Gov. Nathan Deal speaks under the Gold Dome before signing several bills in April 2017, including House Bill 338. The new law details how the state will intervene in the lowest-performing schools. DAVID BARNES / DAVID.BARNES@AJC.COM
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Nationwide search for Georgia school “turnaround” chief begins soon

Georgia’s nationwide search for a school “turnaround” leader will begin in earnest later this month, when the state formally advertises the position.

The Chief Turnaround Officer’s job will be posted in the national education journal Education Week, from July 24 through Aug. 18.

Georgia School Superintendent Richard Wood is reaching out to faith groups and nonprofits for solutions to help struggling schools.

The Georgia Board of Education hopes to harness the publication’s list of email recipients to further publicize the unique job, which was designed by the Georgia General Assembly this year, with plenty of advice from education advocacy groups.

House Bill 338, signed into law by Gov. Nathan Deal, is a collaborative departure from his failed attempt at a constitutional amendment last year that would have given him clear authority to take over “chronically failing” schools.

The new law works within the confines of the existing constitution, which grants control over education to local school districts. They will have to consent to any state intervention, though the state has various means to prod cooperation.

The advertising decision was announced Friday at the second meeting of the Education Turnaround Advisory Council, the group that was empaneled per HB 338. It comprises 11 members, most representing education advocacy groups and four named by top lawmakers.

The council has no authority except as an advisor to the state education board appointed by Deal. The education board has said it wants a collaborative process, though.

The National Association of State Boards of Education attended Friday’s meeting, which occurred by phone conference call. The school board, at the council’s advice, will contract with the association to conduct the search.

In a process yet to be described, the school board will winnow what is expected to be a generous list of applicants down to a manageable three to five candidates, who then will be interviewed, hopefully in September. Participants in the meeting said a second search could be in order if the first doesn’t yield the desired candidate. That person will, as one participant noted, have to possesses “soft skills” to succeed.

The job will be a delicate one that requires the finesse of a diplomat, the wisdom of a judge and the firmness of a police officer. The chief will work within the Georgia Department of Education, which is run by an elected state superintendent, yet report to the governor’s school board.

The chief will have discretion to identify schools for intervention so long as they appear on a list of low-performing schools established by the education department. The criteria for low performance are yet to be finalized and are part of the state’s education plan to be submitted to the U.S. Department of Education under the new Every Student Succeeds Act. (What constitutes low performance and turnaround eligibility is addressed on pages 31, 32 and 37 of the plan.)

The chief will have to devise improvement plans in collaboration with school districts, then measure their success and mete out punishment. Unimproved schools could be converted to state-authorized charter schools or handed to a non-profit manager. Teachers and school administrators could be removed, and in worst-case school districts, so could the school board members.

The council will meet again on Aug. 9, when members will discuss the “core competencies” of the turnaround chief’s job. The law gives the school board wide latitude in defining the necessary qualities for the office holder, and the group agreed Friday to use core competencies for the measure of each candidate.

The meeting is scheduled for 2 p.m. at the Georgia Department of Education, 205 Jesse Hill Jr. Drive SE, Atlanta.

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