By Meria Carstarphen, superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools, March 7, 2016
I am humbled as well as encouraged by tonight’s Atlanta Board of Education vote on the APS School Turnaround Strategy, which moves our district forward with a comprehensive plan to address chronic under-performance in our schools. I am also appreciative of the willingness of the community to try to understand the urgent need for change. I know this school community has been through a lot, and I recognize that many of our parents, students and community members have been hurt and are untrusting of the district. It’s understandable because it is the truth.
At the same time, we all agree that something must be done. While not all of us agree on every strategy in the plan, I truly believe that with this plan we have a strong opportunity to do what’s right by providing remedies to address the past and new opportunities to remove barriers for the future.
We actually started parts of the APS Turnaround Strategy when I came to Atlanta nearly 20 months ago with a new mission and vision and the start of smarter budgeting practices. We moved forward with a new Charter System model and cluster planning and research-based solutions that included such interventions as:
- High-impact tutoring in targeted schools
- Development of vacation academies and extended learning times
- Use of additional reading and mathematics specialists
- Talent development, including the recruitment of turnaround leaders and teachers and intensive professional learning.
With tonight’s vote, APS paves the way for more significant changes for our schools most in need.
As the work moves on, we will continue to engage.
We will continue to listen, because we must do this together.
The board approved education partner organizations to help build the district’s capacity to make dramatic improvements in chronically low-performing schools. Our procurement services team solicited organizations for school turnaround partnerships and evaluated them based upon criteria that included the input of the communities. From an initial set of 27 proposals, the board approved three contracts to begin work as early as the 2016-2017 school year with:
- Purpose Built Schools for the management of Thomasville Heights Elementary School, Slater Elementary School, Price Middle School and Carver Comprehensive High School
- Rensselaerville Institute for Professional Learning Services for Principals and Teachers
- The Kindezi Schools for the management of Gideons Elementary School beginning with the 2017-2018 school year
Additionally, the board approved some school closures and consolidations after considering schools with inadequate performance, low enrollment relative to the capacity of the building, facilities in need of significant renovations, and the performance of neighboring schools. The following actions were approved in support of the turnaround plan:
- Closure of Bethune Elementary School and opening of a new K-8 STEM Academy at the former Kennedy Middle School site
- Merger of Connally Elementary School and Venetian Hills Elementary School
- Merger of Grove Park Intermediate Elementary School and Woodson Primary Elementary School
I believe that with the approval of these elements of the APS School Turnaround Plan, we have taken the additional steps to do what is best for students and our mission to prepare each and every one of them for graduation and college and career.
But we didn’t do this work in a vacuum. We embarked on an extensive community engagement effort that included hearings, town meetings, phone banks, door-to-door campaigns and surveys to better inform them of the need and details of transformation.
Overall, the feedback revealed a concerned community but one that recognized a need for change. And we have tried to listen and adjust as much as possible to enhance and revise the plan where possible.
In response to feedback from the community, family and alumni engagement has been added to the strategy. The strategy will include a focus on family and alumni involvement with GO Teams and cluster teams, the establishment of an APS Alumni Council, and the provision of programs such as PLUS (Parents Leaders United for Students), Parent University and others to empower and equip parents/caregivers and alumni to become informed advocates for children.
As the work moves on, we will continue to engage. We will continue to listen because we must do this together.
We need feedback on the work. We need help with naming new schools. We have budgets to approve.
Together, we can Grow … Lead … Transform
and improve the lives of our children.