, during a year,” he said. “There’s actually 179 more days that follow and really should be taken into consideration.”
Woods also talked about putting the focus back on students instead of tests. He said children are more than test scores, and he thinks that personalizing education is the right direction.
“I think we have a lot of wonderful things that are lining up, and (we) offer different pathways our kids can now choose from,” Woods said. “I think moving away from the one-size-fits-all — we said that every child is going to a four-year university, which isn’t wrong if that’s the path they choose — there are other avenues that offer a lot of great success.”
Woods called the statewide teacher survey — which had 53,000 responses — more than a survey, but a statement. His office read more than 7,000 pages of written responses, which he said showed that teachers were willing to talk about issues. Another finding of the survey was that 2 out of 3 teachers who responded said they were unlikely to recommend that someone enter the education profession today. Woods said it is important that current teachers encourage young people to go into education and that something needs to be done to change the current environment for teachers. Another survey finding was that teachers said they wanted to build better relationships with their students.
Chris Anderson, the principal of Liberty Elementary School, thanked Woods for his personalization of leadership with teachers.
Lee said she appreciated Woods working closely with Gov. Nathan Deal in seeing that funds are put back into the public-education budget.
A student asked Woods about the future of education in Georgia. Woods answered that he is “extremely hopeful.” He gave the examples of dual enrollment and the Move On When Ready program as options available to high school students. He said the state wants to help Liberty and other counties offer as many options as possible to improve student achievement.
Grayson Carter, a Midway Middle School student who is also a member of the state Student Advisory Council, asked about the number of Georgia-grown farms near Liberty.
Woods could not give Carter an exact number. He said the Georgia Department of Education is working on a partnership with the Department of Agriculture with the goal that 20 percent of the meals served in schools or associated with schools are produced from farms in Georgia by 2020. He feels the partnership is also a good opportunity to introduce agribusiness in schools.
Woods then took a brief tour of the school, during which he visited classrooms and talked with students and teachers.