Atlanta nonprofit with ties to APS launches education discussion

An Atlanta nonprofit with ties to an Atlanta school district effort to rate and potentially restructure schools kicked off a conversation Wednesday regarding its desire to create the best educational opportunities for every student.

RedefinED Atlanta and the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation teamed up to organize a panel discussion about education, school choice and diversity in an event attended by scores of leaders from philanthropic, nonprofit and business sectors as well as parents of students who attend and representatives of Atlanta Public Schools.

“RedefinED Atlanta is a growing collective of civic leaders and philanthropists dedicated to transforming Atlanta into a city where every child in every community is attending a high-quality public school,” said the group’s Executive Director Ed Chang, who previously founded an Atlanta charter school. “To get there it’s impossible to do so without talking about and addressing the issues of race and poverty.”

The nonprofit's work is of note partly because it's paying the consultant fees as APS conducts a major review of how it evaluates schools -- work that could lead to significant changes in how schools are structured. APS is developing its own way of rating how well its schools perform, and district officials are determining what will happen to those schools that excel or fail according to that measurement.

RedefinED provided a $235,000 grant to another nonprofit, which in turn covered the cost of the consultant work on behalf of APS.

Other school systems that have done similar work have adopted a so-called "portfolio" model. The results in those districts have ranged from closing struggling schools to opening new schools that mirror successful schools, allowing school leaders to have more freedom and flexibility to operate, and turning more schools over to charter operators.

The approach, however, is not without its critics, who contend it can cause disruption and take away community input, among other concerns.

Wednesday's event did not detail the portfolio strategy, and one of the scheduled panelists with direct experience working in a school district using the portfolio model was unable to attend. Aleesia Johnson, who was recently promoted from deputy superintendent for academics to interim superintendent at Indianapolis Public Schools, has helped lead that school district's effort to tap outside nonprofit and charter-school operators to run district schools. 

Chang told the audience that Johnson couldn’t participate in the panel, citing her recent appointment as interim superintendent.

Panelists who were in attendance included Kriste Dragon, CEO and founder of Citizens of the World Charter Schools; Hiewet Senghor, CEO and founder of Black Teacher Collaborative; and Tommy Chang, an educational consultant and former superintendent of Boston Public Schools, which has also used the portfolio model.

Their discussion included how to create meaningful diversity in schools and an equitable educational system and the need to support teachers with training and advocate for more early childhood education offerings.

“I see schools where black boys and black girls have a sense of who they are and have a sense of where they can go as being limitless,” said Senghor.