You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.


  • ePAPER

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks


Welcome to

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on

New school oversight bill grades as incomplete

Georgia lawmakers must ensure any ‘Plan B’ to boost low-quality schools doesn’t waste money or fuel bureaucratic clashes.

House Bill 338 creates a new, high-level education leader — a chief turnaround officer or CTO — tasked with improving Georgia’s lowest performing schools. Unlike Gov. Nathan Deal’s Opportunity School District, which voters rejected in November as a power grab, the CTO doesn’t kick down the door to school districts to force help and guidance but knocks first.

As a result, the Republican-driven bill hasn’t roused as much opposition, even winning the support of some key Democrats for its acknowledgement of the deep influence of poverty on school performance. That doesn’t mean HB 338 is a particularly good bill or a sure route to better schools.

The bill lacks any defined funding source, a flaw given the strategies required to boost performance in high-poverty schools — tutoring, after-school programs, longer school days and summer enrichment — are expensive.

While the bill details a range of reforms the CTO is empowered to enact, it’s fuzzy on the processes for achieving them. Six of the 18 pages of the bill lay out the CTO’s role, scope of power and responsibilities. Among them: Identify schools that need her or his help, hire and dispatch turnaround coaches to such schools, negotiate the role of the local school board and determine more dramatic interventions if the school fails to improve.

The legislation vests a lot of control in the CTO. But the savior strategy often fails because the fate of a school can’t hinge on the vision, drive and abilities of a single leader who may not be there tomorrow.

Stephen D. Dolinger, president of the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education, cautioned that reforms can grind to a halt in districts when a superintendent departs. “It would be important that the CTO put the processes in place and have the team and infrastructure in place so if he or she leaves, the work won’t stop,” he said.

The bill envisions a team of turnaround coaches in schools, but doesn’t clarify whether a coach will be focused on only one school. (The bill states: “Turnaround coaches shall be assigned to one or more schools.”) The coaches are the linchpins because they’re on the ground in the schoolhouse, developing relationships with the staff and the community.

No mention is made of the salaries of the CTO or the coaches, who are expected to not only remedy the academic challenges in a school but “create local collaborations to address personal and community conditions,” including poverty, economic development, safety, transportation for parents and students, adult education, wellness, and mental health services.

Resources are paramount to turning around schools, as State Superintendent Richard Woods has told the Legislature. Fifty-two DOE staff members are already working with 242 struggling Georgia schools, but funding has limited their reach. “The numbers show that we’ve had success in improving schools but have been held back due to budgetary constraints,” said Woods.

For HB 338 to succeed, education experts agree DOE must partner with the CTO office and share expertise, but that relationship could be rocky. Terse exchanges between Deal and Woods reveal a chasm over chain of command. Woods wants the CTO to report to him. Deal insists the CTO answer to his appointees on the state Board of Education, castigating Woods for failing to reverse the number of failing schools and challenging what the school chief has accomplished to “reverse this downward spiral of failure?”

So, we have an alienated elected superintendent with no constitutional obligation to partner with the appointed CTO and now less motivation to do so. And we have a demoralized DOE staff since the governor has cast the CTO as a rebuke of their performance.

Dolinger and other education advocates believe the governor and the superintendent can mend their rift so the CTO is not at odds with DOE. “Let us not waste taxpayer money,” he said. “Let these two organizations work together.”

To succeed, the CTO model has to have the cooperation and collaboration of DOE. It requires adequate funding and leaders strong enough to build an organization that can survive their departure.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Education

A league of their own: Dating app caters to elite college grads
A league of their own: Dating app caters to elite college grads

AJC intern Allison Gordon wrote an interesting essay today on dating apps, which are increasingly the domain of young adults. A friend recently told me her three kids — all college students at private universities — met their significant others through dating apps. Among the apps favored by college-age students are ...
Luring good teachers to poor schools not so easy, Fulton finds
Luring good teachers to poor schools not so easy, Fulton finds

In an effort to entice top-rated teachers to transfer to low-rated schools, Fulton County offered $20,000 stipends in a pilot program announced with great fanfare in 2014. It was not an easy sell. Although 375 Fulton teachers were eligible to participate, only 32 applied. Teachers were daunted by the long commutes and concerns over how they’d...
As school starts, parents wrangle for best teachers
As school starts, parents wrangle for best teachers

Principals have already assigned most students to classrooms for the start of school, but as parents learn who’ll be teaching their child, some will try to wrangle a change. The right teacher can have a profound effect on how much a student learns — whether he or she excels or stumbles, with implications for years to come. Yet, while parents...
Georgia officials considering changes to college sexual misconduct policy
Georgia officials considering changes to college sexual misconduct policy

University System of Georgia officials are looking into making changes to how it investigates sexual misconduct on its campuses and may approve new guidelines next month, officials told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Friday. The AJC obtained a draft policy that explains, for example, how the USG’s Director for Equity and Investigations would...
Your guide to the 2017-2018 Cobb County school year
Your guide to the 2017-2018 Cobb County school year

You might have missed some things during the academic off-season in Cobb County. There’s going to be a brand new building at Mountain View Elementary School and a new phase opening at the under-construction Walton High School. And don’t forget about the 24 new principals throughout the district. If you are looking for more things you...
More Stories