Rockdale County Public Schools Superintendent Richard Autry told a local group that “all means all,” when it comes to offering various educational opportunities to every RCPS student.
“Not some, not a select few, 100 percent of our students can be successful in their endeavors here in our school system,” Autry said.
Autry was the guest speaker during the Oct. 7 monthly meeting of the local NAACP chapter.
In paraphrasing part of the RCPS’s vision, Autry said the vision was to “break down barriers in our school district.” He linked the vision with the fact that 70 percent of the school system’s students are on free or reduced lunch.
“In other words, they come from an economically disadvantaged households, so our students and our families need as support as we can provide them,” Autry said.
Every public school in Rockdale County is also a Title I school, meaning the school receives federal aid because of its high percentage of students from low-income families.
“Just because you live in a certain neighborhood doesn’t mean your opportunities here in this district need to be narrowed,” Autry said, mentioning the transportation RCPS provides for school choice students.
“Given the demographic that I just described, if we don’t provide transportation, then it’s really not a choice, is it?” he asked the group.
Autry pointed to several accomplishments and future goals the school system has for the next three to five years. And he assured that school officials will not lower academic expectations, but rather expand learning options for students. That included choice models and specialized programs.
“We have to make sure that we keep our young people engaged,” Autry said. “To keep young people engaged, you have to show meaning in education, why this is important.”
The superintendent described Rockdale Career Academy as a “highlight,” in the school system, given the more than 30 career pathways students can pursue. Making a connection between school and the workforce is vital, according to Autry, say that a high school diploma is not enough anymore.
“You have to have a high school diploma with an advantage,” Autry said, mentioning graduates who earn industry certification or do college dual enrollment.
He pointed to the 33 Salem High School students who graduated last year from the school’s Microsoft informational technology academy and earned industry certifications.
“We can not just provide these things to those who can afford it,” Autry said. “If it’s good for one, it’s good for all.”
One-to-one technology was a goal Autry discussed, where something like a tablet will be “in every child’s hand.” Autry described how students are using technology for more than just socializing, but as a source of information.
“So, we have to make sure that we stay ahead of that curve,” Autry said. “We don’t need a school system that requires our students to power down. We need to power up.”
Without telling Monday night’s group how to vote, Autry also explained the education special purpose local option sales tax referendum coming before voters in a few weeks was not “in isolation.”
“This ESPLOST helps support our strategic plan,” Autry said. “We’re not just creating a project list that’s in isolation from what our strategic plan dictates. This is in direct correlation with what we need from a capital standpoint.”
The meeting included a presentation made by RCPS chief operating officer Phil Budensiek about the projects ESPLOST has funded in the past and what is on tap if the tax passes.
Parents for the Future also made a presentation, encouraging the group to vote yes for ESPLOST.
Superintendent Autry also answered questions from NAACP members near the end of the meeting.