In 2016, Georgia voters will have the opportunity to vote on a constitutional amendment creating an Opportunity School District (OSD), which would step in and place chronically underperforming public schools under state control.
In my view, the Georgia Department of Education’s role in this proposal is simple: It’s our job to make sure schools aren’t failing in the first place. I’ve charged my staff with making sure no school ends up on this list because they didn’t have the resources and support they needed from us. I’m not talking about twisting numbers or gaming the system. I’m talking about real support and real improvement on behalf of the students, who are our foremost responsibility.
Through efforts across all GaDOE divisions, there are a few ways we’re offering support to struggling schools:
The GaDOE has an excellent School and District Effectiveness division, which until now has served schools under two designations: Focus and Priority.
Some of these schools fall under the OSD legislation, which defines “persistently failing” schools as those scoring below 60 for three consecutive years on the College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI). Some, however, do not.
We’ve had success with this model. For example, in December, 38 schools made the measurable improvements necessary to be removed from the Priority and Focus lists. So we’re expanding the work of the School and District Effectiveness division and offering targeted assistance for all OSD-eligible schools.
Training for school and district leaders
In June, the GaDOE hosted a training opportunity specifically for OSD-eligible schools, giving school and district leaders a chance to identify specific areas for improvement and strategies to address them. According to the feedback we received, this proved valuable for the leaders in attendance. Many of them requested sessions for other schools in their districts. We’ll continue to offer training opportunities that allow leaders to develop targeted solutions for their schools.
Schools and principals can learn a lot from each other. With that in mind, we’ve given principals the option to partner with the principal of a demographically similar school that has seen success in improved, sustained achievement. These partnerships will allow principals to work together and share ideas, and share what works. Our mission is to educate all students, so no good idea should be kept silent. At the training addressed above, 40 principals selected the option to be part of the mentor-schools partnership.
Improving climate and culture in schools
We’re also working to improve school climate and culture because the research is clear: Students simply can’t learn in an environment that isn’t safe and welcoming. That work includes the expansion of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports. PBIS holds that continual teaching, combined with acknowledgement or feedback of positive student behavior, will reduce unnecessary discipline and promote a climate of greater productivity, safety and learning. It’s an evidence-based framework proven to reduce disciplinary incidents, increase a school’s sense of safety and support improved academic outcomes.
Whether or not a constitutional amendment passes establishing an Opportunity School District, our mission will not change. We will offer every possible resource and support to schools, all in service of what’s most important: the classroom and the students served there.