ALBANY -- Many Albany Area Chamber of Commerce representatives praised the Dougherty County School System for its efforts during a historic meeting Tuesday afternoon.
The chamber board and the Dougherty County Board of Education met for the first time to talk about the community, education and business. The meeting established a line of communication and partnership between the two organizations.
At the conclusion of the 90-minute meeting, the groups decided to form a joint task force with two or three members from each board.
"We'll be developing a relationship between the two boards and (plan to) come up with definitive things to improve education in Dougherty County," Board of Education Chairman David Maschke said after the meeting. "It's forming after the first of the year when the chamber's new leadership takes over."
Moderator Jimmy Lindsey began the meeting by having the board members find the common themes in each board's mission statement. Members found similarities in the efforts each had to improve the community, being future focused, improving the quality of life and each relying on volunteers for their success.
"All of us are in the same boat together," Lindsey said. "Education and the chamber are intricately linked and need to cooperate together."
School board member Emily Jean McAfee said the Chamber of Commerce has always had a pattern of support for the school system.
"We really don't have to reinvent the wheel, but we can get more strategic with that cooperation," she said. "It certainly won't be difficult to do that."
Chamber of Commerce Education Division Vice Chair Jenny Collins said battling an often unfounded negative perception in the community about the Dougherty County School System is something she would like improved upon in the future.
"We have an awesome school system," she said. "Make sure the positive story of the school system is being told, but at the same time tell the negative (when it occurs)."
Fred Sharpe, the chamber's tourism division vice chair, also praised the school system.
"From what I've seen, we have a very good system," said the owner of U-Save-It drug stores and the Corner Cafe. "I think we have a lot of good things going in Dougherty County and we need to (promote that). I hear people say you need to send your child to Deerfield and I got a kid at Yale educated by the Dougherty County School System."
Collins later in the meeting suggested that school board members could do more to show their support of the Dougherty County School System.
"I'd like members of the school board to get on the cheering bandwagon (for our schools)," she said.
Michael Windom, the longest tenured school board member, quickly questioned Collins' statement.
"I think they already are," he said.
Chamber of Commerce member Cynthia George said combating poverty should be the main focus of both boards.
"Poverty in our schools is where the heart of our problem is in the community," said George, who is heading up a poverty summit Dec. 11 at the Hilton Garden Inn. "Just a couple weeks ago we were rated in the top 10 for the poorest communities in the country. If that isn't a wake-up call I don't know what is. If we can just embrace this, this will impact the whole community. I don't think we can be a better school system and chamber until we get off our duffs and do something about poverty."
Other board members were concerned about the job skills of the Dougherty County graduates. They wanted to make sure they had life skills, such as knowing personal finance and how to balance a checkbook. They also wanted graduates that possessed a good work ethic.
"I think we need to get beyond the p.r. and, although what the city and county leadership does is important, the future of the community depends on what the school system does," Maschke said.
After the meeting, Maschke said he believed the mostly brainstorming session was productive and useful.
"I thought it was excellent and a good ice breaker," he said. "It was a really good opening for a new opportunity since these two boards had never communicated or sat down at a table and talked to each other."
The meeting attracted more than 30 people, including Albany Assistant City Manager James Taylor and recently elected City Commissioner Christopher Pike. School board members the Rev. James Bush and Milton Griffin were absent.