These are some of the parents involved in the Atlanta Thrive parents group. Kimberly Dukes, standing in the center with long braids, is the leader and co-founder. She writes today about the pressing need for radical change in APS. 

Atlanta parent leader: Tired of our kids attending schools with “F” ratings

In a guest column today, an Atlanta mother says the Atlanta Public Schools allows too many children to fail, and the school board is not committed to seeking the input of parents on how to improve outcomes.

Kimberly Dukes is the co-founder and leader of Atlanta Thrive, a parent group whose stated mission is “empowering parents to disrupt inequities In education.”

By Kimberly Dukes

I am the parent of 10 kids who go to Atlanta Public Schools. And I’m tired. 

But not because I have 10 kids. 

I’m tired of my smart, hardworking children going to schools that have received an “F” grade from the state for five straight years. 

My kids attend schools in the Maynard Jackson and Purpose Built clusters. I’ve seen it all and I’ve seen it from different points of view -- traditional schools that have been allowed to fail entire generations and charter schools given 15-year contracts without concern for their results.  The 17-point difference between black and white students’ graduation rates. The 58-point achievement gap between black and white students.  

As Julian Bond said, “Violence is black children going to school for 12 years and receiving 6 years’ worth of education." 

I’m tired of this criminal level of violence to our community’s children, which has become accepted as normal. 

And lots of other parents feel the same way. This is why the organization I lead, Atlanta Thrive, is hosting a Parent Summit Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation and Aquatic Center at 110 Hilliard St., S.E. 

We’re hoping to get lots of parents out, and we want to hear from them about how they think APS should improve our schools. What is beyond clear is that we need more dramatic progress in schools across the city. And this will require really bold action from our school board. 

But at board meetings over the last year, Atlanta Thrive parents and I have listened to them debate different versions of their next strategic plan over and over again. 

The board members had an opportunity to adopt a clear system of rewards and consequences based on school performance and tying those outcomes to certain amounts of time. But they failed to do this.

Similarly, the Atlanta Thrive team has been to every single one of the community feedback sessions the board recently held in each cluster, and only one of the meetings had more parents than I could count on both of my hands. 

There were plenty of people at the feedback sessions who get a paycheck from APS or the teachers’ union, and they ate up most of the meeting time by talking at parents. It was as if APS didn’t really want to know what parents think. 

We know what parents think because we’ve been canvassing neighborhoods -- hot, sweaty door to door canvassing -- to hear what parents in communities hardest hit by APS’ poor performance are thinking. 

Parents support more accountability, so we support a rating system that would make it easier for parents to understand how their kids' schools are doing. The system the state uses, the College and Career Ready Performance Index or CCRPI,  is too focused on test scores and too complicated. 

Parents also want action when our kids' schools are failing, so we believe there should be clear steps APS can take (like removing a principal) if a school doesn’t meet certain benchmarks, and schools should have a defined amount of time to make progress. 

Atlanta Thrive has called for action and accountability for more than a year, but the board is still deliberating the same issues and taking no action. I don’t expect the board to do exactly what we say, but I expect the board to do something. 

Parents like me are looking for leadership. Parents like me are looking for action and we’re looking to be heard. And, if it won’t happen due to common sense and doing what’s right, then we will demand it. 

I’m tired, but this work is too important to rest. I’ll be at the Parent Summit on Saturday, and I hope you’ll be there, too.

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About the Author

Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.