State superintendent, First Lady visit Bartow
by Mark Andrews
Mar 23, 2012 | 2966 views | 0 0 comments | 25 25 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Joseph Arents, left, demonstrates a lesson on a SMART Board in Misty Bell’s kindergarten class at Hamilton Crossing Elementary School. On Thursday, State School Superintendent John Barge and First Lady Sandra Deal toured several city and county schools. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
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State School Superintendent John Barge and First Lady Sandra Deal made a stop at Bartow County and Cartersville City schools on Thursday, speaking with administrators and teachers, reading to students and exploring the ins and outs of classrooms as part of Deal's Read Across Georgia initiative.

"They started at the primary school at 9 [a.m.] and visited one of each grade level, read to the kindergartners and gave each kindergarten class a copy of the book [Deal] read," Cartersville Superintendent Howard Hinesley said.

Barge and Deal's itinerary included visits to Cartersville Primary, Elementary and Middle schools as well as Hamilton Crossing Elementary and Cass High School. The two also attended a luncheon at Roselawn Museum, hosted by the Cartersville-Bartow County Chamber of Commerce, and visited Summer Hill Museum.

At Cartersville Middle School, for example, Barge and Deal made a visit to Omar Nunez's Spanish classroom, where Nunez led the class in an exercise in which they named various sports gear in Spanish.

"Just coincidentally it works out where [Nunez] was named our teacher of the year this year," Principal Jeff Hogan said.

At Hamilton Crossing Elementary School, Barge and Deal commented on the student artwork that lined the walls of the kindergarten hall and watched teacher Misty Bell's kindergarten students operate a SMART Board.

"We're excited to be able to show off our school and all the good things that are happening at Hamilton Crossing," Principal Lynn Robertson said.

Barge, a former educator who also previously served as director of secondary curriculum and instruction with the Bartow school system, explained the joint visit.

"One of the constitutional requirements for state school superintendent is to visit schools, so we have made it our goal to visit every school district in the state within the first four years of office, so right now there are probably 60 systems we've visited," Barge said. "We work in conjunction with the governor's office because education is one of the First Lady's main agendas and even the governor has made an initiative for reading, and so every time we can go together, we go together because it really communicates that our efforts are unified when it comes to reading across the state."

Deal echoed his statements, saying, "We like to go together because it lets the teachers know they're working hard and doing a good job and we're supporting them, and it lets students know how important we believe education is to their future. We're try to get our job forces prepared, we want good citizens that can have good jobs and get trained and work at these businesses we're bringing in and we want them to love working and supporting their families so they can have a good life as Georgians."

Bartow County Superintendent John Harper said the system was excited to have Barge "back home" and for Deal to take time reading to students.

"It's a good day for our kids to be spending time with [Deal]," Harper said.

Barge said the local school systems are unique in that they have grant programs to help provide classroom materials for teachers.

"One of the neat things about [the Cartersville City School System] is the [Cartersville Schools Foundation] and how they use the foundation to raise money to put in teacher grants, and I know the county system has [The Bartow Education Foundation] as well, so that has always been a strength for the system to have the ability to give teachers mini-grants to get new and innovative things in their classrooms," Barge said. "That the two systems have achieved what they have in the face of the cuts they have endured over the last several years is a testament to the quality of the systems."

The programs have proven successful, with Cartersville awarding more than 20 grants topping about $9,000 this school year. Bartow awarded nearly 200 grants topping about $95,000.

"Since it's inception, [The Bartow Education Foundation] has raised over $1 million in teacher support," Harper said. "Many people may not know that teachers always spend money out of their pocket to help put materials and ... [The Teacher Grant Program] is a great way to give back to the teachers so they don't have to spend so much money out of their pocket [teaching].

Deal, who read "Who I'd Like to Be" by Elizabeth Brown, has brought an emphasis on reading at a young age to the forefront of her husband's education platform. Currently, more than half of the state's budget goes toward education.

"Nathan and I both feel like reading is key for the advancement of young people and that's what we feel we have to encourage," Deal said. "If they can't read by third grade, they begin to struggle, they begin to dislike coming to school, they begin to start having 'stomachaches' because they're insecure and sometimes they begin to cheat and find ways to compensate.

"Both of our parents taught primary and we knew the importance and always heard about the importance of reading, and so we just want to encourage children to read and to get those skills at an early age so when they move past third grade they will have those skills to be able to read for comprehension and application."