Atlanta school board approves literacy policy, renews charters

Atlanta Public Schools Board Chair Eshe’ Collins applauded the policy committee's work on the district's new literacy policy. (Jason Getz / AJC file photo)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Atlanta Public Schools Board Chair Eshe’ Collins applauded the policy committee's work on the district's new literacy policy. (Jason Getz / AJC file photo)

The Atlanta Board of Education passed the school district’s first-ever literacy policy during a meeting Monday night. It also renewed several charters for schools, although some renewals came with conditions.

Members of the board’s policy committee said they’ve been working on the literacy policy for over a year. A new state law requires public schools to use “high-quality instructional materials” when teaching students to read, and Atlanta Public Schools’ new policy reinforces that.

“The Atlanta Board of Education directs the Superintendent to select evidence-based literacy curricula and provide thorough initial and ongoing professional development for staff. The Board expects that the Superintendent will periodically evaluate effectiveness of administrative efforts, expand those which are successful in improving literacy outcomes, and eliminate those that are ineffective,” the two-page document reads.

“(The policy is) a strong statement of the board and the community’s belief that every child can and should learn to read,” said policy committee Chair Cynthia Briscoe Brown. “It lifts up literacy as a top priority for every single employee of APS, and it directs the administration to implement the policy without improperly telling them how to do so.”

State lawmakers and local school districts have turned their attention toward literacy recently, especially since student achievement sank during the pandemic. As Atlanta’s school board begins searching for a new superintendent, some community members are pushing for a leader who prioritizes literacy instruction.

“Consider how many children are right now likely being consigned to live their adult lives in low-wage jobs and poverty or in jails because they have not been taught to read,” said Nancy Flake Johnson, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Atlanta, during Monday’s board meeting.

The school board also renewed charters for several schools Monday. Atlanta Classical Academy, a K-12 school that opened during the 2014-15 school year, easily received a five-year renewal with little discussion.

However, renewals for Centennial Academy and the cluster of nine KIPP schools came with some strings. Centennial was placed on the Georgia Department of Education’s “Targeted Support and Improvement” list of schools in 2022, meaning student performance was low. The board approved the renewal, but if the school makes another “needs improvement” list more than once during a five-year period, it will have to conduct a root-cause analysis to figure out why achievement hasn’t improved and will have to develop an improvement plan. Centennial, which serves students in grades K-8, also opened during the 2014-15 school year.

The board also renewed charters for the KIPP cluster of schools with similar conditions. At least three KIPP schools made the state’s most recent “needs improvement” lists.

“These conditions are appropriate and afford KIPP time to improve academic performance,” said APS interim Superintendent Danielle Battle before the vote. “(It) sets the expectation that schools shall not struggle for more than three years without a high-impact intervention.”

The KIPP schools received a cluster charter in July 2013. The schools had individual charters before that.

All eight board members present for the meeting voted in favor of the literacy policy and the charter renewals.

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