Five schools in Muscogee County and one in Chattahoochee County are among the 104 lowest-performing in Georgia, putting them at risk of intervention or even takeover by the state.
Baker Middle School, Rothschild Leadership Academy and Brewer, Dorothy Height and Martin Luther King Jr. elementary schools, as well as Chattahoochee County Middle School, are on the list of chronically failing schools, now called Turnaround Eligible Schools, because they could be targeted by the person recently hired to fill the new position created to help such schools: the Chief Turnaround Officer.
Georgia House Bill 338, also called the First Priority Act, which the Legislature approved this year, authorizes the Chief Turnaround Officer, in conjunction with the Georgia Department of Education and the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, to identify the state’s lowest-performing schools, defined as those with a three-year average College and Career Ready Performance Index score in the state’s bottom 5 percent.
Last month, the Georgia Board of Education hired Eric Thomas as the state’s first Chief Turnaround Officer. Thomas, a Georgia native who grew up in Savannah, has been chief support officer in the School Turnaround Program at the University of Virginia since June 2012. From 2010-12, he was chief innovation officer for Cincinnati Public Schools, where he was a teacher, principal and turnaround principal coach for 17 years, according to his LinkedIn page.
Last week, the GaDOE released the 2017 CCRPI scores, so the new list of chronically failing schools is set.
When GOSA announced the original list of chronically failing schools in February 2015, MCSD had 10 of the 141 schools in that ignominious group. MCSD reduced that number to eight out of the state’s 127 chronically failing schools the next year and again reduced that number, to seven, in January 2017, while the state’s number increased to 153.
Eddy Middle School and Davis, Forrest Road and South Columbus elementary schools improved enough on the 2017 CCRPI to get off that list, but Rothschild and Brewer performed poorly enough to be added to that list, joining Baker, Dorothy Height and MLK.
If the Chief Turnaround Officer, after consulting with the GaDOE, determines resources aren’t available to serve all the schools on the list, a subset may be selected instead. Regardless, the schools on the final list must develop “an intensive school improvement plan,” the law says. After three years, schools on this list that fail to meet the terms of improvement, as stated in their contract, could have personnel removed, operation of the school turned over to a private nonprofit organization selected by the local school board, or parents allowed to transfer their children to another school.
Monday afternoon, the Ledger-Enquirer asked MCSD superintendent David Lewis and ChattCo superintendent David McCurry their reaction to having schools on this list and what their districts are doing to improve those schools.
Lewis said in an email, “Our school district has been successful in addressing the needs of schools identified by the State for possible intervention, as evidenced in the reduction by half from ten schools in 2014 to five. This has been accomplished by remaining steadfast to the district’s commitment to providing curriculum frameworks in literacy and math that align to state standards and focused Tier 1 core instruction, all of which is supported through the regional reorganization that provides differentiated support and training to schools based on their identified needs. Utilizing student- and school-specific data, each school completes an individualized comprehensive School Improvement Plan that outlines targeted curricular, climate, and training initiatives that are monitored throughout the year by regional and district personnel. Adjustments are then made as necessary. Realizing that schools cannot do this work alone, a realignment of Partners in Education is providing additional community support to these schools as well.
“Given the individualized approach outlined above, stability of staff as well as the necessary parental and community support, we are confident that we will determine the destiny of all our schools.”
McCurry emailed this response Tuesday to the L-E:
“Based on the three year average of the middle school's CCRPI scores, it was no surprise we were named Turnaround Eligible. It's important to remember this is not a ‘takeover’. The role of the Chief Turnaround Officer is to work cooperatively with and assist struggling schools. The CTO would appoint a Turnaround Coach to help the struggling school develop an intense school improvement plan. If the school fails to improve after three years with the Turnaround Coach, then taking over the management of the school is just one of several options the CTO will have (see OCGA 20-14-49).
“I feel there's a good possibility the CTO will not choose Chattahoochee County Middle as one of his schools this first year based on the first four of the six criteria used to select schools (see OCGA 20-14-45). One, ChattCo Middle's CCRPI scores have been on the rise the past two years. Two, We have a Strategic Waiver Contract that adequately addresses the school's deficiencies. Three, our recent AdvanceEd report validates that we have quality governance and leadership already in place. And four, the school is not located in a school system where half or more of the schools are turnaround eligible. I hope we're given this current year to prove we've fully addressed the academic achievement issues. However, if we are chosen as one of the CTO's schools, we will gladly accept the appointment of a Turnaround Coach. The common goal here is to provide a quality education for the children of Chattahoochee County.”
McCurry also emailed the L-E this response from ChattCo middle and high school principal Sandi Veliz:
“While Chattahoochee County Middle School is on the list of Turnaround Eligible schools, we are pleased with the increase of scores by 11 points over the last two years. We have implemented a number of initiatives and practices in order to tackle this problem. We have implemented our Response to Intervention program with fidelity and are working in improving it daily. We believe RTI to be a strong key to ensuring our students make typical or high growth each year as well as reducing the achievement gap. We believe that high quality training for teachers and staff is absolutely vital to improving student outcomes. Our teachers meet regularly to analyze data and grow professionally. They receive professional development on research based strategies for improvement in areas such as close reading and our chosen writing program, Writing to Win. We have partnered with Columbus State University as well as the Columbus Regional Mathematics Collaborative for individualized mentorships and training for our induction and math teachers.
“We know that improving instruction isn't enough to continue our upward trend in CCRPI scores. We have implemented programs to address our discipline and attendance rates. We have a positive reward system called Oh Snap! which rewards and celebrates students for good behavior. We have a ‘Dress for Success’ day each month. Additionally, we are holding Honors Socials at the end of every nine weeks which are celebrations for students who meet grades, attendance, and behavior criteria. We have an attendance recovery program for students to make up hours and work on assignments. Our community partners have been absolutely pivotal in these programs. The Family Connections, 4th Ranger Training Battalion, Chattahoochee County Public Library, and the Chatt - Flint RESA have contributed this fall already to our initiatives in improvement in the middle school. We look forward to growing these deep and meaningful partnerships.
“ChattCo middle school is dedicated to turning our scores around. We are pleased to report that every tested area in grades 6-8 last year decreased the percentage of students in level I (Beginning). This is a good sign as we continue to improve our instructional practices, climate, and culture. We know that this is a marathon, not a sprint. We believe that these scores are not indicative our students' ability and fully expect the scores to continue to improve.”