APS Advances Strategy for Transformation

When I unveiled the APS Turnaround Strategy during the State of the District last October, I explained that because of the longstanding, multi-generational educational needs of our students and a looming, high-stakes potential takeover Opportunity School District, we did not have time to waste. I also expressed that we would move with deliberate speed in a way that would not always be popular or comfortable, but always essential or even critical.

We’ve been working on transforming APS for months: the Day One: Be There attendance campaign, our remediation and enrichment initiative for students affected by CRCT cheating, the launch of a college-access and scholarship partnership with Achieve Atlanta, and the establishment of a College and Career Academy with Atlanta Technical College to name a few. We have embraced a Charter System District model and cluster planning that will mean investments in signature programs for each cluster that creates pathways from kindergarten to graduation.

But we have to do more … because we are a district performing far below the potential of our kids.

Being only weeks into the implementation of our Turnaround Strategy (I invite you to go here to learn more about it), I already have much to report. In addition to the acceleration of the roll-out of social and emotional learning in schools, we have made progress in recruiting turnaround principals and teachers, and providing targeted professional learning for teachers. We are also launching high-impact tutoring in targeted schools immediately as well as a Spring Break Academy this April.

Last semester, we announced a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) to solicit interested and qualified education partners who can provide turnaround services, intervention, and supports to dramatically improve student achievement in the short and long term.

At the Feb. 1 meeting of the Atlanta Board of Education, we will present three potential education partners who emerged as finalists to support turnaround work. The Rensselaerville Institute’s School Turnaround program, a nonprofit leadership development initiative designed to assist principals to achieve rapid improvement at low-achieving schools, submitted a proposal to support schools and leaders across the district. The other partners are non-profit organizations with track records of strong student achievement and have submitted proposals to work with schools in the Carver Cluster.

Purpose Built Schools, an arm of Purpose Built Communities and a partner organization with Charles R. Drew Charter School, has proposed to operate Thomasville Heights and Slater elementary schools, Price Middle School and Carver High School. The Kindezi Schools, which runs two successful charter schools in Atlanta, has offered to operate Gideons Elementary School. While both organizations are current charter operators, APS, through this RFQ process, is only considering partnerships that would involve Kindezi and/or Purpose Built Schools serving neighborhood schools with traditional attendance boundaries, not charter schools.

We will spend the next five weeks exploring the big ideas proposed by these partners, and we will do so through community meetings and open houses.

But there are other changes that must occur in the near future and this involves the operating models of some schools in our district. Let me stress first: We do not take the matter of operating model changes lightly. Therefore, we conducted a thorough analysis that considered:

We filtered all considerations through the guiding principles of our Turnaround Strategy. And as a result, I will recommend the following plan to the Atlanta Board of Education on Monday, Feb. 1, for action at its March 7 meeting:

  • Merge Grove Park Intermediate with Woodson Primary in the Douglass Cluster

During the 2012 redistricting process, Woodson Primary School was created as a K-2 site, serving the same attendance zone as Grove Park Intermediate School, which has 3rd through 5th grades. Grove Park’s three-year CCRPI average is 46.5, the third lowest in the district, while Woodson’s 2014 CCRPI is 83.2. Both schools are significantly under-enrolled and need renovations. To ensure stronger alignment between the primary and intermediate program, the schools will consolidate on the Grove Park campus at the start of the 2016-17 school year.

I am pleased to announce that I plan to recommend Dr. Susan Crim McClendon, a veteran APS administrator with a strong track record of performance including her work at Woodson Primary, as the principal of the new merged school.

A proposed Special-Purpose Local-Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) could provide as much as $18.5 million for renovations at Grove Park. The vacated Woodson site will be considered for a possible early childhood center.

  • Close Bethune Elementary and open a new innovative K-8 STEM academy at Kennedy Middle in the Washington Cluster

Ever since Kennedy Middle closed during a 2012 redistricting process, the community has asked APS to find ways to repurpose the building and leverage the asset as part of the community’s redevelopment efforts. We hope to use as much as $2 million from current SPLOST funds for facility improvements to the Kennedy building this summer and then – contingent upon SPLOST 2017 funding – another $10 million for a larger scale renovation. The community will be encouraged to participate in a planning process for the new academy including setting the vision for the school, identifying potential STEM partners and ultimately naming the new academy.

I will be recommending Dr. Diamond Jack as the new principal for this STEM school. She has built a strong foundation for STEM as principal of Venetian Hills Elementary and has experience as a middle school math and science teacher as well.

Reopening the school – under the guidance of a turnaround leader with STEM experience – will address Bethune’s three-year CCRPI average of 42.1, the second lowest in the district. Additionally, a new school – starting as a K-5 and adding a middle grade a year in subsequent years – would meet current academic needs and the anticipated growth of the Westside.

  • Merge Connally Elementary with Venetian Hills Elementary in the Washington Cluster

For the new school year, students from both schools would attend classes at Connally, following building improvements this summer. Connally has the third lowest three-year CCRPI average (46.5) in the district; Venetian Hills’ 2014 CCRPI is 76.8. Both schools have very low enrollment numbers and require significant renovations.

I recently appointed Lincoln Woods, an APS veteran and southwest Atlanta native, as principal of Connally, and he has made great strides in rebuilding the culture of the school and building strong partnerships. I’m confident that he will continue his success in a merged school.

About $23.5 million in SPLOST 2017 has been budgeted for a full-scale Connally renovation to serve the merged student population. The Venetian Hills site is also being considered for an early childhood center.

We remain committed to including families, communities and staff in the operating model changes and the education partnership selection process, and we will implement this work in an open, transparent manner. We have scheduled a series of conversations with our stakeholders over the next several weeks to share more about the Turnaround Strategy, proposed school changes and education partners. You can learn more about those sessions here; and I encourage all of you to attend and participate.

Change is never easy. But we must do what is best for students and our mission to prepare each and every one of them for graduation and college/career.

Let’s Play! Every APS Elementary School Gets a Playground!

IMG-20150729-002661 (2)

Principal Manboard at Adamsville Primary shows off her new playground!

Last school year, with equity around the district in mind, the APS Operations Division identified 10 elementary schools in the district that were without playgrounds. The Atlanta Board of Education took steps to ensure that the building of playgrounds at these elementary schools were a priority during our back-to-school planning over the summer. I am proud to give updates on the following summer playground projects:

READY ON THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL

  • Adamsville Primary School
  • Benteen Elementary School
  • Cascade Elementary School
  • Continental Colony Elementary School
  • Finch Elementary School
  • Gideons Elementary School
  • Heritage Academy Elementary
  • Connally Elementary School
  • Humphries Elementary School

UNDER CONSTRUCTION

  • Beecher Hills Elementary School (currently working with the City of Atlanta Arborist as we plan for the next phase of construction)

In the past, schools were responsible for installing and maintaining their own playgrounds using grants and donations. This proved difficult for many schools and brought about pockets of inequity. I am proud to announce that all of the projects on this list were fully funded with SPLOST dollars, allowing us to move forward swiftly and give students a place to exercise their bodies, which is equally as important as exercising their minds. We even moved the L.O. Kimberly Elementary playground from its original site, to its temporary site.

Cont Colony

The new playground at Continental Colony matches the school’s colors! Nice.

I’ve been visiting schools and looking at the playgrounds and they look fantastic. I am very proud of the work done by our facilities team, and I can’t wait to see students jumping, laughing and playing on their new playgrounds.

Connally

Connally Elementary

Cascade

Cascade Elementary

Benteen

Benteen Elementary

Adamsville

Adamsville Elementary

Grade Change Review Update and Revised Regulations

Several weeks ago, we announced that the district would be doing a comprehensive review of grade changes across the district with a focus on identifying process improvements and procedural safeguards before the start of the new school year.  As always, I am committed to complete transparency. After a thorough review of the data by Chief Accountability Officer Bill Caritj, the final report is now complete as promised. The report states the reasons for grade changes across schools and circumstances.

As also noted in the report, over the past year, APS has completed eight investigations involving inappropriate grade changes (four from the 2013-2014 school year and four from the 2014-2015 school year). However, this review did not identify additional cases of serious inappropriate actions, although we did find inconsistencies in practice, lack of clarity in process, and a lack of the necessary safeguards to effectively prevent inappropriate activity.

It is important to note that this review was largely a data review. It focused specifically on data changes in the Infinite Campus Transcript Audit Reports. Staff also reviewed and compared the data from the audit reports with the data on the paper change forms used by schools. Additionally, interviews were conducted with central office staff, teachers, registrars, and nine high school principals to review and analyze school and district practices, district procedures and policies, and specific cases where large numbers of changes were made in 2014-2015.

Starting this school year, the district will implement new workflow requirements and closely monitor grade changes, and will continue to thoroughly investigate any additional accusations of wrongdoing and/or inappropriate or questionable practices. The district maintains an ethics hotline (1.877.801.7754 or online: https://www.tnwgrc.com/atlantapublicschools/) for anyone to anonymously report misconduct; and employees, stakeholders, parents, and students are strongly encouraged to use the hotline if they are concerned about any conduct, practice, or policy that seems questionable or inappropriate.

We are moving forward with the recommendations outlined at the end of the report, and earlier today I sent our principals the new administrative regulations associated with these process improvements.  I am optimistic that these new safeguards will ensure that appropriate checks and balances are in place to prevent inappropriate grade changes in the future.

CLICK HERE to Read the Final Report

CLICK HERE to Read the New Administrative Regulations

APS Reviews Grade-Changing Issues across District

When I became superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools a year ago, I knew that many parts of the school district were broken, some even before the CRCT cheating of 2009. I knew that we had a lot of work to do to change the culture of APS and restore its integrity and public image.

A year later, the Atlanta Board of Education and my staff have figured out how to lead the district together in a collaborative, professional and respectful fashion. We have approved a budget and operating system model that emphasizes a more aggressive effort to right size the district for more efficiency and quality. And we have a five-year strategic plan that puts into motion our mission to graduate all students ready for college and career.

But we still have much to do.

During the 2014-2015 school year, APS conducted eight investigations into inappropriate grade changes. Four of those incidents existed before I came on board; four came to light this past school year.

Whenever we peel back another layer of something that needs to be fixed or corrected, it reminds me that this administration is devoted to making APS the best it can be. That, in part, is why I created the Office of Accountability immediately after joining APS.

Let me stress that there is a lot that is great about APS – enthusiastic students, dynamic new programs for the development of the whole child, and a move to a child-centered culture. The vast majority of our employees are doing the right things all the time, and we should praise them for doing their jobs with integrity. However, we must remain laser-focused in our efforts to root out those who are not and remove them from APS.

Unethical behavior of any type will not be tolerated in our school district.

In regards to grade changing, we are doing a comprehensive review of grade changes across the district and identifying process improvements and procedural safeguards before the start of the new school year. That work is in addition to completing the remaining investigations currently underway.

Our new Chief Accountability Officer Bill Caritj and his team are currently reviewing all existing data to determine how extensive grade changes have been over the past few years. The administration is working closely with the Atlanta Board of Education to ensure that all necessary resources are dedicated to this review.

I have many questions. So as part of the review, I have asked my team to determine where and when grades have been changed over the last three years and for which students. The review will reveal the prevalence of grade changing, the most common reasons for them and whether the changes were appropriate. Finally, the review will help ensure that we have a uniform standard across the district for the approvals and documentation for a proper and ethical process for changing grades when necessary.

We will also continue to partner with the District Attorney’s Office and seek advice in the event that additional inappropriate grade changes are discovered.

The public can count on us to operate with complete transparency as we complete this review and hold all employees accountable who have not demonstrated the high standards we expect of them. As we work aggressively to rebuild the culture of APS and to restore the public’s trust in our system, it is imperative that all of our stakeholders know that unethical behavior, again, will not be tolerated at APS.

Our CCRPI Results, Our Schools and the Power of ‘Hope’

Yesterday, the Georgia Department of Education released the results of the College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI).  I’m still learning Georgia accountability too so for folks who are in need of some basic guidance, here are my cliff notes on how it breaks down: For background, you may remember, (but I wasn’t here), that Georgia was one of 10 states granted a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act in February 2012. The new accountability system, the CCRPI, was released May 2013.  This system replaced the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), providing the district with more comprehensive data about the academic performance of our students and our schools.

This is how it works:

1) All of the schools in the state are rated on a 100 point scale and 2) Our overall score is made up of Achievement (60% of the total CCRPI score), Progress (25% of the total CCRPI score points possible) and  Achievement Gap (15% of the total CCRPI score points possible). That’s it in a nutshell.

So how did we do?  Overall, APS scored 62.5, a 2.8 point decrease from the 2013 score and 9.4 points lower than Georgia. Although the state score for high schools decreased 3.7 points from 72.0 in 2013 to 68.3 in 2014, scores for APS high schools remained relatively stable, with APS high schools earning 59.3 points in 2014.  Thus, the high school achievement gap between APS and Georgia narrowed 3.6 points. Similarly, while the state score for middle schools declined nearly 2 points, the APS score remained nearly unchanged. APS middle schools scored 65.7, a .1 point decrease from 2013 and 7.4 points lower than the state.  APS elementary schools decreased 5 points compared to 2013 and are 9.4 points below the state. (Note: APS scores by school level include the average exceeding the bar points awarded by the state).

And there were gains…in schools such as Hope Hill Elementary with an increase of 19.5 points from 2013-2014 representing our largest gain accross all schools, Venetian Hills Elementary with an increse of 18.2 points, Brown Middle with an increase of 14.3 points and South Atlanta Law and Justice with an increase of 16.3 points.  This is only a snapshot, we had a total of 42 schools with gains on the CCRPI between 2013-2014.

An exciting story is unfolding over at Hutchinson Elementary where the school achieved its second consecutive year of sustained growth in its overall CCRPI! Go Tigers!  In 2012, the school’s CCRPI was 42.8.  In 2013, the index rose to 55 and this year Hutchinson achieved a CCRPI of 67.9.  Hutchinson also more than doubled their achievement gap points for narrowing the gap between the lowest 25th percentile and the state mean.

Other APS schools did a great job too. I am also proud of a number of APS elementary and middle schools that scored in the top 25% of APS schools:

Elementary Schools – Morningside, Jackson, Brandon, Lin, Neighborhood Charter School, Springdale, Charles Drew Charter School, West Manor, Smith, Garden Hills, Kindezi, Burgess-Peterson Elementary School, Rivers Elementary School, and Venetian Hills Elementary Schools.

Middle Schools – KIPP Strive Academy, Charles Drew Charter School, Inman Middle School, Atlanta Charter Middle School, KIPP West Atlanta Young Scholars Academy, and Sutton Middle School.

In addition, a number of APS high schools scored above the state average:

High Schools – Early College High School at Carver, The School of the Arts at Carver, North Atlanta High School, Booker T. Washington Early College, Grady High School, South Atlanta Law and Social Justice School, South Atlanta School of Health and Medical Science, and Charles Drew Charter School.

Please congratulate our staff and students for working so hard at their schools.

But still, at face value, the overall test scores give me pause. We have a long way to go to ensure every student in every school is able to achieve at high levels. What I know from experience and best practice – and share in viewpoint with outstanding educators everywhere – is that success can’t be measured by just test scores. Students will perform better in a culture that is less about correcting deficits and identifying weaknesses, and more about playing to and capitalizing on their strengths and providing opportunities to develop practical skills and have rich experiences. In other words, it’s a third, a third, and a third. It takes all three parts. And when you do that, students feel hopeful and engaged, which leads to academic success. We actually need to inspire students and help them feel hopeful about their future.

Studies show that hope is a stronger predictor of college success than test scores or GPAs.

When students have hope, they show up for school. When they show up, they’re more engaged. When they’re engaged, they stay in school. When they stay, they learn more. When they learn, they want to graduate on time. And when they graduate, they have real choices to pursue not only college and careers, but most importantly, a calling that will make them happy and fulfilled.

You can take a deep dive into the CCRPI data by visiting our district’s website HERE.  You can also take a look at the result from the state HERE.

Read more about Hutchinson ES at https://atlsuper.com/2014/09/16/fed-ex-helps-hutchinson-elementary-school-blow-the-cover-off-reading/