By John Schaffner

Dr. Steve Dolinger, president of the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education, challenged members and guests of the Sandy Springs Perimeter Chamber of Commerce (SSPC), at the group’s May meeting, to become informed about state and local school data and take action to improve the climate for economic development through education.

Dolinger, who recently became a SSPC board member and is heading up its education initiatives, told the May 19 breakfast group of more than 100 there are three major action steps the chamber needs to take: To convene a group of interested members, to connect with the local schools and their leadership and to commit to an continued action plan to ensure high standards within those schools.

Dolinger praised the public schools in Sandy Springs—Spalding Drive Elementary, Ridgeview Middle and North Springs Charter High School of Arts and Sciences. He said the challenge now is “how do we keep up the standards?” SSPC can play a major role in that quest.

He said every business person and parent needs to be aware of and analyze the state and local data on test scores in schools, graduation and drop-out rates, money being spent per pupil on their education and the quality of the teachers and administration in the schools.

He pointed the audience to two web sites where they can obtain the information—his organization’s site and the official site of the Georgia Department of Education,

Dolinger gave the audience some data to consider during his talk. For instance, he said Georgia’s average score on the Standard Achievement Test (SAT) is 1472, far behind the top scoring states in that area.

He pointed out that the graduation rate in Georgia in 2004 was 65 percent, with 34,748 students not graduating in the state. In 2007, he said, the graduation rate rose to 72 percent, with only 28,842 not graduating. He termed that a marked improvement.

Pointing to the impact of non-graduates on the economy, Dollinger explained that they are not as employable and that the unemployment rate is more important than even income value of graduating.

“We have almost 30,000 kids across the state each year that are not ready to come into the workforce,” he said. If we do not get them graduated eventually, some of them are not even literate and they are not going to be good parents to be the first teachers of their kids.”

He said studies show the economic impact of non-graduates on Region 3 in the state, which includes Sandy Springs and the core metro Atlanta counties, is $4.2 billion.

He said we need to get better teachers before our kids by taking steps to improve teacher quality.