Photo by Brian Giandelone
LILBURN -- When Kathy Cox asked students at Trickum Middle School to explain what makes their school great, the students told the state schools chief their teachers' dedication helps them excel.
"You can tell our teachers really care about our education, and they really make sure we're learning to the best of our ability," student Alexis Bourgeois said.
Cox, the state superintendent of schools, spent the day Thursday in Gwinnett County. She visited Trickum and Parkview High School and spoke to the Lawrenceville Kiwanis Club, which met at the Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center.
At the Kiwanis Club meeting, Cox said education is about economic development.
"The two go hand in hand," she said. "That's one of the reasons Gwinnett County is the economic powerhouse it is. You've maintained a commitment to high quality public schools in Gwinnett County for decades. You still have some of the highest performing schools not only in Georgia, but in the nation."
Cox said the state has worked hard to improve the quality of education in Georgia's public schools, but there is still room for improvement. In particular, Cox said there "truly has been a turnaround" with the state's graduation rates.
In 2004, almost 40 percent of high schools had a graduation rate of less than 16 percent. Only about 16 percent of high schools had a graduation rate higher than 80 percent.
"Five years later, we have completely changed that picture," Cox said.
In 2009, about 43 percent of high schools had a graduation rate above 80 percent, and 14 percent of high schools had a graduation rate below 60 percent.
Cox said she knows its imperative that students get a high school diploma. While the state is increasing graduation rates, it's raising expectations of what having a diploma means. When the new graduation requirements take effect in 2012, Georgia will be one of five states to require graduates to complete four years of math and four years of science.
At Trickum Middle, Cox told students the lifetime earning potential between a high school dropout and a high school graduate is $1 million.
When it comes to the budget, Cox said she knows times are tough.
"We believe we can't stop," she said. "We have to keep pressing forward."