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In approving outside management, Atlanta charts new course for failing schools. May avert state takeover


Atlanta Public Schools moved forward Monday night with an ambitious and unprecedented reform strategy that will likely insulate the district from Gov. Nathan Deal's state takeover plan.

Atlanta's decision to bring in charter companies to run five schools means around 300 teachers and other staff will have to reapply for their jobs to the new management and will no longer be APS employees.

I suspect a lot of them will not get jobs with the charter operators, who will have their own hiring criteria and will be looking for staff with a missionary zeal.

At an event last week with APS Superintendent Meria Carstarphen, Deal told the AJC, "I think efforts like the Atlanta Public Schools system is making will indicate that their schools should be shielded if they are making progress and if they're trying to make progress. "

I believe the aggressive efforts by APS to avert losing schools to Deal's Opportunity School District make DeKalb Schools more vulnerable to stake takeover. While new DeKalb Superintendent Steve Green is also focusing on improving his district's lowest-performing schools, his reforms are not as dramatic as what the Atlanta school board approved last night.

Essentially, Atlanta is upending schools and allowing charter companies to reinvent them -- hopefully in a more successful way.

As the AJC's Molly Bloom reported:

Five Atlanta schools will be managed by charter school groups and three others will close under a plan the Atlanta school board approved Monday. It's one part of superintendent Meria Carstarphen's plan to turn around some of the city's worst schools.

The vote makes Atlanta Public Schools the first in Georgia to hire charter school groups to run local public schools, charter advocates say. The plan closes three schools, including some that are succeeding by Atlanta standards. Students in the closed schools would be moved to two existing schools and a new school.

Concerns from the public about the track record of charter companies did not dissuade the APS board from approving Carstarphen's plan. "There is always a reason not to do something. But there are 52,000 kids in this school system. And I believe there are 52,000 reasons we need to move forward," said school board chairman Courtney English.

According to Bloom:

Purpose Built Schools, a nonprofit affiliated with Atlanta's Drew Charter School, will manage Carver High School and two elementary schools and a middle school feeding into Carver for up to 15 years, under its contract with the district. Purpose Built will begin managing one elementary school this fall. The other schools will be phased in over the coming years. Kindezi, a charter school with two Atlanta campuses, will manage another elementary school that feeds into Carver for up to seven years.

Purpose Built and Kindezi will be paid about the same amount from APS per student as other low-performing schools, according to an outline of proposed contract terms. But they'll also receive other support, like funding for "principals in training" in the years before the charter school groups take over the schools. The district will also help both groups raise money from foundations and other donors.

"All of these schools have to get on the hustle --- fast, " Carstarphen said. "We need to show dramatic improvement as quickly as possible."

A total of 27 groups applied to work with low-performing Atlanta schools, including for-profit education giant Pearson, nonprofits like Communities in Schools of Atlanta, and groups that run charter schools in Louisiana, Michigan and Tennessee. In addition to Purpose Built and Kindezi, New York-based Rensselaerville Institute was also selected. That group was awarded a contract of up to $600,000 to train teachers and principals at up to 10 schools on instruction and school culture.

 


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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.