Georgia education officials traveled abroad


Jon Valentine, the program specialist for languages and international education at the Georgia Department of Education, traveled to Beijing, China, June 4-15, 2012. Here is the itinerary he followed:

Monday, June 4: Depart Atlanta for Beijing

Tuesday, June 5: Arrive in Beijing in the afternoon

Wednesday, June 6: Meeting in Hanban to discuss plans for K-12 Chinese language education in Georgia

Thursday, June 7: Tour of Beijing, including stops at the Great Wall and the Summer Palace

Friday, June 8: Tour of Beijing, including stops at the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven; visit a pre-K center and a local school

Saturday, June 9: Travel to Yangzhou

Sunday, June 10: Tour of Yangzhou

Monday, June 11: Meeting with administrators at Yangzhou University

Tuesday, June 12: Meeting with Chinese language teachers who will travel to Georgia as guest teachers; visit local schools

Wednesday, June 13: Travel to Shanghai

Thursday, June 14: Tour of Shanghai

Friday, June 15: Depart for Atlanta

Note: Travel costs paid for by the Confucius Institute at Kennesaw State University

Source: Georgia Department of Education

Georgia Superintendent John Barge and four staff members of the Department of Education have made a combined seven trips to Europe at taxpayer expense over the past three years. The trips cost a combined $20,690.53. Barge said the trips cemented relationships that will help Georgia students. Here is a listing of who went where, the date of the trip and its cost:

  • Superintendent John Barge to Saxony and Berlin in Germany, June 18, 2011 through June 26, 2011: $3,794.71
  • Joel Thornton, chief of staff to the superintendent, to Saxony and Berlin in Germany, June 18, 2011 through June 26, 2011: $3,206.95
  • Chief Academic Officer Mike Buck to Saxony and Berlin in Germany, June 18, 2011 through June 26, 2011: $3,697.35
  • Ron Culver, executive assistant to the superintendent, to Saxony and Berlin in Germany, June 18, 2011 through June 26, 2011: $3,533.41
  • Jon Valentine, program specialist for languages and international education at the Georgia Department of Education, to Nuremburg, Germany, Dec. 14, 2011 through Dec. 18, 2011: $1,896.26
  • Valentine to Nancy and Metz in France, Oct. 14, 2011 through Oct. 22, 2011: $2,387.85
  • Thornton to Nancy and Metz in France, Oct. 14 through Oct. 22, 2011: $2,174

Source: Georgia Department of Education

Georgia School Superintendent John Barge and his staff have traveled far and wide to cement exchange programs and get tips on how to implement the new career pathways program.

Barge said the trips have had tangible results — nearly 400 Georgia students have traveled to France and Germany over the past three years and about 650 students from Europe and Asia have come here to study. The pathways program has been implemented, with Georgia students choosing a career track they can follow throughout high school.

Barge said international experiences will help Georgia students be more competitive in an increasingly global job market.

“If our children are to be prepared for a global marketplace, we need to get them as experienced for that as we can,” Barge said.

Georgia taxpayers spent nearly $21,000 on overseas trips taken by Barge and members of his staff at the Georgia Department of Education over the past three years.

That figure does not include the cost for top Barge staffers to travel to France in late 2012, which The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in September. The newspaper then submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for records of all international travel undertaken so far by Barge and his staff during the three years he has served as superintendent.

Barge’s stewardship of the Georgia Department of Education is under increasing scrutiny now that he is running for governor.

Nancy Jester, the former DeKalb County School Board member who is running to succeed Barge as superintendent, said he should travel to locations closer to home.

“The taxpayers of Georgia would be better served if Dr. Barge and his staff took trips to Tennessee and Texas,” she said. “He should inquire about how those states have managed to produce graduation rates almost 20 points higher than Georgia’s while spending less per pupil.”

Tom Willis, who is managing the re-election campaign of Gov. Nathan Deal, said, “Voters will get the chance to give their opinions on whether Superintendent Barge’s international trips are a better use of tax dollars than students and classrooms.”

Barge has defended the international travel as opportunities to open doors for teachers and students and to help Georgia learn from the experiences of educators in other countries.

He said the trips were not junkets. Instead, they were meeting- and conference-filled journeys that cemented relationships between students, teachers and department officials here and their counterparts in other parts of the world.

The itinerary for a trip to China taken by Jon Valentine, program specialist for languages and international education at the Georgia Department of Education, shows a variety of tourist stops to such places as the Great Wall and the Forbidden City. But his itinerary also had many education-themed meetings with Chinese officials, including visits to local schools and universities.

Over the past three years, Georgia taxpayers have funded trips by Barge and his staff to Nancy and Metz in France as well as to Saxony, Berlin and Nuremberg in Germany.

Other travel was paid for by a privately-funded trust fund set up for exchange programs or by the host countries, records show.

Nearly 400 Georgia students have traveled to France and Germany during Barge’s administration, according to a listing provided by Barge. Most of those students, 292 of them, traveled to Germany. The rest, 103, traveled to France.

Travel from overseas to Georgia schools has been much heavier. Some 296 French students have traveled to Georgia to attend school over the past three years; 354 came from Germany to do so. Five students have come to Georgia from South Korea, where Barge traveled in July at the invitation and expense of the South Korean government.

In September, Brunhild Kurth, the minister of education for the German state of Saxony, visited several schools in metro Atlanta, including Chamblee Charter High. There, she listened in as advanced students took classes taught entirely in German.

Her government paid for her trip to the U.S., just as Georgia taxpayers funded a trip to Saxony and Berlin taken by Barge and three of his top staff members in June of 2011.

Kurth echoed Barge’s position that students will need to be comfortable in an international environment to thrive.

“We live in a global world, and the business community does not stop at international borders,” she said.