News Release

Dalton State’s Next Step Program Guides High School Seniors

April 23, 2014

Next Step
Next Step students from North Murray High School enjoy their day on campus at Dalton State.

Aided by a grant from the Workforce Investment Act, Dalton State College is working to bring together retired educators and high school seniors for the Next Step Program which provides area students with the opportunities to improve their math, reading, and English skills, explore career interests, develop work readiness skills, and transition to post-secondary options.

The innovative transition program is under the direction of Executive Director Dr. Angela Harris, who also serves as Assistant Vice President of Enrollment and Student Services at Dalton State. The program, which Dalton State operates in partnership with the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission, enlists highly qualified educators with decades of experience in teaching and administration to guide the students toward their college and career goals.

Paula Callicutt, retired with more than 30 years’ experience as a public school teacher, serves as the Next Step Program Director. According to Harris, Callicutt’s vast experience provides her with the knowledge base and skills necessary to effectively navigate within the three distinct systems of public school, higher education, and business and industry.

One of the many benefits of the program is the relationship between Dalton State and Dalton Public, Murray County, and Whitfield County school systems. “The beautiful feature of Next Step is that we have working partnerships with three public school systems, the College, and business and industry,” says Callicutt. Participating students have the opportunity to visit Dalton State, meet students and faculty, and complete community projects.

Next Step
Among the Next Step faculty and administration are, from left, Dr. Angela Harris, Assistant Vice President of Dalton State College and Executive Director of the Next Step program; Debra Sloan, math instructor; Carlton Thomas, English and transitions instructor; Chad Murray, math instructor; Sarah McCown, Next Step Administrative Assistant; Diana Gibson, English instructor; Paula Callicutt, Director, Next Step; and Nancy Zelinsky, English instructor.

The Next Step Program aims to see participating students graduate from high school and take the next step on the path to success by entering the workforce, military, or by successfully completing of a post-secondary program. “These students will be better prepared to take that ‘next step’ towards becoming successful individuals and improving the quality of life for themselves and their families,” Callicutt said.

Students are provided individualized instruction in math, reading, and English based on their strengths and weaknesses as determined by Tests of Adult Basic Education skills assessments and other evaluation instruments.

“If students need particular help passing graduation testing, SAT or ACT, instruction is geared specifically toward that goal,” says Callicutt. “Should students have an interest in a particular career, efforts are made to create opportunities to make contact with experts in that field though job shadowing or other specific networking.”

The program consists of courses taught on-site at Murray County, North Murray, Dalton, and Morris Innovative high schools that are comprised of two main components: an academic feature that will focus on supplemental instruction in reading, math, and English, and a college and career element that centers on transitioning to college and/or occupational skills and employment preparation.

The course runs concurrently with the high school student’s academic year, and each student will earn an elective course credit upon completion.

Next Step faculty includes: Nancy Zelinsky, language arts/reading and writing; Carlton Thomas, language arts/reading and writing; Diana Gibson, language arts/reading and writing; Debra Sloan, mathematics; Chad Murray, mathematics; and Sherry Burgess, transition coach and career planning.

The Near Peer Program, a previous transition program at Dalton State that paved the way for Next Step, recorded impressive results with participating pupils, Harris said. After completing the Near Peer Program, students scored significantly higher on COMPASS tests which are used for college placement purposes and to determine where remedial classes are needed. Students recorded a 33 percent increase in algebra, a 23 percent increase in writing, and a 12 percent gain in reading scores at the end of the semester-long program. There was also a 43 percent reduction in the number of remedial classes indicated after completing the program.

Sarah McCown, Administrative Assistant/Program Director for Next Step, anticipates that this new and improved program will yield even better results. “We had impressive results from our Near Peer students last year,” McCown says, “and we’re encouraged that Next Step is a program that could have an even bigger impact on educational attainment levels for our area and could be replicated in communities across the state.”

Screening is underway now to identify Next Step students for the fall semester. Those with questions about the Next Step Program are invited to contact Sarah McCown at or Paula Callicutt at

Dalton State, 650 College Drive, Dalton, GA 30720
706.272.4436 • 1.800.829.4436 •