Atlanta Public Schools Face Possible State Takeover


Georgia Governor Nathan Deal has come up with a way to handle schools that have three years of significant under-performance, and it is based on the the same procedures used by New Orleans Recovery School District and the Tennessee Achievement School District. Maureen Downey of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes that Deal’s under-performing schools will be taken over by the Opportunity School District (OSD) if they are determined by Georgia’s complex performance index to be floundering. Atlanta faces the greatest risk of losing schools to the proposed state takeover.

If the Tennessee and New Orleans models are used, the schools will be centered in an urban area so that coordination and use of resources, oversight, and staffing will be maximized. Atlanta fits that bill, and at a public meeting, new Atlanta Public Schools Chief Schools Officer Donyall Dickey told parents:

 “Forty-four out of our 73 schools or 60 percent of our schools are either in one of two categories: OSD eligible if the button were to be pushed today or at high risk for OSD eligibility.”

The hope is that Atlanta can dodge this bullet by starting the improvement process immediately, but, according to Superintendent Meria Carstarphen at the same meeting, the turnaround will be so dramatic that it will not be easy or fast. She also admitted that she has not been able to make serious improvements during the one year she has been in office.

Her focus during her first year was putting out fires such as a messy payroll system and attending to students who were damaged by the unfortunate APS test disgrace.

“At the end of the day, I can tell you this — we went through and found every single child, all 4,000 of them still in APS who need remediation and support from this school system. No one knew them by name. No one could tell me where they were. No one could tell me what happened to them. What resources did they get? Did it even make a difference?”

Carstarphen explained that APS is a broken system. She added that she was willing to do whatever was necessary to assist the students in the district, but the problems are gargantuan. Some of the most serious deficits include uneven instructional quality, a weak leadership pipeline and the unmet social needs of at-risk students.

The superintendent said APS needs principals with experience in turning around low performing schools. In response to making the school day or year longer, she said unless the quality of education is improved, more time in school will not help. And even with improved instruction, kids cannot be engaged in the classroom if they are living in poverty, are homeless, have mental health issues, or are poorly fed. She told parents that APS needs to be a high-quality service provider.

Gov. Deal (R) intends to fix broken schools by bringing in experts in the field of education, ensuring improved governance, and implementing best practices. Creative Loafing Atlanta’s Maggie Lee reports his bill passed in March with barely two-thirds majority needed in the Georgia Legislature, passing more or less along party lines. The plan still needs the November 2016 approval of voters.

But Democrats and school boards are dubious that the state could run schools better than the local governing parties. They say the GOP-led state is not spending enough on K-12 anyway.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that weeks of surveys, focus groups, and interviews have shown that one of the top reasons APS is struggling is a lack of good teaching. And after APS privately funded management consultants Boston Consulting Group to the tune of $500,000, the firm said APS needs strong principals because the district’s students face so many problems outside of schools.

It was apparent from Carstarphen’s comments to parents that she wants to avoid state takeove while still doing the right thing for students and families.

“I have seen what has happened to our children and I can’t stand it,” she said. Carstarphen has said public education can be a vital force for improving the lives of African-Americans especially, but Atlanta schools are falling short. She said Tuesday, “We cannot do this to our black community.”