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New Georgia school chief visits two 'failing' schools and finds state grades don't tell full story.

Interesting column by the new Georgia state school superintendent on his visit to two Athens-area schools with low accountability scores.

I have had the same experience Richard Woods describes -- visiting a school labeled failing and finding a building full of hardworking educators and attentive students.

A few weeks ago, I was at one of the two schools Woods visited -- Cedar Shoals High School -- for an academic bowl tournament and was impressed with students I met and the facilities.

It is not always clear why a school struggles.

By Richard Woods

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to speak to educational leaders from across the state at a conference in Athens. Part of my trip was visiting two schools in the Clarke County School District -- Cedar Shoals High and Gaines Elementary.

One of my commitments is to visit struggling schools in Georgia. I specifically chose Cedar Shoals and Gaines Elementary because of their scores on the CCRPI, a tool used to score the performance of schools. Both schools were in the low 50s.

Before the visit, I had never walked through the doors of Cedar Shoals or Gaines. My only image was that which was painted by a series of state-collected data points. Logically, my thoughts turned to weak leadership, weak teaching, or unmotivated students.

These were my first two school visits as State School Superintendent. When I entered Cedar Shoals, I was met by a charismatic principal and a group of ROTC cadets, all beaming with pride in their school. As I walked in and out of randomly selected classrooms,

The principal knew every student by name and was eager to brag on this school and staff -- their 9th Grade Academy, 1:1 initiative, and professional development partnership with UGA -- all things that aren't counted on the state's CCRPI. The school was clean and orderly, a real climate of effectiveness.

I was able to have lunch with teachers. I was humbled and honored to have the chance to speak with and listen to them. These individuals weren't the leftovers or outcasts from surrounding schools, these teachers were passionate and dedicated professionals -- all elements that our current accountability model struggles to measure.

Entering Gaines Elementary, I was greeted by the principal and assistant principal -- a true dynamic duo who are laser-focused on student achievement. The halls of the school roared as the students shouted and waved in excitement. This school's climate of engagement and hard work is a model of excellence that we should want for all of our schools, but again, these are all elements our current accountability model struggles to measure.

I started the day looking over data points but, by day's end, it wasn't the TEMs, LEMs, and CCRPI that made an impact on me, or defined my notion of real effective teaching and learning. It was meeting school leaders who saw their schools as their homes, their teachers as their family members, and their students as their own children. It was meeting teachers who did what they asked their students to do: constantly work to get better. This wasn't a show; it was sincerity.

I can promise you that any individual who had spent some time in these schools would have walked away labeling these schools as model schools with CCRPI scores in the 80s or 90s and would be shocked to learn that they are in the 50s.

There is a place for accountability, and I am fully committed to addressing the issue of chronically underperforming schools head-on, but I believe that we need to take a measured and targeted surgical approach. We need to develop, implement, and execute these tools with the utmost fidelity. We use these tools to paint a picture of our schools, teachers, and students.

Only when we start using all mediums, brushes, and colors can we begin to get a clear picture of the individual works of art that form the education of our children.


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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.