Atlanta school board chairman Jason Esteves recommended on Monday a modified proposal to a school improvement plan. He said his recommendation would phase in parts of the plan. The board is scheduled to vote on his recommended revised plan at a meeting today. VANESSA McCRAY/AJC

Atlanta school board gives partial approval to school improvement plan

In a 5-3 vote, the Atlanta school board gave partial approval to a school improvement plan but will wait for more information before considering a controversial component that could rate schools. 

Leslie Grant, Erika Mitchell and Kandis Wood Jackson voted against the plan’s partial authorization. Nancy Meister, Cynthia Briscoe Brown, Jason Esteves, Eshe Collins and Michelle Olympiadis voted yes.

The vote means the board has adopted a “vision of excellence” and a description of skills it wants its graduates to have. But the board will delay voting on, until an unknown date, two other parts of the plan: the development of a rating system to grade schools based on how they stack up that vision and a list of actions for how the district should respond to schools that are succeeding or failing. Those actions could include potentially closing, merging and outsourcing the operations of low-rated schools.

When the district initially released the recommendation Friday evening in advance of Monday’s meeting, the recommendation called for the board to authorize the full plan and begin development and implementation of a rating system. School board chairman Jason Esteves, in a surprise move Monday, suggested the board modify the recommendation by slowing down the approval of the school improvement plan into phases.

Esteves has not said when a vote on the rating system, which the district calls a “framework,” could happen. District officials are authorized by Monday’s action to begin 

developing measures related to the potential rating system or, perhaps, some other way to assess schools. The district also is authorized to continue to explore what actions could happen to schools that succeed or fail. But the board would have to do another vote to approve those phases of the plan. 

The rating proposal came under heavy criticism from Atlanta Federation of Teachers and other groups who fear it will lead to charter groups running low-performing schools. 

Esteves said he recommended a delayed, phased-in approach because “a big focus of ours has been community engagement.” 

“There’s been a lot of misleading information about the framework, and we thought the best way to combat that was by breaking it up,” he said. 

The board’s original vote would have authorized the district to spend $725,000 annually to develop the rating system, including finding data sources and surveys.

The board’s partial authorization means the district won’t spend that full amount, but officials will begin to design some of the measures that could be used to rate or evaluate schools, which likely would require spending some money. District officials did not say how much they would need to move the plan along before the board votes again.

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