Gov. Brian Kemp received a warm welcome Sunday at the kick-off event of the 45th annual Georgia Association of Educational Leaders summer conference.
Kemp gave the opening address for the conference, which is taking place at the Jekyll Island Convention Center until Wednesday.
GAEL is made up of educational leaders from around the state and serves as the statewide umbrella organization for professional affiliate associations. The group will spend the next several days meeting for conference events, networking and talking with event sponsors and exhibitors.
GAEL honored Kemp on Sunday with an award for education advocacy.
“Folks, we have never ever had anybody who spoke up for public eduction the way that Brian Kemp does,” said Jimmy Stokes, outgoing executive director of GAEL.
Kemp emphasized education priorities throughout his campaign for governor, and he has made good on several proposed changes since taking office. His team led legislative efforts that resulted in a $3,000 pay raise for teachers across the state, as well as $30,000 grants for every public school to put toward campus safety and security.
Kemp discussed several of these achievements during his address Sunday and announced plans to continue his efforts to support and improve public education in Georgia.
His talk followed a performance by some familiar famous faces in the Golden Isles. The local chapter of the Penguin Project, a program that provides youth with development disabilities an opportunity to perform a Broadway-style show once a year, performed several numbers from their most recent show, “Shrek, Jr.”
Kemp thanked the students for sharing their talents, before thanking the educators in the room as well, for the work they put daily into shaping today’s youth.
“All of you teach, mentor and nurture our students, who in turn join our world-renowned work force, lead our companies and work in many different ways to change our communities for the better in ways that honestly cannot be measured,” Kemp said. “And from the bottom of my heart, I want to continue to thank you for that.”
One main focus of his campaign for governor, Kemp said, was ensuring that Georgia’s students receive a world-class education. That means removing burdens from classrooms, he said, as well as empowering school districts to lead and addressing mounting concerns like student mental health and school safety.
While campaigning, he also heard many concerns, he said, about state standards that teachers are required to use. Kemp said he plans to soon name a citizens review panel that will participate in the standards review process.
“This will help put education back in the hands of the teachers and the parents,” he said
A teacher shortage crisis is another growing concern among education leaders across the state, Kemp said.
“We’ve heard all the daunting statistics,” he said. “In Georgia, 44 percent of our educators are leaving the profession within the first five years of teaching.”
Many factors contribute to this problem, Kemp said, but he expressed his hope that the statewide teacher pay raises will make a difference and allow more teachers to remain in the profession.
Kemp said he plans to continue working to provide this needed support for teachers, and his comments were interrupted momentarily by applause from those in the convention center room.
“Know that education is a priority of my administration, and it will continue to be, as long as I am your governor,” Kemp said.