Greene County School System
A Cornerstone of the Community
The Greene County School System in Georgia takes student success to the next level, transforming education and community.
In the heart of Georgia, the Greene County School System is making remarkable strides in education, positioning it as a transformative force in the county’s educational landscape. In the words of Superintendent, Dr. Chris Houston, “We believe that all students can learn. All students are entitled to have an advocate who will fight for their right to have an excellent education. That is the basis from which we operate, and we hold ourselves and everyone accountable to putting our students first.”
A Cornerstone of the Community
The district’s impact on the community is exemplified through the decision to locate a new school in a central location in the county. Dr. Houston recounts, “We had to pay for the water and the sewage to come down the entire length of the roadway to build the school. And when we did that, we had developers come to us and say, ‘If you enlarge the size of the pipe, we will reimburse you for the costs of purchasing the property, and it’ll help us because we want to develop that road’.”
This commitment not only led to significant residential development, with plans for over 5,000 new homes, but also attracted various businesses and eateries, including a Longhorns SteakHouse, Starbucks, and Jersey Mike’s, along with plans for two new hotels. “They may have had tentative plans to develop, but once we started and they found out that the school was going up in the area, and that we were taking care of the infrastructure costs, they all jumped on board. So, it’s a great example of the school system being a cornerstone for economic development,” he adds.
College and Career Academy
The Greene County School System is committed to preparing students for the future. Their College and Career Academy focuses on providing a wide range of pathways, including entrepreneurship, electrical work, plumbing, automotive, welding, culinary arts, AV technology, and more. Additionally, they are developing a junior ROTC military pathway and a teaching pathway. “Greene County is a little bit unique,” portrays Dr. Houston.
“The Lake community is a fast-growing community, and they have more needs than we can supply at this time. But we are developing students who can go right into the workforce.” Partnering with Athens Technical College, Greene County School System is working to bring in a robotics and mechatronics lab, preparing for the workforce needs of Rivian Corporation, and their support companies who may be located in the area.
With proximity to a new military IT training center in Augusta, Dr. Houston says there is a tremendous opportunity for kids who are interested in pursuing careers in computer science and related fields. He highlights that the school system has already begun teaching computer science, and thanks to the Mechatronics lab, there are plans to place a strong emphasis on coding in middle school.
The objective is to ensure that students are well-prepared with coding skills by the time they enter high school, allowing them to thrive in the evolving landscape of technology and IT. This forward-thinking approach is geared towards equipping students with the skills necessary to excel in these fields, making the most of the nearby opportunities.
“It’s a really exciting time,” he admits. “We have a very supportive board. Greene County is 72%, locally funded. So, we have the resources to make these changes and get behind our students, and we’re having a good time doing this.”
The Greene County School System also recognizes the significance of agriculture in a rural economy and is taking proactive steps to support this sector. Dr. Houston highlights their efforts to purchase adjacent property to the high school, intending to expand the agricultural pathway.
“So that we actually have enough land for kids to participate and learn how to grow crops, and also, hopefully, have enough property to be able to keep certain livestock so that they can show cattle, do cattle judging, and learn to raise various pieces of livestock,” says Dr. Houston.
Innovative Security Measures
Ensuring the safety of students is a top priority in the district, and Greene County has taken steps to enhance security. Dr. Houston brings his extensive law enforcement background to ensure the safety and security of the students and staff in the Greene County School System. “I have a really good working relationship with all those professionals in the law enforcement community,” he relays.
“We do have a school resource officer program. We have six officers that work our campuses and inside our schools.” Along with these SRO’s the district has implemented a robust security plan that includes measures such as security vestibules, access control, and visitor verification processes.
The facilities are equipped with security features, including alarm systems, and they conduct drills and practice lockdowns. They have also adopted a proactive approach to identifying and addressing potential threats through risk assessments, ensuring that any verbal threats or suspicious activities are promptly addressed to prevent dangerous situations.
Technology as a Catalyst for Learning
The Greene County School System recognizes the impact of technology on education and is committed to harnessing its potential to improve learning outcomes. By integrating technology such as smartboards, touchscreen displays, and learning management systems, they aim to create a synergistic effect that complements the expertise of their teachers. This approach not only ensures that students have access to cutting-edge resources but also preserves the valuable knowledge and teaching methods of experienced educators. “Because, good teachers are real people, and they retire someday,” Dr. Houston imparts.
“You don’t want to lose all the added value they brought to your district. With the learning management system, it captures all those lessons and videos and the things that they did well, and we can transfer those great ideas to our new teachers.”
He details the district’s adoption of one-to-one technology, where each student has access to a device and the utilization of the Canvas learning management system. “We added that shortly after the last hurricane. We lost power here for over a week, so we wanted to prepare for digital learning. That was prophetic and helpful, because we were more prepared for COVID than most, because of what we did to respond to the issue of the power outage from the hurricane.”
Opportunities for Every Student
Recognizing the importance of offering a diverse range of opportunities to its students, the Greene County School System has taken steps to bolster its successful athletic and fine arts programs. “Greene County has always had a strong emphasis on football, we usually have winning football teams, and they do well on track,” Dr. Houston boasts.
“One emphasis that we’ve pushed in the last few years is our female athletic programs because we felt like there needed to be greater access.” Emily McClure explains. Part of this effort includes the introduction of new sports programs for female students, including flag football and volleyball. The district is also in the process of building a versatile baseball and softball turf field.
“We already had a very nice turf stadium for football. We have certainly invested in our athletic programs,” She conveys.
In the fine arts department, the focus is on the audiovisual film pathway and culinary arts. On the music side, Dr. Houston says, “We have two new band directors, due to retirements. So, we feel like we’re in the process of building a booster club for the band. And we’re trying to push a fundraising effort to buy new uniforms.”
The district has also embraced the world of eSports, providing a platform for students who may not be athletically inclined. Dr. Houston emphasizes that their goal is to ensure that all students can plug into the school’s community and activities, and the eSports program has successfully attracted a new segment of students who actively participate and compete.
A Successful Career Coaching Program
An exceptional aspect of the Greene County School System is the Career Coaching Program. Dr. Houston expands, “In our College and Career Academy, we noticed that students would start a pathway, then they would decide they didn’t like it, and they would move to a different pathway. It was chaotic.”
Out of the need to organize this chaos, the idea to bring in volunteer career coaches was born out of a partnership with the Thillen Education Foundation. The career coaching program, led by TEF founder Dave Thillen and GCCA CEO John Ellenberg, involves dozens of retired professionals with diverse backgrounds in fields such as medicine, law, business, and finance, who commit to working with a single student for four years, offering guidance and support.
“It has been tremendous because not only do they help keep our students’ heads on straight as it relates to their pathway pursuit, but it has spilled over into all of their academics, and their social-emotional learning,” he describes. “A lot of our kids are economically disadvantaged, and so there’s some things that they don’t learn at home. The support base has just been out of this world.”
Moving forward, Greene County School System’s visionary leadership and dedication to student success will continue to strengthen its reputation as a cornerstone of the community, fostering a bright future for all.
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AT A GLANCE
Greene County School System
What: A vibrant K-12 school district putting student success at the forefront of every decision
Where: Greene County, Georgia