New Superintendent of Rockdale County Public Schools, Richard Autry, right, greets Suchet L. Loois, a member of the Rotary Club of Conyers, during the club's weekly meeting on Thursday. Albert Myers III, president elect of the club, looks on. Staff Photo: Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith
CONYERS -- The new leader in Rockdale County Public Schools made a special appearance at the Rotary Club of Conyers meeting this week to point out the system's past accolades and look ahead to future goals.
Newly appointed Superintendent Richard Autry spoke to the club during its weekly meeting at Cameron Hall on Thursday.
He informed the group of the system's numerous recent accomplishments, including having multiple schools of excellence named by the state and federal governments, schools being honored by the Governor's Office of Student Achievement for several reasons, the Rockdale Career Academy offer several programs with industry certification and the system making Adequate Yearly Progress for the past six years, among others.
"It matters what our schools have accomplished, but that's the past, and I have very big shoes to fill," said Autry, who was appointed by the Rockdale County Board of Education on July 1 to take over for outgoing Superintendent Samuel King. "We're proud of the past, but we have to focus on the future."
He said the economy has limited the system's goals at times, and technology has created a new demand from students.
"We're in a different time and place now," said Autry, who has been a middle and high school teacher, an elementary school principal and an assistant superintendent during his 23 years in public education. "Education is changing."
A native of Newton County, Autry said when he graduated from school 30 years ago, the way things were taught and assessed and the things required of him were "dramatically different," as they were for many former students.
"Thirty years ago, we didn't have computers, the Internet or smart phones," he said. "But our children are programmed to have such technology -- that's the way they learn and interact."
He said the system needs to be ahead of the curve or at least with the curve when it comes to technology, and educators also need to support students, who will be entering a global workforce and society.
Even with a diverse student body -- 63 percent of students economically disadvantaged and receiving free and reduced lunch, compared to 27 percent in 2000, as well as 60 percent of students black, 22 percent of students white and 12 percent of students Hispanic -- he said the expectations of them will be the same in the future.
"That doesn't change our expectations or rigor, but it may change how we work," he said, adding that it calls for different support systems and ways to connect with families.
He said until 100 percent of students graduate from RCPS with some sort of industry certification, there will always be room for improvement.
Over the next five years, the system aims to achieve several initiatives, including offering better advisement for students in kindergarten through high school, expanding college and career readiness beginning with elementary schools, offering more digital resources including textbooks, expanding speciality educational programs of study for all grade levels, offering more post-secondary education courses during the school day, expanding online learning and requiring community service hours and capstone projects tied to student pathways before graduation.
Autry said many of those goals require a community partnership. Additionally, funding initiatives may change.
"We will not let funding dilemmas diminish ... service to kids," he said.
Autry added that the system will have to look at alternative funding. He said the state has decreased funding over the past several years, and that the system has gained some help through grant programs to help bring in some income. In the future, he said the system may look at collecting tuition from outside residents as space permits and through online learning.
"I'm excited (about the future)," he said. "If we're able to do this in the next five years, you'll see a significance in how education is delivered in the county and also in the quality of students."