Georgia’s school turnaround efforts have been underway for about a year, and the state chief turnaround office is only beginning its work with the most challenged schools in the state.

The state board of education heard Monday at its fall retreat meeting, held at Coastal Pines Technical College in Brunswick, from Eric Thomas, the state’s first chief turnaround officer, and from six superintendents of school systems in which turnaround-eligible schools have been identified.

While no Glynn County schools are included in the first batch of turnaround schools, many of the challenges cited by the six superintendents are issues local school district leaders are working to address as well.

“There’s some things that you don’t control … the kids you have are the kids you have. The parents you have are the parents you have,” Thomas said. “But all the other pieces — your purpose, your leadership philosophy, your design decisions and your organizational culture — a school controls that.”

The state’s Chief Turnaround Office was created through the First Priority Act, passed in 2017, to improve Georgia’s lowest performing schools. Over the past year, 19 schools have been identified to be a part of the effort, and the office has begun working directly with those school districts to collaborate and come up with innovative turnaround plans.

“The focus of House Bill 338 was not simply to turn around schools,” Thomas said. “It was to create best practices and innovations that can be shared throughout the state.”

The panel of superintendents discussed the barriers they face in trying to transform their schools. Inadequate resources and high teacher turnover rates were among the challenges many said they faced.

“It’s really hard for us to try to find people to come to Southwest Georgia,” said Tangela Madge, superintendent of Randolph County Schools. “And if we get a good (teacher) in a school, we train them and they go to the larger school system.”

The state board also heard from representatives of the Georgia Film Academy, a program established to develop the workforce needed to sustain the state’s booming film production industry.

“Georgia’ film industry is unprecedented,” said Jeffrey Stepakoff, the executive director of the Georgia Film Academy. “There is no story like Georgia’s, anywhere in this country, anywhere in this world.”

In 2007, there was $242 million in economic activity produced by the film industry in Georgia, Stepakoff said. Today, there’s $9.5 billion in economic activity.

“That’s a 4,000 percent increase in barely a decade,” he said.

The industry has blossomed in Georgia because the state offers one of the world’s most effective film tax credits. Georgia also offers the needed infrastructure and, thanks in part to the Georgia Film Academy, potential workforce.

But to make the industry sustainable in Georgia, more film and television content creation needs to happen in the state, Stepakoff said. The film academy has partnered with the Georgia Department of Education to develop a curriculum on film and television writing that is being taught in some high schools.

The state of Georgia is serious about making this industry sustainable, Stepakoff said, and the Georgia Film Academy is supporting initiatives that will help the industry continue to grow.

“We are mission driven,” he said.

The state board will tour the Kings Bay Naval Base today and hear presentations on the CTAE programs in Camden County Schools.

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