Columbia County School District
Achieving Educational Excellence with a Focus on the Future
Business View interviews representatives of Columbia County School District, for our focus on innovative and successful school districts in North America.
With a student body of approximately 30,000 individuals, the Columbia County School District is the 15th largest in the state of Georgia. With a longstanding record of student achievement and successful governance, the district is looking to the future, guided by an updated vision, which now states, “The Columbia County School District will lead the nation in educational excellence, where each student is engaged, enriched, and inspired.”
A Vision for Excellence
The strength of Columbia County School District’s success lies in its commitment to excellence, and a recent strategic plan, developed through community input and collaboration with the Georgia School Boards Association, points the way forward. The plan encompasses a revised vision, mission, and five strategic goals, demonstrating the district’s dedication to continuous growth and commitment to student success. “One thing that is notable about the work with Georgia School Boards Association, they were very clear that this was one of the largest number of surveys that were returned in any of the school districts that they have worked with on this,” remarks Superintendent, Dr. Steven Flynt. “So, it really showed something we knew here anyway, that the community was very invested and very interested in what was happening in their school district.”
Of the five strategic goals, maximum achievement and success for each student stands as the most important to the community and its stakeholders. “I think a large part of that is not only benchmarking against other districts in the state of Georgia, which we have been doing, but to branch out and benchmark against some of the highest performing districts in the nation, and really challenge ourselves to continue to get better in a number of areas,” Flynt relays. He adds that community engagement, consistent and supportive culture, safety, facilities and operational excellence, and talent optimization are also areas of focus for the district going forward.
Curriculum for Student Success
The Columbia County School District’s focus on student achievement extends to the development of a comprehensive Academic Curriculum for Excellence (ACE). Dr. Kellye Bosch, Associate Superintendent for Curriculum, Assessment and Instruction, recounts, “About two years ago, we started really looking at our curriculum. We had been teaching the Georgia Standards of Excellence and wanted to make sure as we strive to lead the nation that we have a very robust curriculum that is going to help our students compete globally.” She describes ACE’s focus on the core areas of language arts, math, science, and social studies, saying they are continuously expanding on it to ensure it meets the expectations. “It takes a great deal of time to create a well-developed curriculum,” she acknowledges, noting that the process will continue for several years. An assessment system has also been built in, to look at student performance throughout the year. “We use the benchmarks to determine if the students are mastering the ACE and to determine what we need to do to ensure that all of them our students are successful,” she maintains. The district is also partnering with Safari Montage to create a virtual space for ACE to be housed. “It is going to be an outstanding platform for our teachers to access not only the curriculum, but will also include vetted resources. So, that is part of the process that we are in right now.”
Dual Enrollment and Work Based Learning Opportunities
Dual enrollment, internships, and advanced placement (AP) programs are becoming more accessible in Columbia County Schools, creating opportunities that allow students to gain real-world experience and build a foundation for future success. Through a successful partnership with Augusta University the district is offering college courses on their high school campuses. “We are extremely excited to have Augusta University joining us, helping our students and enriching their opportunities,” shares Bosch.
In addition, Columbia County Schools collaborates with Augusta Technical College, a rapidly growing institution with an emphasis on workforce development, specifically targeting the needs of the region. The district has also noticed a significant increase in workplace learning opportunities over the last few years, growing from a few hundred participants to over 450 students engaged in programs, and close to 300 business partners available for internships. “We are also turning our focus this year on identifying high skill, high wage, high demand careers,” Bosch explains. “There has been a push to try to make sure that we are preparing students to go into those fields that are harder to fill.” These efforts include organizing career fairs, such as healthcare, to expose students to a wide range of career options, with the goal of better equipping students for the future job market while also fostering partnerships with local industries.
Safety as a Top Priority
Recently, the Columbia County Schools District has made significant investments in safety and security measures. “Really, the last couple of years it’s been an all out focus,” Flynt asserts. “I don’t think there’s a day that goes by that any of us are not focused on safety and security.” These efforts include the establishment of a dedicated police department, with at least one officer assigned to each school, along with two officers in high schools. “All of our officers are P.O.S.T. certified, and we are going through the GA certification at this time. Human resources is a big part of the work,” he elaborates. The district has also implemented advanced security access technology, such as enhanced camera systems, intercoms, and secured access to all school doors. Secure vestibules are being constructed at every school, providing controlled access points.
Facilities and Operational Excellence
The Columbia County School District understands the importance of quality facilities for effective learning, as Flynt reports, “We heard very clearly from the community, that they wanted us to continue the development of additional classrooms, to house our students, but also to upgrade existing facilities.”
From this feedback, the district partnered with demographic research firm, McKibben Demographic Research, LLC, creating an ambitious plan to upgrade and expand its school facilities. Flynt points out, “We know we are growing fast, but we really needed some hard data, because we do not want to over build in one area and miss another area. That would develop a lack of trust, especially trying to be very good stewards of the taxpayer dollar.” This 10-year Building Program includes constructing new classrooms, rebuilding aging schools, and renovating existing structures, making certain that every school, is equipped with the necessary infrastructure to provide an optimal learning environment.
Recognizing that teachers are the heart of the education system, the district places a strong emphasis on talent optimization. As Dr. Flynt says, “Our people are our greatest resource. We’re really focused on what happens in the classroom, and our first line employees are those who teach.”
The emphasis is on promoting a sense of purpose and impact for all employees, strengthening the district’s reputation as a desirable place to work. “What helps us in attracting and retaining teachers is that we have a great community support,” conveys Chief Human Resources Officer, Tony Wright. “A long time ago, people decided that they wanted to make this school district very special. And they have always supported it that way, they have always resourced it that way. A lot of folks here grew up in this community, they go away to college, they come back, and they stay with us.”
He says the district remains focused on recruiting in critical areas, particularly special education, which are more difficult positions to fill. This commitment, along with a positive culture, contributes to their impressive 90% retention rate, exceeding state and local averages. “Although I focus on being 100%, I know that the teacher shortage is out there, and it’s real,” Wright admits. “We just try not to use that as an excuse for not having our positions filled. What we are really looking to do right now is not so much about the here and now, we’re looking for sustainable streams in the future.” With this in mind, the district is dedicated to creating pathways for future teachers by further developing programs within their schools.
Looking to the Future
With a strategic plan that focuses on student achievement, community engagement, safety, exceptional facilities, and talent optimization, the Columbia County School District is well on its way to leading the nation in educational excellence. “We want to continue to work with each other, as well as the overall community, to make everyone in this county very proud of their school district,” emphasizes Superintendent Flynt. “This is not just one school, or the school district, or one person. It’s our overall community. And it’s not just about an aggregate of students, it’s about each student. If we don’t do what we need to for each and every student in this district, then we’re missing the bar. I think our community is going to help hold us to that standard.”
Click The Cover To View Or Download The Brochure
AT A GLANCE
Columbia County School District
What: A successful and forward-thinking school district serving nearly 30,000 students
Where: Columbia County, Georgia
William H. Sadlier Inc – www.SadlierSchool.com
Sadlier has 200 years of experience preparing children for the world of tomorrow. Sadlier partners with K–12 educators to teach students with proven ELA and math high-quality programs that work in countless settings across the country. With Sadlier programs, educators trust that the essentials for academic advancement are met.