Atlanta Public Schools down from 23 to 16 failing schools eligible for state intervention

Credit: Maureen Downey

Atlanta now has 16 schools eligible for state intervention by the newly hired Georgia Chief Turnover Officer. Schools end up on the eligibility list through persistently low scores on the state College and Career Ready Performance Index.

Last week, the state chose Eric Thomas, chief support officer of the University of Virginia's turnaround program, to oversee state intervention in such schools. Speaking yesterday at the National Association of State Boards of Education, Thomas said he'll be in a learning phase initially, emphasizing he intends to work with districts and the state Department of Education.

Thomas was part of a panel on state turnaround strategies, and the moderator joked that Thomas seemed to be Georgia's strategy.

Thomas said, "We are still trying to figure that out. This is a new role -- chief turnaround officer reporting to the state Board of Education. I think it provides a little bit of cover in regards to really being able to support and hold systems accountable. What I hope to bring to the role is a little bit of credibility. I have been a turnaround principal. I have been a district leader. I have been a researcher. I have done the work. This is a lived experience for me."

What would success look like? Having vibrant schools and vibrant communities, he said.

APS is not waiting for state intervention to deal with its chronically failing schools. It has turned over some problem schools to charter operators; Gideon Elementary is run by Kindezi Schools.  Purpose Built Schools operates Price Middle School and Thomasville Heights Elementary.

This is from APS:

The 16 schools on this list have a three-year (2015, 2016, 2017) CCRPI average below 54.0, which is the bottom five percent for the state.  Last year Georgia passed new legislation to create a focus on turnaround. This legislation included establishing the new role of a Chief Turnaround Officer as well as a new process for underperforming schools to receive state issued interventions.

Over the last three years, Atlanta Public Schools has taken several proactive measures to address underperforming schools within the district through the APS School Turnaround Strategy. All of the APS schools that are on the GOSA Turnaround Eligible list have already received additional individualized support and significant resources.  As a result many of these schools have demonstrated promising academic growth and progress since these initiatives have been implemented.  For example, 15 of the 16 schools that received the deepest level of targeted interventions through the Turnaround Strategy achieved gains across all subject areas on the 2017 GA Milestones assessment.

The APS Turnaround Strategy focuses on the district’s lowest-performing schools and includes education partnerships, operating-model changes, high-impact tutoring, math and reading specialists to directly support students, recruitment of respected turnaround school leaders, targeted professional learning for teachers, and an accelerated roll-out of social emotional learning in schools. These investments provided individualized support for students, teachers, and leadership teams focused on school improvement.  Attached is a detailed chart that shows which schools implemented which investments.

The district has seen a decrease in the number of schools identified for potential state intervention. Last January, 23 APS schools were placed on GOSA’s Chronically Failing Schools List based on 3 consecutive years of CCRPI scores below 60.

“We believe that we have demonstrated capacity and the will to improve many of our low performing schools by implementing bold approaches to increase student achievement,” said Meria J. Carstarphen, Superintendent. “We just need more time to fully implement these successful strategies and initiatives.”

“Since the beginning of this administration, we have been focused on improving instruction in our most challenged schools, making deep investments into the schools that need the most support, and extending more support to targeted schools so our students have a better chance to graduate from APS ready for college and careers. We have clearly demonstrated a willingness to take bold actions on behalf of our students, and given our progress to date, we remain confident that APS is strongly positioned to turn around our lowest performing schools.”

Over the next few years, the district plans to continue the work focused on the APS Turnaround Strategy as a part of the Journey for Transformation. APS schools identified on the GOSA Turnaround Eligible Schools List will continue to receive intensive support from the district.

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