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APS school chief: New partnership aims to improve college attendance, completion

Atlanta Superintendent Meria Carstarphen writes about a new partnership that seeks to raise high school graduation and college competition rates through an investment of $20 million.

By Meria Carstarphen

When Atlanta Public Schools launched our new mission last year to create a caring culture of trust and collaboration where every student graduates ready for college and career, we truly embarked on a challenging, yet ambitious, effort. After all, the district had just reported a 59.1 percent graduation rate, and research showed that only 14 percent of APS 9th-graders completed post-secondary degrees within six years after high school graduation.

We promised to significantly change those numbers. We also knew we couldn’t do it alone.

Recently, I had the great honor to announce to APS students and families a transformational partnership with Achieve Atlanta, an organization created by the Joseph B. Whitehead Foundation and the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta.

Through their $20 million investment, Achieve Atlanta pledged to not only work with APS to dramatically increase the number of high school graduates but also the number of students attending and graduating from universities and technical colleges.

This is truly a beautiful, bold and aggressive investment, the kind of historic work that will change the lives of APS students and the landscape of the Atlanta workforce forever. This partnership provides the perfect support of our students at the right time, in the right ways and in the right direction.

Work has already begun.

Earlier this month, Achieve Atlanta announced the hiring of Tina Fernandez as its executive director, a person who will be the kind of dynamic and effective leader to rally and inspire people across the business, nonprofit and education spectra all in support of Atlanta’s children.

The group also includes a prominent board comprised of such leaders as Claire “Yum” Arnold, CEO of Leapfrog Services; Mark Becker, president of Georgia State University; Ernest Greer, managing partner of Greenberg Traurig LLP; Alicia Philipp, president of the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta; Bill Rogers, chairman and CEO of SunTrust Banks Inc.; and Beverly Tatum, president of Spelman College.

In preparing for this initiative, these champions of education did their homework. A commissioned study about improving college access and completion for APS students found that some weren’t receiving consistent, high-quality advice to prepare for post-secondary education and most alarmingly, many graduates weren’t finishing college due to social, academic and financial barriers.

The academics are on APS. Achieve Atlanta will assist with the other barriers.

Achieve Atlanta will launch this fall with an infusion of college advisers and counselors in our high schools through a partnership with the National College Advising Corps. This will augment our current services with advisement about school selection and the application process. The program will also partner with Georgia colleges and technical schools to provide our graduates the extra social support and academic counseling they need to complete their degrees within six years.

Achieve Atlanta also will provide financial assistance to students who have unmet financial needs for college, as well as responsive grants for unexpected needs that may arise during a student’s collegiate experience.

We hear all too often about students who would have attended college and completed their degree if only they had a tiny bit more financial assistance, a better understanding of the application process, or an adviser they could trust once they arrived on a college campus.

Achieve Atlanta will make sure we hear fewer of these stories from Atlanta’s deserving students.

Imagine the impact on the local, regional, state and even national economies, if more students graduate from Atlanta high schools and then earn their college degrees. With investments like this one from Achieve Atlanta, we can expect improved outcomes for APS graduates and, therefore, our city.





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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.