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Fairfax trip brings new ideas

The Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce provided an outstanding act of community leadership by organizing a recent three-day trip to Fairfax County, Va. In attendance were leaders whose interests reflect Gwinnett's transportation, economic development, environmental, educational, arts and cultural and demographic components.

Jim Maran, president and CEO of the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce, shared information on the purpose of the trip. "The Chamber's Inaugural Strategic Leadership Visit begins a tradition of Gwinnett's leaders visiting and learning from our peers in other communities," Maran noted.

"In Fairfax County, Va., we saw a community whose public and private sector leaders have been successful in addressing issues in education, transportation, economic development, growing diversity, arts, tourism and culture and high density development.

"We came home from this trip with new ideas and ways to work together, but perhaps the greatest value may have been the opportunity for our business and civic leaders to cultivate new friendships and a common sense of mission to improve the quality of life in our area."

Gerald E. Connolly, chairman of the Fairfax Board of Supervisors, welcomed our group from Gwinnett County and shared information with us about Fairfax.

"Like Gwinnett, our dynamic companies, well-educated and highly skilled residents, excellent school system, and cultural amenities make Fairfax County one of the most desirable places to live and work in the United States.

"Fairfax County Public Schools are often cited as a primary reason to relocate to our county, with more than 100 languages spoken by our schoolchildren, reflecting the diversity of the community. The quality of life we have in Fairfax County is the envy of our nation."

The Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce made the decision to visit Fairfax County based on the similarities of our two communities and on Fairfax having successfully addressed many of the issues yet unresolved in Gwinnett County.

Throughout our visit, we kept in mind each community's profile. In 2005, the population of Fairfax County was 1,006,529, while in Gwinnett County it was 726,273. Per capita income was $58,266 in Fairfax, while in Gwinnett it was $30,570. Median housing value in Fairfax County was $415,418, while in Gwinnett County it was $171,339. Median age in Fairfax in 2004 was 37.6, while in Gwinnett it was 32.7.

The profile in Fairfax County also provided insight into the school system's successful standing. Fairfax County had average SAT scores in 2006 of 1643, while Gwinnett County's average was 1541. Per pupil expenditures in 2005 in Fairfax County were $11,249, while in Gwinnett County the average was $7,216. Fairfax has 254 schools, while Gwinnett has 106 schools.

In Fairfax County, the percent of those with no high school diploma in 2000 was 9.3 percent, while in Gwinnett County it was 12.7 percent. Nearly 55 percent of those in Fairfax County held a four-year degree of higher in 2000, while in Gwinnett County it was 34.1 percent.

Most importantly, among the 50 largest school systems in the nation, Fairfax County was No. 1 in graduation rates in 2005. Gwinnett County Public Schools ranked at No. 16. Fairfax County Public Schools had a $2.1 billion budget, while in Gwinnett County the school budget was $1.2 billion.

Both counties are home to ethnically diverse communities. In 2004, Fairfax County had a 60.5 percent Caucasian population, while 56.8 percent Caucasians resided in Gwinnett County. Gwinnett's black population led Fairfax's, with 17.7 percent compared to 8.7 percent.

However, Fairfax's Asian and Other population at 18.3 percent led Gwinnett's at 10.3 percent. Gwinnett's Hispanic population in 2004 was 15.3 percent, while Hispanics in Fairfax accounted for 12.5 percent of the population.

Gwinnett County Public Schools can learn much from the success that Fairfax County Public Schools have had with providing an academically rigorous curriculum to a diverse student and community population.

Mary Kay Murphy is Gwinnett County's District III School Board Member. Have any thoughts about this column? Share them with us at letters@gwinnettdailypost.com. Letters should be no more than 200 words and are subject to approval by the publisher. Letters may be edited for style and space requirements. Please sign your name and provide an address and a daytime telephone number. Address letters for publication to: Letters to the Editor, Gwinnett Daily Post, P.O. Box 603, Lawrenceville, GA 30046-0603. The fax number is 770-339-8081.