Atlanta board OKs controversial measure aimed at improving schools

Credit: Bob Andres/AJC

Credit: Bob Andres/AJC

The Atlanta school board adopted a controversial measure intended to improve troubled schools and keep leaders accountable, but critics fear it will usher in unwanted changes.

The board this week approved a set of “goals and guardrails” to guide Atlanta Public Schools as it tries to strengthen parent engagement, make schools more equitable and boost student test scores in math and literacy.

But one element of the plan generated intense debate.

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The document directs the superintendent to step in with a “high-impact intervention” if a school struggles academically for three years. Interventions could include replacing teachers or the principal, merging the school with another or hiring an outside group to run the school.

All are strategies the district has used before with varying degrees of success to try to turn around failing schools. Before taking such actions, the plan calls for the superintendent to determine why the school is performing poorly and provide needed support.

Board Leslie Grant said the strategy is an initial step to improving schools.

“Without focusing on this and making this our priority we are not going to do it,” she said during Monday’s board meeting.

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Some hail the work as a way to keep APS accountable and rebuild the district’s failing schools. But critics worry three years is not enough time for schools to show major improvement, and they oppose the potential remedies listed by the board.

Valerie Williams, president of the Atlanta Alumni Association of Booker T. Washington High School, called the board’s timeline punitive.

“It’s much easier to close and merge schools than to give us the resources and due diligence needed to succeed,” she said. “APS for years has rendered my community impotent from lack of resources, programming, leadership and the basic tools to be successful.”

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Board members have debated similar school improvement measures for years. Those who support the effort told officials it was time for them to act.

“The urgency is now,” said Kimberly Dukes, a leader of the parent group Atlanta Thrive. “I hope you are bold and vote for accountability tonight because our children’s future can no longer wait.”

Board member Michelle Olympiadis cast the lone no vote.