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Business leaders spend day at school
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Local business and community leaders shadowed principals at all 23 Newton County schools Tuesday and came away impressed with the passion, teaching and technology they saw.

The Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce organized the "Principal for the Day" event to educate local leaders about what's really happening in the school system and to show the challenges principals at all levels face.

One of the school system's biggest needs is simply time and manpower from businesses and individuals. Volunteers and mentors are welcomed at every school, while businesses and industries are encouraged to become official Partners in Education with a school. These business partners can help in numerous ways, such as providing breakfast for teachers, providing mentors and, of course, giving money.

While the needs are many and public discussion is often dominated by test scores and schools that fail to meet standards, community leaders had overwhelmingly positive experiences and were impressed by the pervasive use of technology, how disciplined students were, the intense use of data and the level of communication between administrators and teachers.

Attorney Hillary Edgar, with local firm Crudup and Hendricks, was impressed with how much work the students were completing.

"The classrooms looked like work rooms," said Edgar, who shadowed at Heard-Mixon Elementary. "The technology met the kids where they were."

Many schools are equipped with iPads, iTouches, laptops, desktop computers, interactive whiteboards and interactive text response devices.

Several leaders commented on the wealth of data the school system has collected and how that data is being used to improve teaching methods.

Robyn Chapman, with Manpower Staffing, said she was shocked by the amount of metrics and measurements used to evaluate learning. Rocky Plains Elementary has an entire room dedicated to data, with charts and graphs lining the walls.

Principals can use data to study how the students perform in various subjects and classroom environments. For example, Flint Hill Principal Lori Thomas said her teachers have weekly data reviews, where they can see how students are performing at the conceptual level. For example, some students may struggle with fractions, while others may have difficulty with algebraic formulas.

The collaborative efforts between administration and teachers impressed many. Chamber President Hunter Hall said both sides were working to improve teaching and learning. He spoke with a math teacher at the Challenge Charter Academy, who said at first the feedback on teaching methods was uncomfortable. However, when the teacher saw how the collaboration truly improved learning, he said his heart was reconnected to teaching and he realized where he'd been missing the mark previously.

Despite the successes, teachers are facing a challenging and ever changing educational environment. Superintendent Gary Mathews said No Child Left Behind and the CRCT tests and AYP results that accompany the law may soon go by the wayside in Georgia.

The state of Georgia has proposed a new testing system to the federal government, in which school system success would be tied more to college readiness, including SAT and ACT scores, Advanced Placement courses and dual enrollment participation. While this is expected to be a positive, Mathews said the new standards would be even more rigorous.

Board of Education Chairman Almon Turner said the feedback from community leaders showed that schools were successful, but he said the system needs to be better at telling its own story.

Photo caption: Seated (L-R): Charles Hill Morris, Jr., The Covington News; Lisa Edwards, CR Bard; Robyn Chapman, Manpower; J.L. Wyatt, Troy University; Shannon Davis, Newton County Chamber of Commerce; Hillary Edgar, Crudup & Hendricks; Bob Stansfield, Greer, Stansfield & Turner LLP; James Johnson, Georgia Piedmont; and Gabriel Khouli, The Covington News.

Standing (L-R): Roger Harrison, Newton County Chamber of Commerce; Kim Carter, Mayor of Covington; Lanier Sims, Newton County Board of Commissioners; Joe Stier, Edward Jones; Shane Millwood, SteelCo Buildings; Hunter Hall, Newton County Chamber of Commerce; Scott Willis, Fidelity Bank; Jay Jaynes, Honda of Conyers; Keith Ellis, Newton County Water & Sewer Authority; Kevin Yeomans, Georgia Perimeter College; Dan Murphy, Bridgestone Golf; and Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston, Covington.

Not Pictured: Kay Lee, The Center; and Doyle Baker, United Bank.