Matt Parrish, AWER Program Leader for December, presented two Georgia government executives as our speakers: Ms. Joy Hawkins, Executive Director of the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement and Mr. Matthew Cardoza, Assistant Policy Director, Georgia Department of Education. Joy explained that because of the scandal in the George Department of Education eventually resulting in the incarceration of Linda Schrenko, former State Superintendent of Schools, our then Governor, Sonny Perdue, created GOSA as a way to unify all evaluation and assessment data of the state’s education programs and local school systems. It started with one employee and grew to 51 employees, but now employs 36 staff members. Owing to politics, GOSA and the GA DOE were in conflict, which made complicated relationships for local school superintendents and government leadership in Atlanta. In some ways Georgia school districts had two bosses, one in the Governor’s Office and the other through the Office of the State School Superintendent and the State Board of Education. Joy reported on a unified effort by the Governor’s Office and the GA DOE. She and Matt Cardoza organized 18 meetings throughout the state with Governor Brian Kemp and State Superintendent Richard Woods who presented unified support for and pledged cooperation with all school districts. Matt mentioned an effort to reduce testing because it has had and is having negative effects on children and demands too much time from teachers. Parents were complaining of their children becoming sick from the stress of the tests. Now the numbers of tests have been reduced and are limited to those required by federal law, with a minor dependency on state-only mandated assessments. Joy also focused on improving literacy in Georgia, fueled by several major grants, including the most recent for $179M over five years. Both Joy and Matt stressed the importance of parents and caregivers understanding more of what they can do to support their children’s reading development. There’s a continuous effort to engage more parents in the education of their children because too often, it is assumed that the school will create literate people, but in truth it takes a unified effort from teachers, parents, schools and certainly the community. More work is being done to identify, support and encourage. In response to a question regarding the identification of academically gifted children, Joy mentioned a variety of programs, including a Department of Education sponsored gifted program, supplemented by local funds, the Governor’s Honors Program, and the dual enrollment program which permits qualified students to enroll in higher education programs within the University System of Georgia or the Technical College System of Georgia, beginning as 9th graders or later. Students enrolled may earn up to two years of college credit and gain Associates Degree at no cost. They then could continue to earn a Bachelors Degree as regular students and bear the costs, or go directly into the workforce.