GOSA’s Strategic Plan for the Future of the Governor’s Honors Program

December 10, 2014

Each summer, some of Georgia’s best and brightest high school students attend the Governor’s Honors Program (GHP), a four-week, summer residential program designed to provide talented high school students challenging and enriching educational opportunities not usually available during the regular school year.  Established in 1963, GHP has been considered a premier educational opportunity for Georgia’s academically and artistically gifted and talented students.  Each school and district in the state may nominate students, who will be rising juniors and seniors, in one of twelve subject areas.[1]

Areas of Nomination
Academic Fine Arts Career/Technology
Agricultural Science Dance Engineering and Design
Communicative Arts Music* Technology
Languages* Theatre  
Mathematics Visual Arts  
Science    
Social Science    

*These areas of nomination are divided into subcategories.  Click here for more information.

GHP is held in mid-summer (mid-June to mid-July) as a four-week residential educational experience on a college or university campus.  Since 1984, Valdosta State University has hosted GHP.  Students attend classes in the mornings and afternoons in specific areas of study, and they participate in a wide variety of social and instructional opportunities every evening.  GHP is funded by the Georgia General Assembly; tuition, room, and board are covered by the appropriations.

Strategic Planning Process

In summer 2013, Governor Nathan Deal signed an executive order transferring the administration of the Governor’s Honors Program to the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement (GOSA).[2]  Last year, GOSA launched a strategic planning process to ensure that GHP remains a model for secondary gifted and talented education in our state for another half-century.  To provide assistance in collecting and analyzing data, GOSA engaged the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government (CVIOG). 

To develop recommendations for the sustainability of GHP, CVIOG relied on input and data from numerous sources:

  • A survey of over 1,300 GHP alumni[3]
  • Nine focus groups with GHP alumni, students, faculty, educators, and other stakeholders
  • Survey information from 2014 GHP participants
  • Research on similar programs in other states

Using this information, CVIOG published a report detailing GHP’s core strengths, as well as ideas for GOSA to consider as it plans for the future of GHP.  Click here to read the full report. 

The report highlighted GHP’s core strengths as follows.

  • 2014 participants and alumni greatly value the cultural, gender, racial, and ethnic diversity of the program.
  • GHP offers an extensive array of majors and a rigorous curriculum.
  • GHP attracts exceptional faculty who have a strong sense of commitment to the program.
  • GHP is hosted in a single, remote location that fosters cohesiveness among the student body and appreciation of subject areas outside the students’ majors.
  • GOSA seeks feedback and suggestions from alumni as it develops the strategic plan for the future.
  • GHP alumni greatly value their GHP experiences and are willing to provide assistance to the program.
  • Many GHP alumni still live in Georgia and serve in influential roles in all sectors of the economy.

GOSA’s Strategic Plan for the Future of GHP

In response to the CVIOG report, GOSA provided further detail on its plans to address the themes that emerged from the strategic planning work.  To read the full response, click here.

Access to All Georgia’s Students 

To ensure that GHP is a fully diverse and representative program for Georgia’s best and brightest, GOSA will engage school and district stakeholders to better explain the program and the revised selection process that will actively address underrepresentation of certain groups of students, both within the broader program and within certain academic disciplines.  During 2015 and 2016, GOSA plans to utilize the growing research base around best practices for engaging these types of students in academic enrichment programs.  This includes providing targeted statewide workshops to educate underrepresented groups about the GHP experience and course offerings, as an effort to motivate students to participate in the selection process.

Making Connections through a Rigorous Curriculum

An increasing share of GHP finalists attend specialized magnet or charter high schools, which provide a rigorous academic program across a specialized area of study (e.g., performing arts, STEM, etc.) with state-of-the-art equipment and access to college-level classes taught by distinguished faculty members.  For GHP to remain a premier educational opportunity for all students across the state, the program must offer a challenging curriculum that is reflective of 21st century gifted and talented learners and goes beyond what is currently available in their respective high schools. GOSA is committed to working with curricular partners from current and former GHP instructors, the Board of Regents, and local educational agencies to ensure that curricular frameworks align with the proposed vision and mission of the program.  Additionally, GOSA will work to ensure that the curriculum fosters innovation and empowers today’s learners.

Quality Faculty Matters

To provide an intensive academic environment at a level commensurate with the students’ abilities and prior experiences, the program must attract the most talented teachers from high schools and universities, as well as real-world experts in specific fields.  GOSA plans to explore providing additional compensation to faculty for the 2015 summer experience. Additionally, GOSA proposes to fund a pre-planning weekend to allow the summer faculty an opportunity to collaborate, plan, and receive specialized training regarding secondary gifted instruction.  Finally, GOSA anticipates actively cultivating Georgia’s leaders in academia, industry, the arts, and policy to participate in GHP as guest lecturers or visiting scholars.

Program Setting, Operations, and Duration

The program setting is incredibly important to the sustainability of the program. Given the specialized needs of the GHP student population, the teaching and learning facilities must be exceptional and conducive to in-depth study. Towards that end, GOSA is committed to working in cooperation with the Board of Regents and private institutions of higher education in Georgia to ensure that GHP remains in the university setting that is best suited for the program.

GOSA also acknowledges the desire of many GHP stakeholders to return the program from four weeks to six weeks.  There are two issues that prevent GOSA from altering the current length of the program.

  1. The program's current appropriated annual budget would fund either a greatly reduced number of students for a longer length of time or the current number of students for four weeks.[4]  The program would have to reduce significantly the number of participating students to operate at six weeks. 
  2. A return to six weeks would prohibit participation by many students and potential faculty members, as school systems in Georgia have varying academic year calendars.

Given these reasons, GOSA will maintain the current program length at this time.

Evaluation and Data Analysis

GOSA strongly agrees with the CVIOG recommendation to provide ongoing evaluation of the program to ensure transparency and accountability, as well as to identify themes of success and improvement. Going forward, GOSA will continue to survey student participants, faculty and staff, and parents to ensure that the program goals are met and to quickly address potential concerns for subsequent years. GOSA will conduct annual evaluations utilizing survey software for the 2015 and future GHP participating classes. 

Engaging GHP Alumni

GHP alumni are an extensive, talented, diverse, and well-accomplished resource for the program.  GOSA looks forward to continuing to work with GHP alumni to raise awareness of the program, assist in fundraising opportunities, and participate in GHP events (e.g., staff opportunities, interview events, etc.) in a meaningful way.

Marketing and Development

The ability to sustain the Governor’s Honors Program will depend on maintaining a strong academic program and a diversified funding base.  Although GHP will be primarily funded through the General Assembly, GOSA is determined to pursue additional funding from donations and in-kind contributions.  GOSA recognizes that in order to solicit financial gifts of this nature, the agency must market the benefits of the program to individual participants, policy makers, and potential donors.  GOSA is in the process of establishing a 501(c)3 that will allow the agency to receive such charitable contributions.

To ensure the sustainability of GHP, GOSA plans to:

  • Actively address underrepresentation of certain student groups;
  • Work with partners to ensure the curriculum aligns with the proposed vision and mission of the program, fosters innovation, and empowers today’s learners;
  • Ensure GHP remains in the university setting that is best suited for the program;
  • Provide ongoing evaluation of the program to ensure transparency, accountability, and paths of success and improvement;
  • Work with GHP alumni to raise awareness of the program, assist in fundraising, and participate in GHP events; and
  • Pursue additional funding from donations and in-kind contributions.

Conclusion

GOSA firmly believes that GHP is an important asset to the state of Georgia. Gifted and talented students hold tremendous potential for the leadership of the state.  The CVIOG report allows GOSA the opportunity to celebrate the strengths of the program and provides significant opportunities for improvement.  GOSA plans to work collaboratively with a variety of stakeholders to ensure that GHP is a sustainable model of secondary gifted instruction for Georgia’s brightest and most creative students.


[1] The number of nominations is based on the school’s total enrollment numbers for juniors and seniors.

[2] The Georgia Department of Education previously administered the program.

[3] CVIOG contacted 2,680 alumni, of which 1,374 completed a survey.

[4] The FY94 state appropriation for GHP was $1,050,740.  The FY15 state appropriation for GHP is $961,934 for 691 students.