For decades, the path of school advancement in southeast Atlanta has been fractured and difficult to follow. This has led to a current resident population that is disconnected or siloed in their efforts towards school improvement. Bright spots of success have been difficult to replicate and a perceived lack of shared interests or goals have obscured the real barriers to achievement.
The demographic review and redistricting process provides a tremendous opportunity to forge a better future—a new zone of educational excellence and partnership where differences lead to strength instead of division. The key to this is communication. We must construct a workable model in which neighbors may engage one another and APS in educational communion.
To that purpose, Southeast Atlanta Communities for Schools (SEACS) asks that APS establish a K-12 educational cluster in southeast Atlanta that is:
- geographically defined(1),
- vertically aligned, and
- in which all constituent schools follow an IB-compatible path into Maynard Holbrook Jackson High School.
We define that success as the readiness of all students within the cluster to accomplish level-appropriate work and be fully prepared for advancement. This cannot occur without energized and empowered students, faculty, parents, and administrators working in concert.
To facilitate success, SEACS asks that APS go beyond the creation of a Jackson feeder cluster but also move forward to set up a cluster-level oversight and governance organization, like a Super Local School Council, to identify and address the needs particular to the Jackson cluster in a directed and agile fashion. We believe this body comprised of parents, teachers, and community leaders could make great strides in school improvement across our zone(2), including:
- Work together for the shared and singular goal of ensuring a quality education for all of the community’s students.
- Facilitate direct community input in any leadership changes affecting cluster schools, including both schools with high and low numbers of parent involvement.
- Particularly in the first year of the Jackson cluster, coordinate with the schools and community to set up a transition team of community leaders, APS staff and local educators to focus on the 2012/13 school year, working to build partnerships and increasing trust among participating stakeholders.
- Identify elementary schools that need additional kindergarten preparation support, and assist in bringing needed resources to the community such as Georgia Pre-K classrooms, Head Start, and community preschools.
- Support individual school efforts to implement APS’s vision of vertically integrated discipline and vertical teaming - grade-to-grade and school-to-school.
- Bring together parents, teachers, students and coaches to develop vertically integrated extracurriculars in the areas of arts, sports, and technology, an effort that we see as especially critical to keeping our children invested in school during the middle school transition.
We have already begun to see the fruits of innovative, cross-curricular, project-based strategies in our local elementary schools. But with a few small exceptions, our middle schools continue to underperform. As the middle schools have declined in the last decade, so, too, has the high school. They are inextricably linked—a lineal progression of either failure or success. We must ensure that it becomes the latter.
To accomplish this, SEACS asks for special support from APS for our middle schools, by:
- Providing strong leadership at our zoned middle schools.
- Supporting a roll out of an International Baccalaureate program at the middle-school level in the Jackson Cluster. This is essential if students are to have a reasonable opportunity of success in the IB Diploma Programme at Maynard H. Jackson
- Reimagining and rebuilding the Challenge Program in our middle schools to attract our elementary gifted and talented students, roughly one-half of whom currently opt out of progressing to APS middle schools.
- Investigating middle school options that might draw in a wider range of students. We believe that our communities would be eager to join into a conversation about a theme for our zoned middle schools, including Fine Arts and Humanities or STEM.
Furthermore, we feel that keeping students challenged, invested and engaged during their middle school years doesn’t end with the dismissal bell. We urge APS to support the Jackson Cluster community in providing robust and exciting extracurricular programming:
- Especially for, but not limited to, the area middle school students,
- Including athletics, the arts, STEM, and mentoring programs to help retain the interest and involvement of students at this crucial juncture in their education, and
- Assisted by the Super Local School Council in coordinating local school resources and professional assets for after school programming.
All the community support in the world will make little difference, however, if the schools are not up to the task of educating students to high levels of academic achievement. Consequently, teachers at all grade levels must be supported by their administrators and have the professional skills necessary to teach with rigor and fidelity to the curriculum. Administrators, too, must be accountable to the communities they serve.
As our community dreams aloud of the possibilities, we ask APS to join in an equal partnership and common cause with the cluster-wide community in southeast Atlanta to ensure the existence of healthy, neighborhood schools in which student achievement and academic excellence are evident and demonstrable. This should include:
- ENSURING THAT THERE IS AT LEAST ONE EFFECTIVE TEACHER IN EVERY CLASSROOM;
- Educational screening of all students;
- Giving special attention to previously under-supported schools and populations(5);
- Tracking and support of student academic progress;
- Creating smaller, Special Needs classrooms in a greater number of schools, evenly spread throughout the cluster—stop shuffling these classrooms to different schools to create space;
- Developing and implementing a peer review program for faculty and staff;
- Vertical teaming – from school-to-school and grade-to-grade;
- Implementing consistent and vertically-aligned discipline program cluster-wide;
- Broadening the spectrum of course offerings, especially in middle and high school;
- Emphasizing language instruction at all grade levels to aid in the IB study program; and
- Committing funding for IB training for staff.
Submitted on behalf of
Southeast Atlanta Communities for Schools
February 23, 2012
(1) SEACS had previously suggested in “Option C” a grouping of neighborhoods, linked by both history and accessibility. Several of these have submitted statements in support, however, some remain reluctant to leave their existing zoned cluster. SEACS respects their right to advocate on their own behalf and recognizes that the drawing of district lines is ultimately up to APS administration and the Board of Education.
(2) An existing model of this can be found in Point Loma, CA: www.pointlomacluster.com
(3) The former site of Ralph McGill elementary and the Olympic practice field in the historic Summerhill neighborhood.
(4) The former site of Smith high school and the Boys & Girls Club, located on Hill St. in Grant Park.
(5) This would include developing special programming around transient and homeless populations who attend cluster school