Cobb culls problem schools, targets them for intervention

Four schools in Cobb County have so many problems -- from student discipline to teacher turnover -- that officials are singling them out for special attention.

Their performance has been so problematic that Superintendent Michael Hinojosa describes them as "schools with hair on fire," meriting intervention from special teams.

"This is not necessarily a punitive thing, but it is a serious thing," Hinojosa said. "These schools popped up as the ones that need the most support."

The schools, according to a list obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution under the open records act Wednesday, are: Pebblebrook High, South Cobb High, Lindley Sixth Grade Academy and Powder Springs Elementary.

The school intervention plan is expected to come up at Thursday's board meeting. The meeting is at 7 p.m. at district headquarters.

Board chair Alison Bartlett said earlier this week that she was told five schools had been singled out, but the final list was shorter. She agrees with the method Hinojosa used to pick the schools. "He looked at an overall matrix," she said. It included parental involvement and feedback from teachers. "It was an overall big picture."

The schools are not necessarily obvious selections: Hinojosa said they aren't all at the bottom of traditional test measures, such as the standards that determine performance under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Test scores were considered, but so was student discipline and teacher opinions in annual surveys. All of the schools are in the southern part of the county and comprise a large number of students from households with less money.

Pebblebrook is a magnet for performing arts. South Cobb, which just opened a new center that shelters freshmen from the rest of the students, is known for its famous alumni, such as former Gov. Roy Barnes. Lindley has undergone several attempts at improvement. A few years ago, the school was split off from a standard sixth through eighth grade school. Uniforms were introduced, and boys were split from girls. Powder Springs failed to meet federal testing benchmarks and tumbled onto the "needs improvement" list last year.

Teams will go into each school to monitor teachers and student behavior, such as activity in the hallways. They'll develop methods for improvement. One example from Hinojosa: If students are tardy to class, the teams will develop systems to ensure they get through the halls and to their classrooms on time.

Officials will monitor performance monthly. Among the measures of success: better performance on tests and in coursework.

The teams will stay in the schools as long as necessary, probably through next semester. "We want these schools to show improvement," Hinojosa said.