Here is an essay by APS Superintendent Erroll B. Davis, Jr., on the progress that the district has made in reforming and reinventing itself:
The theme of this year’s annual State of the Schools in Atlanta event was “Children expect the world of us.” It was an occasion for the community and APS educators and administrators to come together at The Carter Center to focus on the importance of education in the lives of our children. The feeling conveyed was equivalent to what we as parents and grandparents feel when we look into the eyes of our own children and grandchildren and commit to doing all in our power to provide them with more than we had.
As APS emerges from what some have described as ‘The Perfect Storm’ of issues, it is important that we maintain the focus on our students and do all that we can to nurture and educate them so that they can become viable 21st Century citizens of the world.
The challenges we have overcome during the past year have been numerous and major, including eliminating a threat to the accreditation of our high schools, fixing a major budget gap, managing the repercussions of what was arguably the worst test cheating scandal in the nation, a 10-year redistricting and effectively transitioning new leadership in most of our schools and in the district’s administration, especially within the Curriculum and Instruction Division.
Over the coming year, we will focus on the wide differentials in our student academic achievement based on the results of the 2012 Criterion-Referenced Competency Test. For example, on the science test, our top three elementary schools averaged 97 percent of students meeting or exceeding standards, while the average of the lowest three schools was 36 percent meeting or exceeding standards. These results reveal a tale of two separate and distinct school systems within APS. Good organizations do not allow these kinds of variances to exist. Good organizations find isolated pockets of excellence unacceptable.
Looking ahead, we will be focusing on excellence, equity, ethics and engagement. Former basketball coach Pat Riley put it this way: “Excellence is the gradual result of always striving to be better.” For APS to truly embrace excellence, we need to ensure that academic achievement is not dependent on where our students reside or what schools they attend. It must be infused throughout the system. The only true excellence is systemic excellence.
The redistricting process resulted in the closing of seven schools and redrawing attendance boundaries for approximately two-thirds of our schools. Over 70 percent of our schools were affected, either by closures or redrawn attendance lines. This effort was not about saving money; it focused on reallocating resources to fully staff and provide more support, opportunity and equity to the schools that remain open. This includes assistant principals in every school, along with guidance counselors, instructional coaches and nurses. It also includes art, band, chorus and orchestra in every middle and high school and accelerated math in every middle school.
Following the cheating scandal, APS now has a zero tolerance policy for unethical behavior. Of the approximately 170 employees named in the special state investigation report, 135 are no longer with the district. And only about two dozen employees still await dismissal hearings, and none remain on the district payroll. Mandatory annual ethics training is in place for all employees. And I have stressed that the consequences for unethical behavior will always be much more severe than those associated with failing to meet organizational goals and targets.
Lastly, we as an organization will never get to where we need to be on behalf of our students without the continued support of our parents and the larger community. This renewed engagement will be nurtured through more effective communications and community outreach. We are focusing on excellent customer service at all of our schools, as well as at the central office. We want our schools and facilities to be welcoming places for everyone.
APS is poised to succeed. The infrastructure for our success is being implemented. It remains only for effective leadership to execute the transformation necessary to make it happen. And, I believe we are slowly but surely putting that in place.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog