Nonetheless, Thomas said he didn’t want to “force a marriage” with a district that didn’t want state help, so he sought only volunteers this time.
A school board member in one of the targeted districts expressed surprise by Wednesday’s announcement. Daryl J. Morton, on the Bibb County school board, said Bibb, still recovering from the Great Recession, wanted to partner with anyone who could help the district improve educational results. “We want to cooperate and leverage as many resources as we can,” he said
But Morton, who is president of the board, said his superintendent was still discussing the matter with the targeted school principals, and that the school board, which would have to vote to participate, hadn’t discussed it yet.
“To my knowledge, no formal decision has been made,” Morton said.
Thomas reports to the Georgia Board of Education, and its chairman, Mike Royal, said the absence of metro Atlanta districts was intentional. They have enough resources on their own, and none wanted to participate. And since the turnaround program is brand new and basically an experiment, Royal said conflict would have been counterproductive.
“There is no one who is fighting mad, saying ‘no, you’re not taking our schools,’ ” he said, adding, “This is just the first cohort.”
Thomas picked the 11 schools from a list of 104 that were eligible based on persistently low scores on the Georgia Department of Education's school report card, the test-based College and Career Ready Performance Index. Forty-one of the lowest-scoring schools are in metro Atlanta — 16 each in Atlanta and DeKalb County, eight in Fulton County and one in Clayton County.
Thomas, hired last month after a national search, said he narrowed his list based on a broad set of criteria including measures of health. Rates of asthma and premature births have been linked to poor academic performance, so he took those into consideration. He also looked at school indicators such as student absenteeism and teacher turnover rates.
Within the next month, Thomas will work with the selected districts to pick consultants who will analyze why their schools are performing poorly. Then, he’ll help devise “turnaround” plans. Failure to fulfill the plans over the next few years could bring consequences including wholesale replacement of teachers and principals and transferal of school control to a nonprofit or another district.
Thomas said he plans to expand the number of schools in the program as soon as the spring, when he will target a second group.
The schools in this first round are:
- Bibb County: Appling Middle, Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary and Veterans Elementary;
- Clay County: Clay County Middle;
- Dooly County: Dooly County High, Dooly County Middle and Dooly County Elementary;
- Dougherty County: Alice Coachman Elementary, Morningside Elementary and Northside Elementary; and
- Randolph County: Randolph Clay Middle.
The AJC's Ty Tagami keeps you updated on the latest in Georgia education. You'll find more on myAJC.com, including these stories:
Never miss a minute of what's happening with education in Georgia. Subscribe to myAJC.com, the subscriber website of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.