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New initiative to improve metro Atlanta schools

A new initiative to improve public education in metro Atlanta will report on school performance while looking for, and spreading, ideas for improvement.

Former interim Fulton County Superintendent Kenneth Zeff is spearheading the effort, dubbed “Learn4Life.”

He is teaming with philanthropies and leaders in business, government and education to scout out ways “for scaling best practices.” The group will also dig up the “root cause” of lackluster performance.

Georgia already has two state agencies that produce school report cards. The Department of Education creates the College and Career Ready Performance Index and the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement publishes a host of measures, including the Georgia School Reports website.

Zeff said this is different because the focus is on regional averages rather than particular schools in the participating districts: Atlanta, Decatur and Marietta cities and Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties.

One of the six "key indicators” Learn4Life will monitor is reading on grade level by third grade; Zeff said 28,000 students in the eight school districts cannot. “This is a metro Atlanta problem,” he said.

State lawmakers recently passed the First Priority Act, which calls for intervention in Georgia’s lowest-performing schools and also requires a determination of the “root causes” that hold them back. Zeff said this initiative is different because it seeks to improve -- and learn from -- all schools in metro Atlanta, not just the lowest performers.

The partnership includes the Metro Atlanta Chamber, the United Way of Greater Atlanta, the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta and the Atlanta Regional Commission. The indicators it will monitor cover public education before, during and after K-12 enrollment, from kindergarten readiness to post-secondary completion. It is modeled after partnerships such as Strive Together in Cincinnati.

Dennis Lockhart, recently retired president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, said at an unveiling of the initiative at the Chamber offices Tuesday that “business community support for this is essential.”

Four superintendents headlined the event: J. Alvin Wilbanks of Gwinnett, Meria Carstarphen of Atlanta, David Dude of Decatur and Grant Rivera of Marietta. Carstarphen welcomed the help and said the performance data do not surprise her: she’s seen worse at some schools.

“It makes me worried about the future of Atlanta,” she said.

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