New GO Teams give community a voice in education

Mark Winokur

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Atlanta Public Schools is replacing the Local School Council system with new governance teams (GO Teams) at each school in order to give parents, teachers and community members a voice in the decisions that affect teachers and students. Teachers have recently announced their candidacy to participate on the new advisory councils.

On Mar. 8, APS began holding an election to determine who will participate in the GO Teams. Members will strive to adjust the decision-making process to better reflect the distinct needs of the various schools and shift the focus of governance to the schools.

APS is implementing the GO Teams as part of the switch to a Charter System that functions under a contract between the local board and the state board of education. Under the new system, schools will have more freedom to make decisions and will have greater flexibility in operating within state standards and requirements.

“Since the schools are going charter, it is necessary to have a group to act as a decision making unit and advisory body,” art teacher and GO Team candidate John Brandhorst said.

In order to fulfill the goals of the Charter System, the GO Teams will allow for decisions to be made on site to better meet student needs. Under the current school council setup, some find that the decision-making process does not adequately account for the interests of the students.

“Sometimes what works in one school has no basis in reality in another school,” Brandhorst said. “The selling point behind going charter is site-based control, and this group is setup to do that.”

Administrators hope that the GO Team will allow the decision-making process to become more adaptive to address the needs of the different schools.

“One of my biggest issues has always been that APS always feels like they treat Grady like Mays,” English teacher and GO Team candidate Mario Herrera said.  “We should have some flexibility, [and] hopefully [that] will occur with the GO Team.”

An additional concern that teachers cite with the school council is that its members have too little of a say in the decisions that affect their schools. Currently, the council can only make recommendations to be reviewed by the school board. This process will change with the introduction of GO Teams by giving the members more executive power in the decision-making process. Parents believe that the GO Team’s ability to enforce decisions will provide a more structured outlet for decision-making compared to the school council model.

“The [GO Team] appealed to me because I think that it provides the most structured and direct way for the community and the schools themselves to make decisions about what is best for the schools,” Charter System Advisory Committee member and parent GO Team candidate Janet Kinard said. “You can ensure that there is a level of support from many different facets of the school population that are making the decisions.”

The GO Team will further serve the interests of students by bringing more members of the community together to participate in the decision-making process. Each GO Team will consist of three parents, two community members, three instructional staff, one student, the principal and a swing seat to allow the schools greater flexibility in how they build the GO Team. Teachers hope that this additional input will give more freedom to implement changes to the benefit of students.

“All stakeholders should have a voice in the development in our students,” business teacher and GO Team candidate Marlon Pilson said. “It gives us the autonomy as it relates to clusters across the district to develop a curriculum and instruction that is going to be the best for our students.”

According to School Governance Council member Noletha High, parents and staff-members selected themselves as candidates to participate on the GO Team. There are currently five parents and five staff members who have announced candidacy for the GO Team. Both of these groups have three slots available and can run for either two or three-year terms. Unlike parents and staff, the community members will be chosen by appointment. The elected body of the GO Team will join together and select the community members based on how they think the GO Team should be utilized.

By allowing for greater input from the community, administrators hope the GO Teams will result in more student needs getting addressed.

“I think that [the GO Teams] will make the student voice and the interest of the parents a lot more available and transparent to become actualized in the hallway,” Brandhorst said. “This will be a much quicker process.”

APS has announced that the GO Teams will be responsible for making decisions relating to school operations, resources, the student body, curriculum budgeting and funding allocation. However, teachers have not yet been fully informed about the function of the GO Team and will attend a training program to learn more about the specific aspects of the new system.

“We know that there are responsibilities that we will have to meet, that those responsibilities are important and that they are real, [but] we don’t know how that team will function in getting that work accomplished,” debate coach and English teacher Mario Herrera said.

Additionally, teachers are uncertain how the transition from the school council to the GO Team will occur. Elections are being held this month that could eliminate the local school councils, but the charter approved by the state would not be implemented until the 2016–2017 school year, starting on July 1. Teachers are unsure what will fill the gap in time after the school council is eliminated before the GO Team will be put into place.

“Ultimately, I think that [the GO Teams] could be a good thing,” Herrera said. “Philosophically, it seems great. I don’t know how politics will fit into it.”

In spite of these concerns, administrators are confident that the GO team will serve for the benefit of the community and will help provide new opportunities for student education.

“I think that the sky’s the limit,” High said. “When you have a student who will be represented on the GO Team, they give the adult a perspective of the actual student.”

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