Newton certified as work-ready community

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

COVINGTON -- Newton County is helping students become more work ready.

This year, the Newton County School System has pushed more students, including all seniors, to take the Georgia Work Ready Assessment, which allows students to receive a nationally-recognized Career Readiness Certificate and signals to them, their schools and employers that they are ready to work in a particular industry.

Recently, Governor Sonny Perdue announced that Newton County was one of five counties in the state to be named as a new Certified Work Ready Communities of Excellence, a designation communicating that a county has the skilled work force needed to meet business demands and drive economic growth, as well as the educational foundation to build a pipeline of workers ready to create ongoing success.

"These communities are empowering their citizens to improve their skills and set off on a path of life-long learning," Perdue said in a press release. "By building a strong, well-trained work force our communities are taking charge of their futures and equipping themselves for success."

The other new communities include Baldwin, Coffee, Colquitt and Monroe counties. The five counties represent the 10th group to complete their Work Ready Certificate goals and successfully meet at least the required minimum increase in their county's public high school graduation rate. Now, Georgia is made up of 69 of the certified Work Ready communities.

Newton County residents have earned 2,432 Work Ready certificates --113 percent more than its goal. The public high school graduation rate also has increased from 80.1 to 82.1 percent.

"Work ready out of high school is a necessary accomplishment of our public schools," said NCSS Superintendent Gary Mathews in a prepared statement. "Our students, teachers, principals and others deserve this state recognition, as it is not only a plus for our school system but, moreover, it tells our community that our high school students are ready for entry-level employment in certain areas. I trust this is a prerequisite to even greater strides in our students being college ready. Both are vital to our system's future success."

Mathews recently reported that 449 out of 508, or more than 88 percent, of NCSS seniors were declared "work ready" based on the assessments last year. He hopes for more to be declared such this year when all seniors take the tests.

The other counties had earned between 400 and 1,100 work ready certificates -- between about 15 and 65 percent more than their goals. Graduation rates for the other counties ranged from about 73 to nearly 80 percent, and they had increased from rates in the high 50s and 60s.

To earn the Certified Work Ready Community designation, counties must demonstrate a commitment to improving public high school graduation rates through a measurable increase, and show a specified percentage of the available and current work force has obtained Work Ready certificates, according to the press release.

Each community created a team of economic development, government and education partners to meet the certification criteria. Counties are given three years to reach the goals necessary to earn the designation.

Once counties attain their Certified Work Ready Community goals, they are able to maintain their status by ensuring a small percentage of their available work force continues to earn Work Ready Certificates, engage local businesses to recognize and use Work Ready and continue to increase their public high school graduation rate until they reach a threshold of 75 percent.

To continue their work, each county will receive a $10,000 grant. Their Work Ready Community teams also will receive a two-year membership to their local Chamber of Commerce and a budget for additional Work Ready outreach materials.

Counties that are fully certified receive road signs and a seal denoting the year they achieved certification.

When the Newton College & Career Academy opens in January 2012, more career-based programs will be housed in the school for upperclassmen who completed lower-level course work in their high schools.

"Targeting local needs and providing our students with more career choices, NCCA is a timely and most important development in our school system and community at large," Mathews said.