GADOE Announces 2015 Georgia Scholars

Georgia Scholar Anna Gustafson at Valedictorian, Salutatorian and Star Student Awards Ceremony

Georgia Scholar Anna Gustafson at the Valedictorian, Salutatorian and Star Student Awards Ceremony

Our high schools are full of talented students doing amazing work not only in their classrooms, but also in their communities.  Last week, the Georgia Department of Education recognized eight Atlanta Public Schools graduating seniors as 2015 Georgia Scholars.  They join 175 other Georgia 12th graders who have also achieved excellence in their academic life as well as their community life.

State School Superintendent Richard Woods made the announcement and said, “I want to congratulate our 2015 Georgia Scholars.  In addition to academic success, I believe we have to teach our students about life and the importance of soft skills. These students have shown that they possess both, and I am confident we will be hearing much more about these students’ accomplishments in the near future.”

Who are these students? According to the Georgia Department of Education:“…students eligible for Georgia Scholar recognition are high school seniors who exhibit excellence in all phases of school life, in community activities, and in the home. Georgia Scholars are students who have carried exemplary course loads during the four years of high school; who performed excellently in all courses; who successfully participated in interscholastic events at their schools and in their communities; and who have assumed active roles in extracurricular activities sponsored by their schools.”

Wow! These are some pretty awesome kids.  Congratulations!

Georgia Scholar Program Winners

D.M. Therrell High

Mya Green

Grady High

Lucy Lombardo

North Atlanta High

Tyler Ball

North Atlanta High

Anna Gustafson

North Atlanta High

Richie McClure

North Atlanta High

Spencer Shelton

North Atlanta High

Paul Spiegl

North Atlanta High

Chaz Torres

Positioning the District for a New Direction

In my experiences as a superintendent, I have come to believe that where a district puts its money, speaks volumes about what it values—this is why I take the budgeting process so seriously. I spend a great deal of time getting very hands-on and really knowing where we are going to spend our tax dollars.

Today, the Atlanta Board of Education approved the tentative FY16 General Fund budget for Atlanta Public Schools, and I thought I would update you. With our budget, we are positioning the district for a new direction— a new direction to increase instructional quality and efficiency to assure successful achievement of our vision and mission.

I want to assure you that we are taking deliberate steps to make certain that not only do we have a balanced budget, but a strategic and more efficient one that drives us to higher student outcomes. Quality budgeting means that the Board members, administrative leadership and I take the appropriate time and steps to work through the finances … even spending our weekends to do it.

The district faces considerable challenges as we restore the organizational integrity of Atlanta Public Schools, employ best practices and position our school district structurally, strategically and financially for the future.

As we embark on the FY16 budget process – in preparation for a new operating model – we find ourselves in a position where we are facing demands for mandatory expenditures that exceed the increase in available resources.

For a quick summary, the Board is working with a planned FY16 General Fund budget of $682.8 million, a little more than a $25 million increase over this year’s fiscal budget of $657.6 million. But, as we begin the process, we have about $31 million in additional required increases for special education, pension funding and teacher retirement contributions as well as increased enrollment in our APS charter schools and a decline in other APS schools.

Last fall, the Board approved parameters for the FY16 budget that directed us to focus on such areas as achieving equitable distribution of resources, funding pension obligations and prioritizing special education and achievement in math and literacy. In addition, as we transition to the new operating model, we have committed to pushing more discretionary money to the school level to increase flexibility and engagement.

As a result, we are forced to make tough decisions in the coming weeks as we tighten our budgets and make strategic investments.

To that end, we are examining ways to achieve a balanced budget while making the necessary decisions to ensure that Board priorities are supported.

As tight as the FY16 budget will be, I am hopeful that we can find additional dollars to push more and more of our available dollars closer to the classroom and to our students.

We have already reduced central administration overhead with a plan that cuts Central Office positions by nearly 10 percent and redirects approximately $5 million to flexible spending at the school-level. And, we will continue to look for opportunities to find efficiencies at all levels in the organization to further reduce overhead costs for the school district.

Furthermore, we will examine other reductions as necessary with the assumption that we do not, at this time, have additional revenues. However, the budget approval process is an evolving one, and constraints may change as we progress and as the Board considers options such as changing the millage rate, using the district’s fund balance and other financial resources due to us, and exploring new creative solutions for long standing challenges such as the pension.

In preparation for FY16, we also have found ways to maximize resources in other budgets.

For example, the Board and I responded directly to the community’s considerable feedback when we reviewed SPLOST dollars and reprioritized $39 million to immediately address ineffective heating and air conditioning systems in schools.

We have been taking advantage of extended carryover federal dollars from Race to the Top and Title I that will serve as down payments for programs and initiatives during FY16, thanks to the insightful feedback of the principal advisory committee and help from the Georgia State Department of Education.

We created a new Office of Partnerships and Development to leverage our business community and philanthropic relationships to explore creative ways to bring in new revenue sources.

As the budget process moves forward, we will do our part to keep the public up-to-date. I invite you to stay informed through budget community meetings or by following budget developments on the APS budget website.

For me, after almost one school year, I am starting to feel the build-up of great things for our district. We are laying the groundwork that we need to improve quality and increase efficiency. Now we need the support of the Board and the community to right size the district and prepare for the new direction.

Eight APS Schools Named 2014 Reward Schools by the Georgia Department of Education

The Georgia Department of Education has announced the 2014 Reward Schools.  Eight APS schools earned Reward designations this year.
 
A Highest-Performing School is among the five percent of the state’s Title I schools with the highest absolute performance, over three years, for the “all students” group on the statewide assessments. A school may not be classified as a Highest-Performing School if it has been identified as a Priority, Focus, or Alert School.
 
A Highest-Progress School is among the 10 percent of the state’s Title I schools making the most progress in improving the performance of the “all students” group over three years on the statewide assessments. A school may not be classified as a High-Progress school if it has been identified as a Priority, Focus, or Alert School.
making the list this year.  
 
In a release earlier today, State School Superintendent Dr. John Barge said “The schools on this list represent some of the finest efforts being put forth in Georgia education.  The educators, parents, students, and communities who came together to move these schools forward should take great pride in the results.”
 
I agree.  The 2014 APS Reward Schools are:
 
Highest Performing
  • Charles Drew Charter School
  • Inman Middle School
  • KIPP Strive Academy
  • West Manor Elementary School
Highest Progress
  • KIPP VISION
  • North Atlanta High School
  • Perkerson Elementary School
  • Scott Elementary School
New to the list this year are KIPP VISION, North Atlanta High School, Perkerson Elementary School and Scott Elementary School.  
   
Former Rewards List Schools (2012 and 2013)
Highest Performing & Highest Progress
Early College High School at Carver  (2012, 2013)
Highest Progress
Booker T. Washington  – Early College Small School  (2013)
South Atlanta Law and Social Justice School   (2012)
The Best Academy at Benjamin S. Carson (2012)
Washington High School (2012)