Atlanta Public Schools revs up its reform agenda. Will it keep state at bay?

It’s clear Atlanta Public Schools wants to put enough changes into motion so Gov. Nathan Deal and his stake takeover district will remain on the sidelines and watch to see where it all leads.

Today, Superintendent Meria Carstarsphen announced a plan to improve several of the city’s failing schools by closing or consolidating them and bringing in charter operates.

Atlanta appears to be moving at a feverish pace. That makes me wonder if the governor’s focus and his Opportunity School District will now fix on DeKalb, which has not pursued change as aggressively as Atlanta.

At least, not yet.

Meria Carstarphen defends Atlanta's campaign to bring in turnaround talent to remake failing schools.

In a statement today, Meria Carstarphen explains Atlanta’s campaign to bring in turnaround talent to remake failing schools and avert state takeover.

In Carstarphen’s own words:

When I unveiled the APS Turnaround Strategy during the State of the District last October, I explained that because of the longstanding, multi-generational educational needs of our students and a looming, high-stakes potential takeover Opportunity School District, we did not have time to waste. I also expressed that we would move with deliberate speed in a way that would not always be popular or comfortable, but always essential or even critical.

We’ve been working on transforming APS for months: the Day One: Be There attendance campaign, our remediation and enrichment initiative for students affected by CRCT cheating, the launch of a college-access and scholarship partnership with Achieve Atlanta, and the establishment of a College and Career Academy with Atlanta Technical College to name a few. We have embraced a Charter System District model and cluster planning that will mean investments in signature programs for each cluster that creates pathways from kindergarten to graduation.

But we have to do more … because we are a district performing far below the potential of our kids.

Being only weeks into the implementation of our Turnaround Strategy (I invite you to go here to learn more about it), I already have much to report. In addition to the acceleration of the roll-out of social and emotional learning in schools, we have made progress in recruiting turnaround principals and teachers, and providing targeted professional learning for teachers. We are also launching high-impact tutoring in targeted schools immediately as well as a Spring Break Academy this April.

Last semester, we announced a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) to solicit interested and qualified education partners who can provide turnaround services, intervention, and supports to dramatically improve student achievement in the short and long term.

At the Feb. 1 meeting of the Atlanta Board of Education, we will present three potential education partners who emerged as finalists to support turnaround work. The Rensselaerville Institute’s School Turnaround program, a nonprofit leadership development initiative designed to assist principals to achieve rapid improvement at low-achieving schools, submitted a proposal to support schools and leaders across the district. The other partners are non-profit organizations with track records of strong student achievement and have submitted proposals to work with schools in the Carver Cluster.

Purpose Built Schools, an arm of Purpose Built Communities and a partner organization with Charles R. Drew Charter School, has proposed to operate Thomasville Heights and Slater elementary schools, Price Middle School and Carver High School. The Kindezi Schools, which runs two successful charter schools in Atlanta, has offered to operate Gideons Elementary School. While both organizations are current charter operators, APS, through this RFQ process, is only considering partnerships that would involve Kindezi and/or Purpose Built Schools serving neighborhood schools with traditional attendance boundaries, not charter schools.

We will spend the next five weeks exploring the big ideas proposed by these partners, and we will do so through community meetings and open houses.

But there are other changes that must occur in the near future and this involves the operating models of some schools in our district. Let me stress first: We do not take the matter of operating model changes lightly. Therefore, we conducted a thorough analysis that considered:

We filtered all considerations through the guiding principles of our Turnaround Strategy. And as a result, I will recommend the following plan to the Atlanta Board of Education on Monday, Feb. 1, for action at its March 7 meeting:

  • Merge Grove Park Intermediate with Woodson Primary in the Douglass Cluster

During the 2012 redistricting process, Woodson Primary School was created as a K-2 site, serving the same attendance zone as Grove Park Intermediate School, which has 3rd through 5th grades. Grove Park’s three-year CCRPI average is 46.5, the third lowest in the district, while Woodson’s 2014 CCRPI is 83.2. Both schools are significantly under-enrolled and need renovations. To ensure stronger alignment between the primary and intermediate program, the schools will consolidate on the Grove Park campus at the start of the 2016-17 school year.

I am pleased to announce that I plan to recommend Dr. Susan Crim McClendon, a veteran APS administrator with a strong track record of performance including her work at Woodson Primary, as the principal of the new merged school.

A proposed Special-Purpose Local-Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) could provide as much as $18.5 million for renovations at Grove Park. The vacated Woodson site will be considered for a possible early childhood center.

  • Close Bethune Elementary and open a new innovative K-8 STEM academy at Kennedy Middle in the Washington Cluster

Ever since Kennedy Middle closed during a 2012 redistricting process, the community has asked APS to find ways to repurpose the building and leverage the asset as part of the community’s redevelopment efforts. We hope to use as much as $2 million from current SPLOST funds for facility improvements to the Kennedy building this summer and then – contingent upon SPLOST 2017 funding – another $10 million for a larger scale renovation. The community will be encouraged to participate in a planning process for the new academy including setting the vision for the school, identifying potential STEM partners and ultimately naming the new academy.

I will be recommending Dr. Diamond Jack as the new principal for this STEM school. She has built a strong foundation for STEM as principal of Venetian Hills Elementary and has experience as a middle school math and science teacher as well.

Reopening the school – under the guidance of a turnaround leader with STEM experience – will address Bethune’s three-year CCRPI average of 42.1, the second lowest in the district. Additionally, a new school – starting as a K-5 and adding a middle grade a year in subsequent years – would meet current academic needs and the anticipated growth of the Westside.

  • Merge Connally Elementary with Venetian Hills Elementary in the Washington Cluster

For the new school year, students from both schools would attend classes at Connally, following building improvements this summer. Connally has the third lowest three-year CCRPI average (46.5) in the district; Venetian Hills’ 2014 CCRPI is 76.8. Both schools have very low enrollment numbers and require significant renovations.

I recently appointed Lincoln Woods, an APS veteran and southwest Atlanta native, as principal of Connally, and he has made great strides in rebuilding the culture of the school and building strong partnerships. I’m confident that he will continue his success in a merged school.

About $23.5 million in SPLOST 2017 has been budgeted for a full-scale Connally renovation to serve the merged student population. The Venetian Hills site is also being considered for an early childhood center.

We remain committed to including families, communities and staff in the operating model changes and the education partnership selection process, and we will implement this work in an open, transparent manner. We have scheduled a series of conversations with our stakeholders over the next several weeks to share more about the Turnaround Strategy, proposed school changes and education partners. You can learn more about those sessions here; and I encourage all of you to attend and participate.

Change is never easy. But we must do what is best for students and our mission to prepare each and every one of them for graduation and college/career.

Reader Comments 1

7 comments
Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Seems like an, at best, questionable method of "reform."  It does nothing to address the needs of the very least-achieving students, and it annoys the parents of the higher-achieving ones.  Does she think that just "being around" higher-achieving students will "cure" those low achievers?

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Wascatlady 

The accompanying newsprint article interviewed some of the higher-achieving students, who reported that often their classes seemed slowed down to catch up the lower-achieving students and that there were now more discipline problems in classes.  Seem like predictable results if all that's done is to combine the schools.

Starik
Starik

@Wascatlady The high achieving schools should be preserved and, if possible expanded. I disagree with combining them with low-achieving schools. I do agree with the other part of the process, making the teachers re-apply for their jobs to remove the bad teachers. Done properly, this can over time improve the entire system. 


I see there was a sick-out at Thomasville Heights elementary by teachers who want to continue to"fly under the radar" and maintain their solid incomes.

Dee Turner
Dee Turner

There are dozens of low performing schools throughout rural Georgia. I doubt if the governor is interested in "taking over" those school districts. If Atlanta isn't careful, it will become another Flint, Michigan. Meanwhile, the first school scheduled for closing is conveniently located near the new Falcon stadium. Hummmm.

HILUX
HILUX

Would any of these new initiatives have come about without pressure from the Governor and his proposed Opportunity School District?

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@HILUX


In case you missed it, combining a higher score school with a lower score school is a classic fix for low scores. You could call it dispersal score enhancement. Now the state will be satisfied with the scores just because students are in a different building. Like they say - on average, everyone in the room is a millionaire when Warren buffet walks in.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Without such purpose, Johnson, who has run unsuccessfully for the APS school board, says APS will not find lasting success through Superintendent Meria Carstarphen’s ambitious turnaround plans. […]