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First round of focus groups give feedback on Forsyth County Schools as part of strategic planning process
Forsyth County Schools

Georgia School Board Association leaders helped to facilitate the first round of focus groups at Alliance Academy for Innovation on Tuesday, Oct. 26, to collect feedback from stakeholders on Forsyth County Schools.

The focus group session, one of three in the coming weeks, is part of the district’s overall strategic planning process which will determine its overall mission and goals for the next five years.

The school system is still in the beginning stages of the process, collecting feedback through these sessions and a current online survey to help determine where FCS is in terms of student achievement and community perception before moving on to determining future goals.

“We have experienced lots of success in Forsyth County Schools,” Superintendent Dr. Jeff Bearden said. “But our motto in our school system, and our leaders hear me say this over and over and over again, we’re either getting better or getting worse. There is no such thing as status quo. So we choose to get better. How do we get better? By working together.”

Deputy Superintendent Mitch Young said more than 100 community members and stakeholders invited to the session attended on Tuesday — the largest turnout the school district has seen during strategic planning in many years.

“When you go back to one of the first strategic plans that took place, it was one where there were several hundred people involved, putting that feedback together and doing what [stakeholders] are doing tonight,” Young said. “It launched us to where we are today …. The best things come out of them when you have great participation from your community.”

The focus groups were facilitated by the Georgia School Board Association’s Director of Strategic Planning Dr. Steve Barker and Strategic Planning Services and Vision Project Manager Lynita Jackson.

The GSBA facilitates strategic planning sessions at school districts throughout the state while working closely with the Georgia Department of Education.

Barker explained to each of the community members that they would be taking part in the SWOT Analysis portion of the district’s strategic planning process. This means the groups were given time to discuss the district’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats or challenges.

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Forsyth County Schools

He said the purpose of the groups is not to solve any issues or debate whether or not a topic is a strength or weakness.

“We’re here to gather opinions and gather feedback so we can put it all together,” Barker said.

The groups were given 12 minutes for each section of the SWOT Analysis to talk with each other and write down thoughts on large pads of paper. After each section, leaders collected the papers and posted them in the hallways.

As the last group finished, participants were given the chance to walk through the hallway and see everyone’s feedback. Looking through what other groups had written, each member was able to use three circular stickers to note which pieces of feedback they felt were most important for district leaders to consider.

Groups began by looking at the system’s strengths and weaknesses — internal attributes the district currently has in place that work well or that could be improved.

Some strengths of FCS that many agreed on:

●     Social and Emotional Learning programs;

●     The autonomy given to individual schools to meet its own needs;

●     Strong parent involvement;

●     Quality staff;

●     And quality facilities.

Areas many agreed FCS could work on:

●     Its current shortage of bus drivers;

●     A lack of programs that focus on the average Forsyth County student;

●     A lack of community feedback opportunities.

Then, groups moved on to looking at the district’s opportunities and threats, which are external factors that could have a negative or positive impact on the work the school system is doing.

Opportunities discussed included:

●     The possible impact of the upcoming Educational Special Local Option Sales Tax, or E-SPLOST;

●     The continued diversity in the county and school system;

●     And an opportunity to review the current Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plan.

When it came to discussing external threats, each one of the groups emphasized Forsyth County’s rapid population growth, which has led to overcrowding at schools in recent years. They each also spoke on the impact of the pandemic not only on academics but also on the mental health of kids, parents and staff members.

Going forward, the district will hold two additional focus group sessions at Alliance Academy on Monday, Nov. 1, and on Monday, Nov. 8.

In January, a planning committee will go through the feedback collected from focus group sessions and the online survey and narrow down some of the main wants residents have for the community.

“That’s going to be a very important piece of data that we use because we’re looking at the goal areas and performance objectives for the next five years in Forsyth County Schools,” Jackson said.

Using that information, the committee will review the district’s current missions and values before moving on with the strategic planning process.

For more information, visit the FCS website at www.forsyth.k12.ga.us.