"It's important to us to listen."
That's Bulloch County Schools Superintendent Charles Wilson's theme during a district focus on community engagement. It's why he encourages people to attend the Bulloch County Board of Education's Community Education Summit on Thursday, April 18, at Statesboro High School.
The summit is the culmination of a public engagement campaign that began in January and has included the formation of a 30-plus member Community Advisory Committee and the teaming with the Georgia Partnership of Excellence in Education to help ensure all stakeholders are encouraged to give their input on public education in Bulloch County.
To date, through nine different focus groups, the partnership has gathered input from more than 200 students, parents, business and industry representatives, Statesboro-Bulloch Chamber of Commerce leaders, clergy, community support organizations, and school system employees. Additional focus groups will be part of the April 18 summit agenda.
"People will have to try really hard to not have a part in this process," Wilson said after he described the different ways that will be available for residents to voice ideas on local public education.
For those unable to attend the summit, a video of the event will be posted on the Bulloch County Schools website at www.bulloch.k12.ga.us. The school system will also make online and paper surveys available beginning Monday.
"We are promoting open dialogue in this process," Wilson said. "The only way we will become the school system this community deserves is to identify the issues and openly discuss and address them. We are embarking on a large change process, and it would be easy for decisions to be made without the public's input, but that is not the answer. We are going to engage the community because this will give us the best results."
The input will go toward establishing Bulloch County Schools' strategic direction. To help facilitate this extensive community engagement, the district teamed with the Georgia Partnership. A nonprofit organization, the partnership was developed by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce 20 years ago to focus on education advocacy, research and community engagement at all education levels. Dr. Donna O'Neal of the partnership is compiling the public's input and will submit a report to the Board of Education by May 30.
"Very few school systems would do what Bulloch County Schools is doing," O'Neal said of the efforts to reach out and hear all stakeholders.
"The school district is vital to any community," O'Neal continued. "Education and economic development are tightly intertwined, and industry will not locate where there's not a strong, well-educated workforce."
Next week's summit will include an opening presentation by the partnership on the "Economics of Education."
"I hope that I am a voice for business in this process, and I hope to be a conduit of your (school system's) efforts back to the business community," said Community Advisory Committee member Phyllis Thompson, the president of the Statesboro-Bulloch chamber.
The committee, which has met twice since early March to assist the school system with this effort, includes industry managers, secondary education presidents, department heads and professors, clergy, parents and students.
Both the committee and the school councils from each of the district's 15 school campuses have engaged in open dialogue bringing up key issues of concern such as discipline, testing, the need for diversity in the school system's hiring practices, how to embrace the district's growing multiculturalism, and industry giving more input on skills it needs graduates to know.
Any interested citizens may attend the Community Education Summit from 5-8 p.m. Thursday, April 18, at Statesboro High.
"I encourage you to ask yourselves how you or your organization can roll up your sleeves and ensure that your school system is the best," O'Neal said. "You're an integral part of developing a community that will support its school system's strategic plan."
Wilson added: "Our children's future is crucial to our community, and resources are limited. From this process we want ideas and initiatives that move us forward, so that we can determine the best way to create a student-centered, customer-focused organization that gives our students every opportunity to succeed."