Resolved to Turnaround APS

As we enter the New Year and a new season of making resolutions, it should come as no surprise to anyone keeping our district and our schools on their radars that we have a clear, succinct resolution for 2016: Turnaround Atlanta Public Schools.

It’s not only our resolution, but it is our mandate.

In fact, the Turnaround is happening RIGHT NOW. We have started hiring tutors to provide focused tutoring for literary skills at 16 of our highest-needs schools. We are prepared to serve more than 1,900 students in grades three to five in daily sessions for 45 minutes in a 5-to-1 pupil-to-teacher setting. This tutoring is scheduled to get started in just a few weeks!

We are well into preparations for our Spring Break academy, which will be available to third- through fifth-grade students in targeted schools. Parents of eligible students will be contacted soon for enrollment information and other details.

And now we are starting the rollout of initiatives that will require even greater community engagement.

As I outlined in the State of the District last October and in board meetings and community gatherings since, we will consider any and all viable options for our schools and students, even if they generate controversy. Nothing is too bold for our kids. They deserve nothing less.

To that end, we recently issued a Request for Qualifications (RFQ), in which we formally invited organizations with track records of improving student achievement to submit proposals as to how they could replicate such successes in our highest-needs schools.

Not surprisingly, there is a lot of chatter about this RFQ and already a lot of misinformation out there.  So, I think it’s important that I clarify what this RFQ is and what this RFQ is not. This RFQ is not a charter school application process.  We have a clearly defined process for applicants who are interested in opening a start-up charter school, and while we will continue to honor that separate process, that is not the purpose of this RFQ.  The RFQ is for organizations that can demonstrate how they could dramatically improve student achievement for both short-term and long-term success; increase the operational efficiency of a low-performing school; and provide a high quality educational environment for APS students within the target schools in partnership with APS to improve the quality of neighborhood school options.

The RFQ period closes on Friday, Jan. 22. We plan to review potential providers at the Feb. 1 board meeting, after which we will engage parents and community stakeholders in a transparent process. To the extent that a partner is willing to work with us in the 2016-17 school year, our goal is to bring those actions to the March 7 board meeting.

You may also have noticed recent advertisements for turnaround talent. We have embarked on a search for principal and teacher candidates who thrive in turnaround environments. I ask you to encourage qualified friends and colleagues outside of our district to consider APS as an exciting, challenging new experience in public education for them. They can learn more at www.APSrecruits.us.

When the state announced a new Opportunity School District that would potentially take over our lowest performing schools if approved by voters, it became abundantly clear that our runway had been dramatically shortened and that if our kids would have any real chance, we needed much more than systematic, incremental change.

It became clear to me that APS desperately needed transformational change!  And that is why I believe the steps we are taking as part of our school turnaround strategy are so critical.

As I shared at my State of District address this fall, transformation is not always popular, it’s never comfortable and it doesn’t come with the luxury of incremental progress over time. It does not come with the time to fully build trust and engagement so the community can fully understand the need and process of change implementation.  But what I am hopeful it will come with is dramatic improvement in the quality of education for kids, and at the end of the day, that is what our kids deserve and that is what our community is demanding of this district.

That’s my resolution and my pledge to all of you as Atlanta Public Schools stakeholders.

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