When Bryan Dorsey took over as superintendent at Georgia’s Gilmer County Schools at the beginning of this year, he was excited for the challenge. Taking the post vacated by the retiring Randy Parson, he knows the job won’t be easy, but he also knows the groundwork has been laid for a successful future.
“There are a lot of great people here, it is a beautiful area, and it is a great place for a school system to flourish,” said Dorsey. “Some places just have sayings about lifelong learners and learning communities, but I feel at heart that this is a school system where we can put that in place. I hope to carry some of the things I’ve learned in my career as a teacher and principal into this position and that we will have a great school system.”
Located in Ellijay, Ga., Gilmer County Schools serves a diverse population of more than 4,300 students. About an hour and a half from Atlanta, the school system has nine schools and works to educate lifelong learners through first class schools that empower all students to graduate prepared for higher education and careers.
Operating on a philosophy that all students can learn if each student is provided with the opportunity to learn and a safe school environment, Gilmer County Schools shares the responsibility for education with parents and the wider community. The school system employs a qualified and motivated staff, and it maintains a responsiveness to change.
Academically, Gilmer educators use research-based strategies to improve instruction, and the school system has installed learning focused strategies into its methodology. All classrooms take advantage of instructional technology, and all schools are networked.
High school and middle school curriculum include robust vocational and connections programs as well as comprehensive educational programming, from special education and gifted education to honors and AP courses and beyond. Gilmer County Schools is designated a Super District for Quality Schools, as all its schools are accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
Dorsey said the system’s largest concerted effort has been focused on reading, using a Reading First program and seeing some improvement as a result. Now, along with the entire state, Dorsey said improving mathematics is a top priority.
“As someone who believes in the importance of core curriculum, I want to see us focus on creating problem solvers,” he said. “School systems in general have grown accustomed to separating ideas and subjects so much that sometimes we lose site of the totality of putting all these academic programs to work. I’d like to see more integration with total programming as far as how kids apply math, science, reading, and writing when they are working on projects.”
Thanks to a 2001 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, the school system was able to open the Mountain View Elementary school in 2003 as well as making additions and renovations to other facilities. In addition, a Headstart/preK facility opened in 2004, and the school system purchased more property for a new middle school and additional expansion.
Followed by a 2004 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, the district subsequently invested in new gym floors for Ellijay Primary, Ellijay Elementary, and Oakland Elementary; bleachers at the high school stadium; softball fields and baseball fields with lighting; classrooms and a multi-purpose facility at Gilmer High School; and completed the new middle school, Clear Creek Middle School.
“We’ve got one school that is still undergoing some renovations, but we are in good shape facility-wise,” said Dorsey. “The current economic situation has us trying to figure out exactly how we can restructure our school system. We are looking at how we are using our facilities to see if there is a better way to provide service to our community while reducing our operating costs.”
Dorsey said technology is one area where Gilmer County Schools would like to improve. The district is looking at applying for funding to upgrade wireless access in the school system and considering how to upgrade its entire technology infrastructure. The school system also recently launched a new website as well.
“It seems to me to be a very friendly site, and we’re seeing just how much people are turning to technology to get information from us, whether it is information on bad weather days or linking different information to Facebook,” said Dorsey. “Easy access to information is one thing that new site is helping us provide.”
Overall, Dorsey has found the relationship between the community and the school system to be strong. Fostering even stronger ties is one of his goals, and he thinks complete transparency including open discussions about budgetary and other challenges while celebrating success can help him do that.
As the school district works to ensure educating lifelong learners is more than just a slogan, everything comes down to the environment it’s providing students and teachers. Although his tenure is just beginning, Dorsey’s long-term hope is that when his tenure eventually ends that Gilmer County Schools, its community can look back on his time as superintendent and recognize that such a supportive environment was built on and maintained.
“Our leadership must provide that purpose and that is something I strive for,” said Dorsey. “The relationships we have are important, especially in this kind of economy, and it is important that we all remember that our purpose is to educate students and provide them with the information and skill sets they need in life.”