CARLTON FLETCHER: Educators' plan could change Albany

OPINION: Historic collaborative effort could have far-reaching impact

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

Funny the way it is … One kid walks 10 miles to school, another’s dropping out.

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As we’ve become, as a population, more jaded and cynical, we tend to look with a jaundiced eye at any purported attempt at improvement and say, “What’s the catch?”

Perhaps that’s why the collaborative effort to change this community’s educational culture by the presidents of Albany’s three institutions of higher education and the superintendent of the Dougherty County School System has not generated more buzz than it has. Because this is monumental — historic, even — stuff.

Albany Technical College President Anthony Parker, who has 18-plus years invested in the community, is the reported spark behind talks involving himself, Albany State University interim President Art Dunning, interim Darton State College President Paul Jones and interim DCSS Superintendent Butch Mosely. The impetus for those talks was stunning educational success spearheaded by officials at the University of Texas in El Paso, an area that, Parker said during a recent meeting with The Albany Herald Editorial Board, “was a lot like ours.”

Despite a high poverty rate, a large minority population and the added burden of a significant segment of the population that spoke little or no English, UTEP President Diana Natalicio worked with officials in El Paso to bring about measurable positive changes in the school system, changes that had a dramatic impact on the community as well.

“We have the resources available to fix our problems,” Parker said. “And it can start with this collaboration.”

The three presidents and Mosely were not ready to lay out a specific plan of attack when they met with The Herald’s Editorial Board, but the county school superintendent said he’s preparing to put a significant first step in place.

“One of the first things we can do is get a 15:1 student-teacher ratio in our Pre-K to third-grade classrooms,” Mosely said. “Studies have shown that students who don’t know how to read by the time they’re in the fourth grade are students who are likely to drop out of school.”

Dunning noted that around four of every 10 students who enter the Dougherty County School System drop out, a rate he called “unacceptable.”

“We have an organizational self-interest,” the ASU interim president said, “but this is a problem for all of us. It’s a community problem.”

Jones, who has been in the community only a short time, said he’s seen the kind of potential here that could make his and his colleagues’ efforts bear fruit.

“We have incredible intellectual capacity in this community,” he said. “We just need to take advantage of it.”

The cynics among us will no doubt react to these educators’ efforts with skepticism, adding another degree of difficulty to their work to bring about changes that would have a much more far-ranging impact than just graduation rates and test scores. Businesses have made it clear that their No. 1 priority in choosing a site for location or expansion — more even than infrastructure and natural resources — is human capital, a capable and trained work force.

A better educated population would impact economic development positively, lower the community’s crime rate and improve on a quality of life that has declined steadily over the past few decades. And by working directly with the local school system, all three institutions would draw a student population much better prepared for the challenges of a college education.

Certainly a small group with passion and determination can accomplish great things. But these men’s progress will be painstakingly slow if they’re left to go it alone. When Mosely, Jones, Dunning and Parker come up with a plan of action, we all would be wise to join them in whatever capacity possible.

As an ASU alumnus who’s had two children graduate the Dougherty County School System, one of whom is enrolled at Darton now, I’m excited to see this kind of effort from apparent men of vision. And I, for one, am all in.

As Dunning said, “This is a community problem.”

It will require a community solution.

Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at carlton.fletcher@albanyherald.com.