A new community education effort isn't aiming to tell teachers how to teach in the classroom, organizers say.
"That isn't what we are about at all," said Stephani Womack, education partnership director for Believe Greater Dalton. "We want to support teachers in what they are already doing in the classroom."
Believe Greater Dalton is a public-private partnership of the Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce and local governments formed two years ago to implement a five-year strategic plan for Dalton and Whitfield County. It is focused on six strategic areas to improve the community: educational outcomes, housing, entrepreneurship, economic development, downtown development and community pride.
On Tuesday at Stage 123 in downtown Dalton, the group released its "Education Baseline Report," a look at key education measures the group and local school systems have agreed to use to measure education progress in coming years.
"Our goal was to make the data as easily accessible to the community as possible," said Womack. "So when we were choosing our different measures, we focused on the main things the state is already measuring."
Those measures are:
• Kindergarten readiness: The number of students entering kindergarten who have completed a child care program that has been quality rated by the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning. Currently, the number of such child care programs can serve just 23% of students in Whitfield County.
• Early grade reading: The share of students reading at or above grade level in third and eighth grades on the Georgia Milestones Assessment System. Based on the 2018 Milestones test, 43% of students in Dalton Public Schools and Whitfield County Schools read at grade level in third grade and 63% in eighth grade.
• Middle grade math: The combined average Milestones math scores for sixth, seventh and eight grades. In 2018, 39% of students in the two school systems met state math standards.
• High school graduation: 80% of students in local high schools graduated within four years in 2018.
• Post-secondary enrollment: 53% of 2017 high school graduates enrolled in a college or technical college within 12 months of graduation.
"This doesn't include graduates who enlisted in the military," said Womack. "We recognize that as a valid post-secondary option. But there's no way to measure that. The military does not report to high schools when a graduate enlists."
• Post-secondary completion: 16% of those who enroll in Georgia Northwestern Technical College receive a certificate or degree within three years. Twenty percent of students at Dalton State College receive a bachelor's degree within six years.
Womack explained the numbers for Dalton State College include only full-time, first-time students. So if a person started their education at another college and completed their degree at Dalton State they are not counted. Similarly, if someone started at Dalton State and transfers to another college and completes a degree they are not counted.
The report also sets "aspirations" for each measures.
For instance, it sets a goal of increasing the percentage of students reading at or above grade level by four percentage points each year and increasing the high school graduation rate by two percentage points each year.
Dalton Public Schools Superintendent Tim Scott and Whitfield County Schools Superintendent Judy Gilreath both said all of the goals for the two school systems are reasonable.
"They are achievable, and we are working towards achieving them," said Scott.
But what happens if in three or five years those goals haven't been achieved?
"We aren't planning for failure," said Carpet and Rug Institute President Joe Yarbrough, who is co-chair of the Believe Greater Dalton education committee.
Womack said one of the goals for the education partnership in the coming years will be to identify "bright spots," programs in the schools and in the community that are having an impact, and find ways to provide public and private resources to expand those programs.
Womack says no bright spots have been identified yet, but the Dalton Neighborhood Initiative has been discussed by partnership members as an effort that might eventually qualify.
The Dalton Neighborhood Initiative is a partnership of Believe Greater Dalton, Dalton Public Schools, Rock Bridge Community Church, Northwest Georgia Healthcare Partnership, Georgia Northwestern Technical College and other community groups.
The Dalton Neighborhood Initiative's goal is to provide parents and their children with services from birth through age 8 to help children succeed in school and in life. The Healthcare Partnership, for instance, aims to get qualified children enrolled in Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids, the state-federal programs that provide health care for children in low-income families.
Dalton Public Schools provides classes for parents on how to help young children develop basic literacy and numeracy skills.
And Georgia Northwestern provides parents and day care providers the opportunity to earn a child development certificate, which shows them how to provide an educationally enriched environment for pre-school children.
Believe Greater Dalton plans to release its next report, based on 2019 test data, in spring 2020.