While the Georgia General Assembly is considering several measures this year to increase the state’s return on its significant investment in education, the focus is a proposed constitutional amendment to create a statewide Recovery School District. The plan would allow the state to move up to 20 schools per year, with no more than 100 schools at any one time, under some form of state control.
Tuesday, the Georgia Children’s Advocacy Network hosted an event at the Depot to help outline Georgia’s history with it’s own attempts to help troubled schools, as well as some lessons learned from others such as Tennessee (whose Achievement School District most closely resembles Governor Deal’s proposal), New Schools New Orleans, Michigan’s Education Achievement Authority, and our own Fulton County Schools. There were 2 hours of discussion and Q&A.
One of the lessons learned that was shared by most speakers was that community buy in was essential to any intervention effort to be successful. The restructurings need to be viewed as a partnership, and not a hostile takeover. As one of the panelists put it, “Resources are a gift. They are not adversarial.”
The Recovery School District, in short, needs to be presented as a carrot, not a stick.
Kenneth Zeff, the Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer for Fulton County Schools, spoke of changes already underway in Fulton’s Banneker feeder system. The area near Old National Highway just below Hartsfield Airport, is among the most impoverished in the county. Yet it tends to have the newest teachers, with an incredibly high turnover rate. Often the school years starts with positions unfilled, leaving students with long term substitute teachers to begin their year.
Fulton decided to shrink the High School from 1800 to 1200 students. A Junior Achievement School focusing on entrepreneurship is an alternative. Fulton’s best teachers will be offered stipends of up to $20,000 to transfer to these schools, adding much needed quality and experience to the teachers’ ranks.
Should the constitutional amendment and enabling legislation pass to create a Recovery School District, it’s not certain schools like Banneker would be taken over by the state. Erin Hames, Deputy Chief of Staff to Governor Deal, noted that trends would be considered when picking the schools that needed help. A failing school where a local district has made significant changes and is on a positive trendline would likely not be a candidate.
Local districts must be rewarded for such efforts, even if the success is not instantaneous. All of those who spoke at the event with Georgia ties seemed to understand and accept this as part of the proposal.
To help build support for the initiative, the Governor and a delegation of legislators will be traveling to New Orleans tonight to visit with New Schools New Orleans on Friday. I’ll be attending this trip as well to hear first hand from the folks that pioneered this effort what has worked, what did not, and any recommendations they have for us in Georgia.
For this effort to be ultimately successful, it will require more than getting 2/3 of both the House and Senate. It will require skeptical local officials, parents, and other stakeholders to hear the words “We’re from Atlanta and we’re here to help” as genuine.