Down Ga. Highway 36 toward Jackson, beyond the old Meadors home place, stand schools of personal interest to me.
Heard-Mixon Elementary, a Georgia School of Excellence, named in part after the Heard side of my dad's family, bustles with achievement accolades.
A little further down the road, I watched Alcovy High emerge years ago from endless acres of red clay. The most expensive high school to operate, and built close to the county line, the state-of-the-art building sprouted from pastures amidst word from workmen that a body was discovered on site.
Forensic mystery gave way to high hopes as the 2,500-capacity building opened in 2006. Now, with 1,800 students, the selection process begins for a fifth school principal in less than seven years; there have been two interims.
What will it take to lead? Let's look at what we know.
From the most recently available public data at the Governor's Office, we know that Alcovy High graduates a class of seniors with just 37 percent eligible for HOPE funding. This figure represents a serious blow to the local economy. Businesses use figures like this to assess local workforce talent.
We know that Alcovy has a cohort graduation rate of 64.7 percent, below the state average, and American College Test scores below NCSS, the state of Georgia and the nation.
Alcovy Advanced Placement test-takers pass AP exams at a rate of 39.6 percent. In fiscal year 2012, Alcovy SAT test-takers experienced double digit declines in both SAT math and critical reading. SAT total scores hold below the state and nation.
On the state math II End of Course Test (EOCT), AHS test-takers failed at a rate of 61 percent; biology EOCT failure rates were 35 percent. This data spells economic disaster in the STEM and post-secondary areas.
How did we let this happen in our own back yards?
When triangulated with high faculty turnover, an exodus of seasoned counselors and assistant principals, and frequent appearances in weekly school crime reporting, the collective data reveal one root cause for me: Leadership.
A school will rise or fall on leadership. When we find high-performing schools, we will find a strong school leader. It is time to rise and deliver the goods both to students and to taxpayers affected by Alcovy High School.
The brain drain of high teacher turnover has resulted in achievement data as we currently know it, robbing 63 percent of graduates of potential HOPE money and breeding mistrust of public educators.
Research shows that students with math and reading deficits, as shown in the data above, face tremendous challenges in college, often struggling, then dropping out. A handful will become part-time college students; most part-time students fail to complete college.
If we believe all students can learn, as I do, then we will do better by them, affording them a successful public education and much-needed relief from ZIP code failure by carefully selecting a strong leader. This is no time for backroom deals or shady alliances.
Imagine the local impact of an Alcovy High School exceeding state and national achievement averages. And then imagine more of the same.
Jeff Meadors is the District 1 representative on the Newton County Board of Education. Readers may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.