FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — On Aug. 7, about 42,000 students will attend classes at 35 Forsyth County Schools.
It’s going to be a new experience for a lot of incoming students and teachers.
There are 328 new teachers in all grade levels and subjects joining the seventh largest school district in Georgia. On July 29, the teachers converged at Lambert High School for orientation.
Lambert’s Principal Gary Davison said new educators were told about how Forsyth County operates, met the system’s teachers of the year and new school superintendent.
Just at Lambert, there will be 700 new freshmen starting on Aug. 7, but the school has already added 12 portable classrooms to the existing 12.
“We are a five year-old building and for a five year old school. To actually grow beyond that capacity is unusual, but we welcome the growth,” Davison said.
The portable units are temporary, he said. Because voters approved a $195 million education bond in May, Lambert High will be able to add 19 classrooms.
“This is very reminiscent of the way we used to grow before the economy crashed,” Davison said. “This is how new educator orientation used to be every year.”
The Forsyth County School system continues to grow, but it has been a leader in education excellence throughout the state.
“One thing I’ve noticed is we are getting more experienced staff,” Davison said. “Forsyth is a great destination for educators now. Lambert has received educator from many different states. We are able to recruit from just about anywhere.”
One of the new teachers is Denise Hartley, a new special education teacher for tenth grade world history and twelfth grade economics at West Forsyth High School. Hartley has taught middle school for five years at Fulton County Schools, but is thrilled to join Forsyth County Schools.
“I have two children at West, so to be in the same district as my kids is phenomenal because I know what a great school system it is,” Hartley said.
Hartley’s daughter, who is now at University of Georgia, also went to West and her two boys currently attending West are AP students.
“They have so much technology, which is phenomenal for kids,” Hartley said. “We have Bring Your Own Technology and we also have technology in every classroom.”
Forsyth Central High School graduates and twins Brittney and Lauren Head will be new teachers at Kelly Mill Elementary, teaching first and second-graders, respectively.
“We are honored to finally be teaching here,” Brittney said. “It was wonderful to get a job in this school system.”
What did the educators learn during orientation? How Forsyth County has the best graduation rate, best CRCT scores, best SAT scores and college readiness in the state.
But there are also a lot of changes coming to educators this year, including evaluation system, curriculum changes and new assessment systems for students.
“We went to high school here and we were so prepared for college,” Brittney said, “It’s cool to see the stats.”
Lauren added, “We are a product of Forsyth County and it’s such a wonderful school system. We student taught here, so it was nice to get a job here.”
After L.C. "Buster" Evans retired as Forsyth County Schools' superintendent on June 30 to join the state’s Department of Corrections as the assistant commissioner of education, the Board of Education named Keith Porter interim superintendent.
On Sept. 2, new Forsyth County School Superintendent Jeff Bearden, of the Rome City School System takes over.
Bearden told the new educators that he began to hear about Forsyth County Schools four years ago when he served as superintendent in Fayette County. He reached out to Evans and brought a group of school leaders for a tour.
“So I came here because of the innovation and great programming,” Bearden said. “I walked away with so much more. What makes a school system great is the people. What I saw in Forsyth County was a sense of purpose, a large school system that didn’t feel like a large school system, it felt like a family and I was so impressed.
“I knew then that this would be a great place to work.”
Bearden said he will try to visit every classroom but he didn’t keep secret what he will be observing.
“When I visit a school or a classroom, I’m trying to get a sense of the culture and the climate,” he said. “I’m an educator and have been doing this for a long time, but I’m also a father. The litmus test for me is would I want my own child in this classroom, would I want my own child as a member of this school community?”
“If it’s not good enough for my child, it’s not good for any other child either.”
Bearden said he will look for professionalism, engagement and demeanor.
“We are a people business, we are a relationship business,” Bearden said. “Kids will not care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”