Column: GPEE continues efforts to improve schools

By Maria Saporta
Friday, August 6, 2010

Come January, Georgia will have a new governor and a new state school superintendent.

And the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education is poised to help the new governor and superintendent — whoever they may be — adopt a public education platform to help spur improvements in school systems across the state.

The partnership, also known as GPEE, was founded nearly 20 years ago by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and the Georgia Economic Developers Association to build awareness of the importance of education to our state’s economy.

“It was a time when folks were beginning to understand the critical link between education and economic development,” said Ann Cramer, an IBM Corp. executive who currently is chair of GPEE and was one of the organization’s founders.

The independent, nonprofit organization has been able to attract strong business and philanthropic support to spread its message.

Top donors have been the Georgia Power Foundation, the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation, the Joseph B. Whitehead Foundation, AT&T Georgia, Bank of America, Citi Foundation, Georgia Public Broadcasting, the Pittulloch Foundation, SunTrust’s directed fund — Harriet McDaniel Marshall Trust, the UPS Foundation, Verizon, Rockdale Fund for Social Investments, the Sartain Lanier Family Foundation and the Zeist Foundation, among others.

GPEE has seen some progress. For example, high school graduation rates have gone from 65 percent in 2004 to 79 percent in 2009.

But GPEE leaders said there’s still much work to be done — especially when comparing Georgia’s educational results on a national level.

“Other states are hustling to keep moving,” said Stephen Dolinger, who is in his eighth year as president of the partnership. “It’s been difficult to leapfrog. But we think we are poised to start doing some leapfrogging.”

The way to improve public education in Georgia is to set high standards, adopt a rigorous curriculum, have strong accountability and engaged leadership, Dolinger said.

Georgia’s efforts were hampered during the years that Linda Schrenko was state school superintendent from 1994 to 2002, when she decided to run for governor. She later was convicted of an embezzlement scheme and was sent to prison.

“We lost eight years,” Cramer said of Schrenko’s terms as superintendent.

“They were eight years of dysfunctional leadership,” Dolinger said. “People don’t know how bad she was.”

GPEE works behind the scenes in a nonpartisan way to build support for improving Georgia’s educational system.

“We’ve seen progress,” Dolinger said. “But we are certainly not at a point in Georgia’s history where we can step back or be derailed.”

That’s where the 2010 elections come in. “It really comes down to how well the school superintendent gets along with the governor,” Dolinger said.

Meanwhile, GPEE, which has an annual operating budget of $1.4 million and reserves of about $2 million, knows the issues are only getting tougher.

“Over half of our students are poor and minority,” Dolinger said of Georgia’s public schools. “The poor and minorities have more challenges. Our need for more resources is going to continue.”

Kiwanian centenarian

It was just coincidence that Alton Franklin Bryant’s 100th birthday fell on Atlanta Kiwanis Club meeting day Aug. 3.

But Kiwanians decided to make the most of the occasion by throwing a “surprise” birthday party for Bryant, who has been a member of the Atlanta Kiwanis Club for 51 years (joining on July 17, 1959) or for more than half of his life.

Proclamations and letters from The University of Georgia President Mike Adams, the Cherokee Town and Country Club (where he was a founding member) and the state legislature added to the surprise.


The Atlanta Ronald McDonald House Charities has announced three new members to its board: Steve Beshara, founder of Vista Branding; Greg Gerhard, a vice president of SunTrust Banks; and John Tamasi, an owner-operator of 10 McDonald’s restaurants in the Atlanta area.

The organization also has named Rob Turner as chairman of the ARMHC Advisory Council. Turner is an attorney with Stites & Harbison LLC, and he has been a volunteer with the Ronald McDonald House since 2000.

Minority business awards

The Minority Business Development Agency’s Southeast Regional Office will hold its second annual business summit on Aug. 12 when AT&T Georgia will be named “Corporation of the Year” at an awards dinner that evening.

The event recognizes outstanding achievements of minority entrepreneurs as well as individuals, organizations and corporations in advancing minority business.

Among the speakers will be Sylvia Russell, president of ATT Georgia; Katherine Smith, Bahamas consul general; Mark Wilson, president and CEO of Ryla Inc.; John Carter, president and CEO of Carter Brothers; and Chuck Ernst, senior vice president and plant manager of Honda Manufacturing of Alabama.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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