Superintendent pushes plan despite opposition

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Superintendent pushes plan despite opposition

SHAKING IT UP: Price Middle School Principal Duane Hale greets his new students on the way to class. Next school year, Purpose Built Schools of Atlanta, a local charter school corporation, will control Price Middle. Hale said the plan was “perhaps the best alternative for all children in the Carver Cluster to be successful.”

SHAKING IT UP: Price Middle School Principal Duane Hale greets his new students on the way to class. Next school year, Purpose Built Schools of Atlanta, a local charter school corporation, will control Price Middle. Hale said the plan was “perhaps the best alternative for all children in the Carver Cluster to be successful.”

SHAKING IT UP: Price Middle School Principal Duane Hale greets his new students on the way to class. Next school year, Purpose Built Schools of Atlanta, a local charter school corporation, will control Price Middle. Hale said the plan was “perhaps the best alternative for all children in the Carver Cluster to be successful.”

SHAKING IT UP: Price Middle School Principal Duane Hale greets his new students on the way to class. Next school year, Purpose Built Schools of Atlanta, a local charter school corporation, will control Price Middle. Hale said the plan was “perhaps the best alternative for all children in the Carver Cluster to be successful.”

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SHAKING IT UP: Price Middle School Principal Duane Hale greets his new students on the way to class. Next school year, Purpose Built Schools of Atlanta, a local charter school corporation, will control Price Middle. Hale said the plan was “perhaps the best alternative for all children in the Carver Cluster to be successful.”

SHAKING IT UP: Price Middle School Principal Duane Hale greets his new students on the way to class. Next school year, Purpose Built Schools of Atlanta, a local charter school corporation, will control Price Middle. Hale said the plan was “perhaps the best alternative for all children in the Carver Cluster to be successful.”

On Mar. 7, the Atlanta school board met to discuss its turnaround strategy, which hopes to address chronic under performance in schools, with the local community. Superintendent Dr. Meria Carstarphen’s plan aims to partner with several local charter school corporations to reform under performing schools. While many community members were not pleased with Dr. Carstarphen’s plan, the board unanimously passed the turnaround strategy.

The district plans to use Purpose Built Schools of Atlanta to reform Carver High, Price Middle and Slater and Thomasville Heights elementary schools.

“Based on historical 10-year data, the Carver Cluster has not been performing very highly,” said Duane Hale, principal of Price Middle. “This is perhaps the best alternative for all children in the Carver Cluster to be successful.”

Also working with Kindezi, an organization which typically helps create charter schools, the board wants to transform Gideons Elementary.

While both Purpose Built Schools and Kindezi are known for forming charter schools, APS is partnering to create “neighborhood schools with traditional attendance boundaries.”

“In the Carver Cluster, we are working with two nonprofit organizations, both based in the city of Atlanta, both are running successful charter schools right now,” said Matt Westmoreland, District 3 board member. “Having sat through every meeting, faculty meetings, and talking to parents and kids, I saw that in communities that were impacted by this strategy, there was support.”

Westmoreland also believes the turnaround strategy offers more freedom and flexibility to principals and individual communities through the implementation of local school governance teams (GO Teams) and the creation of charter schools. GO teams provide input by elected parents and community members in decisions that affect their school.

“I have been preparing students and teachers with extensive training in professional learning and development to take on the new shift and implementation process,” Hale said.

Dr. Carstarphen’s turnaround strategy came in response to the state’s Opportunity School District (OSD) policy, which allows the state to take control of schools that score less than a 60 on the College and Career Ready Performance Index for three or more consecutive years. Twenty-seven Atlanta schools currently fall in this category.

“Atlanta Public Schools is our school and home,” APS senior technician engineer Herschel Gay said. “To have the state come in and tell us to do things and take schools from us is not good for the community itself.”

Eniyah Johnson, a Price Middle School sixth grader, worries that a state-run school would be too big a change too fast.

“The plan might make [schools] worse, especially for students,” Johnson said. “If [the state] is bombarding the school and making big changes, it might be too hard to adjust.”

While some community members also agree the OSD plan is not ideal, they think the turnaround plan is equally flawed and rushed as well.

“You can’t just go from one school to another school and take over,” said Deborah Scott, executive director of Georgia Stand Up, an organization that educates communities about issues related to economic development. “They should pause and wait to give parents an opportunity to figure out a more local plan.”

Agreeing with Scott, families and faculty from Thomasville Heights — one of the elementary schools affected by the strategy — spoke against the plan.

Another concern from the community was that the turnaround effort required all current faculty to reapply along with other candidates.

Although Courtney English, chairman of school board, said staff who showed promise could receive prioritization in the application process, Hale believes every candidate will be grader at Price, believes having teachers reevaluevaluated equally.

“We are rethinking the way we recruit teachers and principals to try to get the very strongest teachers and principals at the schools that have been struggling for a long time,” Westmoreland said. “Teachers that are dedicated will always stand out in the principal’s eyes and probably will have a good chance of continuing to teach at the school.”

While many teachers voiced concerned at the March board meeting, Stephanie Castolo, a 7th grader at Price, believes having teachers reevaluated would be beneficial to schools.

“Some teachers are good, but others don’t really care and don’t give attention to students,” Castolo said. “When you have a good teacher, it makes you want to study and do well in school; good teachers pay attention to all students and give them what they need.”

Addressing concerns, APS has analyzed those strategies in order to strengthen the turnaround.
Carstarphen explained that APS asked the principals that would be leading these efforts to be thoughtful about their school and anything they think they might need. They are making more budget adjustments to make room for setting aside additional funding for those schools.

“Once Dr. Carstarphen learned there was an OSD strategy that could hurt us, she went immediately into action to form this turnaround strategy” Gay said. “Really, we are out of time.”

APS has already started implementing programs such as high-impact tutoring for students, extended learning time, recruitment of respected turnaround school leaders, targeted professional learning for teachers, and creating a Spring Break academy.

“Currently, we are working with the 2,000 kids affected by the cheating scandal and using tutoring to help them through their courses,” Westmoreland said. “We have received strong results.”

Although the majority of the strategy will be implemented in the 2017-2018 school year, APS remains confident the plan will benefit all schools this year and next year as well.

“With change will come some pain, but with growth there is pain,” Gay said. “When we’re done with the turnaround strategy, it will be all for the good of the community.”

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