On Sunday, October 23, I finished my first official marathon. Five hours and 40 minutes.
It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t pretty.
But it was a respectable finish – running and not crawling to the finish line, beaming with pride (and not weeping) after I crossed it. I did it after nearly a full year of focused, dedicated training with the support of family, friends and many colleagues (affectionately known in social media as #SUPTSoleMates ) and students and beloved mentees of Atlanta Public Schools.
For me, running and completing a marathon is a highly personal achievement. Literally no one can train or run for a marathon but the person who will run it. I had not planned to publicize this accomplishment, certainly not on my blog. I didn’t even tweet about it!
Now that I’ve run one, I often reflect upon the marathon experience because the Atlanta Public Schools transformation often leads people to reference the adage “It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” which suggests that when the journey is long, you need to take your time and pace yourself in order to finish.
Today, after I saw the results of the latest College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI) scores, I wondered if whoever actually coined the “It’s a marathon, not a sprint” saying had ever actually run one.
Now I know that marathons are terrible for the body. They test human endurance almost to the breaking point. They create an almost unbearable and lengthy recovery period. (As evidence, I am still recovering physically almost seven weeks later with plantar fasciitis.)
Whatever health benefits are achieved from running a marathon pale in comparison to those achieved through a sprint regimen. In fact, many health experts agree that sprint training – run burst/recover/run burst – not only increases speed and power but it creates stamina for longer, more grueling activities. Marathons or long jogs only help if all you do are things that are long and slow. (This isn’t a fitness blog, so please go here for supporting evidence.)
So, here’s my point:
A long and slow marathon strategy for school turnaround is not one we can maintain in APS. Our teachers and staff cannot continue working like they are running a marathon. Even if they finish, they don’t have time to recover before they are asked to run another one. APS does not have the capacity for endlessly running back-to-back marathons; further, the urgency for the future of our children demands that we move fast but deliberate so that they can graduate ready for college, career and choice-filled lives.
We need a sprint regimen! We have to scale our capacity for transformation, with bursts of deep investment, supports and partnerships, and then time for smart recovery and implementation.
I want our transformation framework to be built around a sprint concept. This has involved the recent conversion to a charter system operating model, adoption of Standards-Based Units of Study for all grades, implementation of district-wide instructional practices, the launch of benchmark assessments, a focus on early literacy and turnaround for targeted schools.
Today, I am working with the Board on several key unfunded components for transformation designed for another healthy sprint. With additional public funding and/or partnership resources, we can make investments in:
- Significantly expanding access to quality early childhood education, while also making investments in the primary grades to ensure all students are reading by the end of 3rd grade.
- Focusing on whole-child development, including positive behavior supports, arts, and athletics.
- Creating a comprehensive leadership development program.
With the CCRPI, we have one tool to check on our pace. Although just one measure, it provides a significant marker for the race, with measurements for achievement, progress and closing the achievement gap.
As a district, APS saw its average CCRPI score drop slightly to 65.2 points from 67.0 points overall compared to 2015 results. The results are consistent with the mixed results of the Georgia Milestones released last summer and similar to the decrease for the state, which dropped 1.9 points to a CCRPI score of 73.6 points.
On this race, we can already find things to celebrate. And so we will shout for those 33 schools in our district achieving gains on their CCRPI scores. Our Top 10 schools showing improvement include Carver Technology (13.5 points), Whitefoord Elementary (13.1 points), Perkerson Elementary (9.5 points), Atlanta Classical Academy (9.3 points), Dunbar Elementary (9.2 points), Cleveland Avenue Elementary (8.6 points), Miles Intermediate (7.2 points), Burgess-Peterson Academy (6.2 points), Mary Lin Elementary (5.7 points) and Venetian Hills Elementary (5.7 points).
We should also cheer on the following schools, which earned CCRPI scores of at least 80:
Mary Lin Elementary (98.9), Carver Early College (97.3), Brandon Elementary (97.0), Morningside Elementary (96.5), Springdale Park Elementary (95.6), Jackson Elementary (95.4), Inman Middle (91.6), Atlanta Neighborhood Charter Elementary (84.5), Sarah Smith Elementary (83.8), Drew Elementary (83.8), West Manor Elementary (82.1), Garden Hills Elementary (82.0), Cleveland Avenue Elementary (80.8) and Burgess-Peterson Academy (80.5).
In addition, the following schools are racing ahead by earning at least 37 out of 40 Progress Points for students meeting “typical or high growth” on the 2016 Georgia Milestones: Cleveland Avenue Elementary (40), Inman Middle (39.5), Mary Lin Elementary (39.5), KIPP WAYS Academy (38.5), Parkside Elementary (38), Brandon Elementary (38), Garden Hill Elementary (37.7), Maynard Jackson High (37.4), Carver Early College (37.2) and Burgess-Peterson Academy (37).
As this graph shows, APS maintained its Achievement scores for CCRPI between 2015 and 2016 for all grade bands but saw some decrease in Progress Points in all three grade bands.
APS CCRPI Scores by Grade Band, 2015/2016
Our Data and Information Group takes a deeper run into the statistics, and their APS data summary is available here. To view detailed score reports for the state and every public school district in Georgia, visit GADOE CCRPI.
State School Superintendent Richard Woods said: “These results point to the need for continued intensive focus on the foundations in early grades. However, I don’t believe the CCRPI captures all the great work happening in our schools. We have seen improvements and, in some cases, record results on the ACT, SAT, and in graduation rates.”
I agree with Superintendent Woods. There is still work to be done. We still have much of the race to run.
Unlike my marathon, this race isn’t just a personal one for me, and I am not the only runner signed up. We have nearly 52,000 students and more than 6,000 teachers and staff in this race. We have tens of thousands of families and caregivers in this race. We have hundreds of partners and community groups in this race.
This APS transformation race can only be finished – in fact, it can only be run at all – with everyone training, conditioning, supporting, cheering, and, indeed, running it together.
Yes, I finished a marathon. But the race I want to RUN … the race I want to FINISH … the race I want to WIN … is the one for the children of Atlanta Public Schools. So, pick up your bibs and meet me at the starting line, so we can finish this together.