Eric Thomas has not formally started his job as Georgia’s first “chief turnaround officer” for woebegone schools, but he is already at work identifying those he wants to help.
Thomas, hired under a new state law, starts work Nov. 16, but in his first business meeting with his new bosses Wednesday he revealed his timeline and criteria for targeting schools.
The University of Virginia school improvement expert has laid his plans through this year, and to stay on track he needs to have schools picked “literally in the next week or so,” he told the Georgia Board of Education.
Thomas still lives in Cincinnati but is already at work culling schools from the list 0f the 104 worst performers. They have routinely gotten the lowest scores on Georgia’s school report card, the College and Career Ready Performance Index.
Thomas was hired under The First Priority Act, a bipartisan bill passed this year after the failure of a constitutional amendment a year ago that would have given the state unilateral authority to take over “chronically failing” schools. The new law requires a turnaround officer to work with school districts to improve schools among the bottom 5 percent. Schools that don’t improve can then be taken over.
Thomas can’t pick them all, though, at least not right now. With a budget of maybe a couple million dollars, he will only be able to hire a handful of “coaches” to work with schools.
So one of his new bosses, school board member Barbara Hampton, asked how he will distill a list of the neediest schools: “I guess the $64,000 question is how do we decide?”
Thomas had a ready answer: “leading indicators.”
The school report card is a trailing indicator because the scores are calculated and released months after a school year ends. (The Georgia Department of Education released the 2016-17 school year report card last week.) So Thomas will look for fresh information that connotes current performance.
Student absenteeism, teacher turnover and incidence of discipline are a “huge indicator” of a school’s current learning environment, Thomas said.
Hampton suggested that Thomas ask districts if they want the state’s intervention, and Thomas said that’s what he plans with the first wave of schools.
School districts that aren’t on the first intervention list might find that comforting, but the list will grow eventually, possibly to include districts that don’t want state help.
“The last thing that we want at this point in time is a fight,” Thomas said, adding, “We may have some later.”
Schools with the worst three-year average scores on the College and Career Ready Performance Index, or CCRPI, are eligible for state “turnaround” intervention. The 104 schools on the list — only the bottom 5 percent qualify — are the responsibility of 27 of the state’s 180 school districts. Here are the districts with the most listed schools by number and percentage of district schools with a CCRPI score.
School districts with the most listed schools (and as a percent of all schools in district):
Atlanta Public Schools: 16 (18.8 percent)
DeKalb County School District: 16 (12.4 percent)
Richmond County School District: 13 (22.8 percent)
Savannah-Chatham County Public School System: 9 (16.7 percent)
Fulton County Schools: 8 (7.8 percent)
Bibb County School District: 8 (22.9 percent)
School districts with the largest proportion of listed schools (and the number of listed schools versus all schools in district)*:
Dooly County School District: 100 percent (three of three)
School District of Clay County: 50 percent (one of two)
Chattahoochee County Schools: 33 percent (one of three)
Macon County School System: 33 percent (one of three)
Randolph County Schools: 33 percent (one of three)
Terrell County School System: 33 percent (one of three)
Source: Governor’s Office of Student Achievement.
*Graduation Achievement Charter High School, an online school based in Atlanta, is listed as a district with 100 percent of schools that are turnaround eligible, but it is not a school district. It is an autonomous school operating under the authority of the State Charter Schools Commission.
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