Newton County School System Superintendent Samantha Fuhrey explodes with passion for the students in Newton County. In an exclusive sit-down interview with the school system’s leader, we got to learn a little more about some of the opportunities Fuhrey is working to grow for our students.
Being located in the Hollywood of the South, how does NCSS roll out the red carpet for its students and what opportunities does the school system offer to help prepare students for the exciting future of the film industry locally?
For the film industry specifically, it’s mostly in our high school programs, but in terms of rolling out the red carpet for our kids, we create an environment that helps our kids recognize that they can be whatever they want to be.
In some cases some of our kids don’t seem themselves as college students, even as early as first grade, they don’t ever imagine that they can go to college so we provide an environment that exposes them to college, careers and looks closely at ensuring that they’re getting the skills that they need throughout pre-K throughout their senior year, with really a specialized focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), so we’re looking closely at the STEM problem-solving processes and putting that in place in kindergarten. As our kids matriculate through and eventually have the opportunity to enter the film industry right here locally, they’ll be more than just specialized in the area of cosmetology, for example. They will have, and do have, the STEM problem-solving skill base so that they’ll be able to critically think about more than just the profession to which they want to work.
I don’t think everyone realizes that STEM in terms of the letters - science, technology, engineering and math – really is a crosscut. It cuts across everything that we do because there is a problem-solving process that’s connected to is.
In terms of rolling out the red carpet, creating an environment that establishes that atmosphere from the very first introduction of school. Our kids are exposed more now than ever to the opportunities beyond high school.
We also take care of our kids, so we have services within the school system that help them and their families meet the educational needs or the social and emotional needs through our counseling programs and different opportunities that we have. There’s a lot of services that are provided in the school system that help to round out the experience for all of our kids.
The fundamental piece of all of this, however, is to ensure that high-quality teachers are in every classroom and so that’s something that we work on constantly. We are always looking to find the very best and the very brightest and put them in front of our kids. We have a really strong teaching force right here in our community and we see the results.
So, you know when I think about rolling out the red carpet, I think about the total experience from even customer service – so when families come to the school we work on providing high-quality customer service and we actually just went through some customer service training to make sure our frontline staff are welcoming and make the kids feel at home and make their families feel part of our family. It’s a constant evolution of trying to get better and either lengthening the red carpet or expanding it to include new things so that our kids have an experience that is purposeful and meaningful to them beyond the pre-K – 12 experience.
In 2017, NCSS marked an 83 percent graduation rate. That’s fantastic. When I graduated high school, I was given a standard high school diploma and sent to college. How does a high school diploma in 2018 differ from that model?
Gosh, it’s a lot different. The high school diploma represents a multitude of credentialing that could have happened throughout the experience. So, for example, you could go through your high school experience – and you know the diploma should signal the quality of the pre-K all the way through, but to answer that question I think I have to focus just on the high school experience. When you leave high school now, the reality is that you must be prepared for some type of education beyond high school, whether it is education through a company in the workforce, a two-year community college or school like Georgia Piedmont Technical College, going straight down the road to Georgia State or into the military, the diploma represents the ability for our kids to jump into any of those fields and its not a narrow focus where we’re just going straight to college.
So when you look backwards and look into the opportunities for kids, you see career pathways. We’ve really worked closely with the business and industry leaders in our community to align our pathways to their needs. We work with the Covington/Newton County Chamber of Commerce. I actually serve on their board on purpose so that I can forecast for the district what types of things we need to be working on in the school system so they can be effective in the roles they play as economic developers.
When you look at that you see the pathway of going through the required courses, but then having these specializations that lead to perhaps a job right after they graduate high school.
There’s also earning credentials. There are actual work-ready credentials that probably did not exist when you were in high school. They were not there when I went to high school, for sure.
Dual-enrollment is another pathway. Our kids are able to strengthen their diploma by picking up college courses. So, they may be taking at GPTC in a trade area or they may be going full-time to Georgia State, or in the case of one of our kids right now she’s at Agnes Scott going to college, so that diploma represents those rigorous courses that she’s taking while she’s in high school and she has taken high school courses that has helped prepare he for that.
Then there’s another pathway that would be our Advanced Placement courses. So, you know, when I was in high school I took AP classes and I was able to take one or two classes along the way, but our kids now are able to take six, seven, eight, nine, 10 over the life of their high school career. That translates to being better prepared, even if they choose not to go to college, those experiences help to round out their education.
Those types of things, I think, help to change the significance of the diploma from just being a ticket to work or a ticket to college. It is a ticket to life beyond high school. We work really hard to expose kids to different opportunities.
We’ve got that high school diploma that can also pair with a German apprenticeship program, so you’ve got the buy-in from the business and industry, we’ve got the school system on board and the economic development team helping us to make sure we are leading the kids in the right direction, and the connection with the technical school, having GPTC right here and a willing and ready partner.
I think the high school diploma doesn’t just represent four maths, four sciences, four Englishes and four social studies. It represents that plus a whole lot more.
I think our kids are coming out of school prepared differently than perhaps how we were once prepared.