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It’s important to note that while these measures to improve schools may seem new, the state of Georgia already has constitutional authority to take over chronically failing schools. www.gae.org | 25 “I understand you are a teacher, is that right, Lisa?” asked Representative Brooks Coleman, the chairman of the House Education Committee. Lisa proudly exclaimed, “Yes sir, I am a teacher!” She continued, “I am a fourteen year veteran of DeKalb County Schools at Midway Elementary School - which is on the OSD list…” The trepidation in her voice was not only obvious, but further conveyed Lisa’s apprehension to her school having made the list. One might ask why a teacher would not want her school counted among those eligible for an “opportunity;” however, the semantics are all but subversive when it comes to the Opportunity School District legislation. To “make the list” a school has been deemed a “chronically failing” institution by having received a grade of F on the College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI) for three or more consecutive years. And while this litmus test for school success is now considered the state standard, systems had yet to really grasp how to even implement the measures needed to be effective regarding the CCRPI. “This is very personal for me,” said Lisa. “You’ve heard them called students, children… but these are my babies you’re discussing today!” “I have worked with my colleagues at Midway for 14 years. We are committed to each and every one of our children - and not just their academic growth, but to their social growth, their emotional growth. Our students have so many challenges that you can’t understand!” For all its worth, the scores that determine a school’s viability are limited in surmising it’s growth and potential to serve its students in light of the overall community climate. In a recent interview with GAE, State School Superintendent Richard Woods noted the disparity the CCPRI yields when it comes to giving a panoramic view a school’s success. “A raw number doesn’t necessarily reflect what is taking place in a school,” said Woods. “You’re looking at parental involvement, you’re looking at issues such as poverty, that some schools are starting off a little bit behind others. And this is by no fault of their own - it’s just the reality of their situation.” POVERTY/EQUITY In 2012, the U.S. Census Bureau ranked Georgia 6th among the top 10 states with the highest number of citizens living below the poverty line. Just two years later, the Center for American Progress Action Fund released a report that showed Georgia had worsened with regards to poverty and moved to the 4th poorest state in the union. Research has proven that upward mobility for people living in areas of poverty is extremely difficult if not impossible. For cities in southeastern states such as Georgia, the statistics are even more staggering. For example, less than 20 percent of children being raised by parents in poverty in the Atlanta area today will ever hope to earn higher wages than their parents and escape the vicious cycle of impoverishment. With poverty comes many challenges to education that more affluent communities would hardly consider tangential. However, when basic needs such as nutrition, housing, hygiene and even guardianship are not met, they serve as major contributors to a child’s inability to learn. Lisa told legislators, “You hear the school cannot live apart from its community - and you’re trying to solve the chicken and the egg problem. What came first: the problem in the community or the problem in the school? I do everything I can to make my classroom a safe place apart from the community.” The Georgia Budget and Policy Institute reported in 2013 that as long as poverty exists in Georgia, its children will need help through public and private efforts. Yet while poverty remains prevalent in the state and perpetuated by counterintuitive legislation, schools in communities trying to leap the hurdles of basic necessity for their students are still judged by the same standards as schools that need the least. Thus, one can argue that OSD is based on a false premise; there is no such thing as a failing school. The state and society have failed these communities and their schools. THE PROCESS Should this legislation pass the public vote in 2016 to amend Georgia’s Constitution to allow the formation of the OSD, schools on the list will be taken over by the statewide school district for the 2017-2018 school year. The OSD would be operated outside of the State Board of Education’s jurisdiction and would have its own superintendent who would be appointed by (and only report to) the Governor. It would have the authority to take over 20 schools per year and could have the capacity of having as many as 100 schools under its control at a time. Factors such as geography would further determine if and when a school is taken over by the OSD. It’s important to note that while these measures to improve schools may seem new, the state of Georgia already has constitutional authority to take over chronically failing schools. The distinct difference is that no new school district has to be formed, nor would the existing governance structure be circumvented. The addition of OSD would make for the fourth (4th) state-run school system in Georgia. “Please don’t add another bureaucrat telling me what I need to do for my babies,” pleaded Lisa before the House Education Committee. “I know what they need and I can tell you by name. I’m doing what I can for my children. I need the resources and the help from others who are as committed as I am to do that.” UNDER OSD SUPERVISION, A SCHOOL’S FATE HAS ONE OF FOUR OUTCOMES: • Direct OSD management • Shared governance with local school board and the OSD via a contract (in which the OSD has the final authority to direct changes to school) • Convert the school to a charter school (with collaboration with the state Charter School Commission) • Close the school and reassign students to a school not on the list


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