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A new corporate, civic effort to improve metro schools: Will it work?

A new civic coalition with some high-powered supporters hopes to turn around metro schools.

A collaboration of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, the Atlanta Regional Commission, the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta and the United Way of Greater Atlanta, Learn4Life unites metro school systems, communities, business and nonprofits around a plan to use a data-driven, collective-impact approach to improve workforce readiness and student achievement. Learn4Life is led by executive director Ken Zeff, former deputy superintendent in Fulton County.

At a presentation Tuesday at the downtown chamber offices, Learn4Life took stock of six major benchmarks in education: kindergarten readiness, third-grade reading, eighth-grade math, high school graduation, postsecondary education and getting a job. The findings in what Learn4Life called its inaugural “State of Education in Metro Atlanta Baseline Report” were disappointing.

Only one in five children in the region has access to high quality childcare; only 40 percent of third graders read on grade level. When you look at low-income students, the percentage plummets to 25.3 percent. Thirty-eight percent of eighth graders are proficient in math.

A bright spot was Georgia’s high school graduation rate of 79 percent. Of those grads, 75 percent pursue some postsecondary education, but the completion rates falter. Less than a third get a credential or degree.

The wise sage on the stage was Gwinnett Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks, who earned the title based on both longevity and success. Wilbanks has led Gwinnett since 1996, collecting dozens of national awards along the way. Indeed, he was asked at the chamber event what his “secret sauce” was in Gwinnett.

Wilbanks cited Gwinnett’s commitment to strong principals and quality teachers. “You need a good teacher in every classroom and you need a good principal in every school. I have never seen a poor school with a great principal and I have never seen a good school with a poor principal.”

To read more, go to the AJC Get Schooled blog.

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