November is National Education Month

Exciting things are happening in primary and secondary education in our local school systems, and the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce is pleased to play a role in this arena. The Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce led the effort on renewal of the 1% sales tax for school districts (SPLOST) last September. Both the Hall County and the Gainesville City School systems have benefited significantly from the funds generated through this tax.

The Hall County School System has already completed construction on one school (Sugar Hill Elementary) and renovations at three elementary schools using SPLOST funds, while the Gainesville City School System began construction on two elementary schools to be constructed using SPLOST funds.

Dennis Fordham, superintendent of the Hall County School System stated, “This sales tax is without question the best funding source for construction of school facilities that we have ever had in this state. The support from the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce and the business community in Hall County is notable and much appreciated by the education community.”

The SPLOST funding will also be used to construct the new Lanier Career Center to be located on Georgia Highway 13 and Tumbling Creek Road near the campus of Lanier Technical College. Lanier Career Center will focus on offering applied technology courses to students. This innovative program is the first of its kind in the state and will be offered by the Hall County School System in conjunction with Lanier Technical College. It is anticipated that the Career Center will encourage more students to complete high school.

The business community will benefit from Lanier Career Center, as students can be trained for employment in fields needed by area employers. Eligible students will be able to complete the requirements for certain technical certificates while completing their high school diploma requirements.

A better educated community with graduates ready to enter the workforce is a major asset in attracting new business and industry to the community. We congratulate the Hall County School System and Lanier Technical College for taking the lead in this new initiative.

While new construction and renovations are essential in providing adequate space and facilities for students, some of the most valuable programs sponsored by the Greater Hall Chamber include the Partners in Education program and the QuEST (Quality Education Strategy Team) Council. The Partners in Education program is a vital program in which over 148 businesses and community organizations have formed partnerships with Hall County and Gainesville City schools to work with faculty, staff and students to enrich the education of our students.

Both large and small businesses throughout Hall County have actively participated in the Partners in Education program for more than 10 years since it was first established in Hall County, and our total community has been the benefactor of this cooperative effort.

The partnership between Wrigley’s and Fair Street Elementary is one of the longest running partnerships and has received state and national awards. This partnership involves giving and receiving by both parties.

According to Mary Ann Dyer, principal of Fair Street, Wrigley’s sponsors various student awards and social events for the students. Wrigley’s employees teach classes for students on interviewing skills and techniques used by Wrigley’s employees, such as measuring skills and using the metric system.

Wrigley’s employees are equally enthusiastic about the PIE program and the opportunity they have to interact with students. Fair Street students design the Wrigley’s Christmas cards, which are sent all over the world. On Valentine’s Day, Wrigley’s employees enjoy cookies baked by Fair Street students and, at other times during the year, the Fair Street chorus performs for plant employees. All of this interaction makes the lower grade students more conscious of the education required for the job market. By the time the student attains high school age, he/she is more focused on a career path which helps reduce the drop out rate.

PIE participation is not limited to elementary school students or long-standing schools. John Barge, principal of new Chestatee High School states, “Our partners have made a difference in the programs we are able to offer to students. Our partners enhance the learning possibilities for our students.”

One of Chestatee’s partners recently assisted in funding initial investments in a school store that sells items such as school spirit wear, small gifts and snacks. Students who run the store learn about merchandising and profit and loss analysis, skills that will serve them and the business community when the students enter the work force.

As a new school, partnerships with Milton Martin Toyota, Sam’s Club, Fitness Zone, NEGA Diagnostic Clinic, Home Depot, GISOFT, Chick-Fil-A are just beginning, but Chestatee High students and staff are already looking for ways that they can benefit their partners. Recently, the school hosted a reception to honor its business partners.

These examples highlight just two of the schools that enjoy business partnerships. In addition to these activities, many schools have one or more representatives from their business partners serve on the newly established school councils. Serving on the school councils provides businesses an opportunity for input into many aspects of school life and acquaints the business community with the challenges the school systems face in educating our children.

With the growth in our schools in Hall County and Gainesville, additional participation from the business community is needed. To learn more about Partners in Education or QuEST Council programs, contact Helen Stewart, Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, 770-538-0024.

Emily Bagwell is Vice Chairman of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce Education and Community Development Division and an attorney with Whelchel & Dunlap. She co-chaired the successful movement for local passage of the Education Sales Tax in Gainesville and Hall County (SPLOST). Schools are a big part of her law practice, where she advises boards of education throughout the state, as well as healthcare and corporate law.