Staff Photo: John Bohn Dr. John D. Barge, State School Superintendent, speaks at Twin Rivers Middle School in Buford on Tuesday, for the launch of Georgia's Future Now, an education movement that aims for higher standards and better teaching.
BUFORD -- Georgia's highest-ranked elected education official told parents, students and leaders at a local middle school on Tuesday that the state's public education system is a great success story.
"However, we've let that story too often be a biography, and we want to change it to an autobiography," said State Superintendent John Barge. "Moving forward, we are going to share the story and communicate the message of what public education is all about in Georgia."
During a visit to Twin Rivers Middle School, Barge announced a new statewide campaign called "Georgia's Future. Now!" that aims to give parents, teachers and community members a better understanding and more input into how public education works in Georgia public schools.
Gwinnett County Public Schools Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks told the group of more than 100 at the campaign launch that the district supports the statewide push.
"I'm very proud of the work we have done to improve public education ... schools are better than ever," Wilbanks said. "But, as educators we have not done a very good job of telling our stories of success. For that reason, I applaud Superintendent Barge on this."
Wilbanks said he hoped recent public interest garnered by an amendment to the state's constitution regarding charter schools could be used to help give "Georgia's Future. Now!" a boost.
"We hope that the energy and efforts generated on election day from those on both sides of Amendment One ... can now come together and apply their efforts to what matters most, and that is advocating for quality public education for Georgia's children," Wilbanks said.
The amendment, which voters approved on Nov. 6, will create a commission at the capitol that seeks to underscore the state's power to charter independent public schools.
About 58 percent of state voters said "yes" to the referendum commonly called the "charter amendment."
The ballot question asked voters the following:
"Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?"
Much like the referendum's wording, the mission of "Geogria's Future. Now!" leans toward empowering local communities to impact education.
"It's a research-based initiative born in the classroom -- not the boardroom -- with living examples of what works for teachers to prepare all Georgia students for college and careers," Barge said.
"It's time to stop tearing down public education and start building it up," Barge said. "There are many things working well in our public schools, and plenty of things not working well, so we need to rally around the successes and build on those and share them with our schools."
The 2013 Georgia Teacher of the Year stood up at Tuesday's gathering, announcing support for the measure.
"With this, everyone can strive to be on the same page...it's a tool that will empower teachers to hone their craft," said Lauren Eckman, a teacher from the Georgia Academy for the Blind in Macon. "This will help involve the whole community. This will make our partnerships stronger with the community, and it will do so with clearer language for everyone."
Barge said the program is tailored to teachers' needs.
"It asks teachers 'where do we need to improve? What needs to change?'" Barge said. "This starts by talking with the teachers. The teachers own this movement."
Also a priority, he said, are the career pathways of students.
"We must make decisions based on those young people and what they desire to do with their lives," he said.
"Georgia's Future. Now," seeks to discover what careers students may be interested in as well as align those interests with the needs of the business community.
Before concluding Tuesday's visit to Twin Rivers Middle, Barge showed the audience a clip from a video web series as part of the campaign.
"Modern Teacher," he explained, is a humorous introduction to "a serious discussion about statewide initiatives in public education," which will launch in early 2013 on the web and feature a full cast of characters who poke fun at changes taking place in public education.
The premiere of each episode will be followed by a roundtable discussion about some of the state's primary education measures: Common Core Georgia Performance Standards, the new teacher and leader evaluation system, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act waiver and Career Pathways.
Barge said "Georgia's Future. Now!" is an effort to "trim the list (of measures), connect the dots and make it make sense."